A photo of Alesia Thomas is held up during a news conference in Los Angeles on Friday, August 31, 2012. Thomas has become part of a recent “use of force” debate in Los Angeles.
The “use of force,” debate has come to the forefront once again in Los Angeles, in the wake of three violent caught-on-tape incidents involving the LAPD. Police Chief Charlie Beck, while deeming each incident as “disturbing,” and assuring the public that they’re under investigation, said he does not believe there is a systemic problem within the force. Those who have been following the issue since the Rodney King beating in the early 90s say there are still problems, though the department has shown marked improvement and some residents are saying use of force has always been and continues to be a problem in poor communities.
“They don’t seem to get the message,” L.A. resident Lynn Glasgow told the Sentinel Tuesday.
“Respect people, be courteous because people have different problems.”
In mid August, an LAPD officer in Venice was filmed punching 20-year-old college student Ronald Weekley Jr. in the face while four other officers were on top of him. He had been stopped, according to officers, for riding his skateboard on the wrong side of the street. He suffered facial injuries and has since hired an attorney.
A few days later, Michelle Jordan, a nurse was pulled over in Tujunga for using a cell phone while driving. Cameras at a fast food restaurant nearby caught officers tackling her to the ground to handcuff her. It also caught them tackling her a second time after being escorted to a police car.
But weeks before Jordan and Weekley Jr., had been Alesia Thomas who dropped her two young children off at the Southeast station in July, later telling police officers that she was addicted to drugs and could not care for them anymore. Officers went to Thomas’ home to question her and ultimately attempted to arrest her on child endangerment charges.
A neighbor who witnessed the incident said Thomas resisted the arrest and that officers didn’t seem to be doing anything wrong. Her struggle prompted officers to tie an adjustable strap around her ankles and one officer, after she was tied, kicked her in the genitals because she would not cooperate. The scenario played out on a patrol car video.
Thomas died in the back of the patrol car and so far the cause of death has not been determined.
"It's endemic to policing that there are violent confrontations,” civil rights attorney Connie Rice told reporters in the wake of the incidents.
“For the LAPD, the old default was excessive use of force. The question is, how far are they are in their transformation away from excessive force being the norm? Do I see movement away from that? Yes. Do we still have long way to go? Oh, yeah.”
Beck said he has faith in his department.
"There are 10,000 LAPD officers who do a phenomenal job in very difficult circumstances every day. We have literally over a million enforcement contacts a year. Some of them don't go that well, and there's a variety of reasons."
Emotions and adrenaline are among those reasons, according to Commander Robert Green, who talked to the Sentinel about use of force procedures in April.
“You have to remember that what law enforcement does is enforce the law,” Green explained.
“We don’t have the opportunity to let somebody get up and walk away.
“[In] an adrenaline driven incident, when you’re in fear for your life… to turn that on and off is very difficult. And, we’re asking human beings to do this-not robots.”
But L.A. resident Khalid Abdul Jabar, who feels that Blacks are profiled and suffer excessive use of force more than any other race, said he cannot completely swallow the “fear for their lives” argument.
“I beg to differ with that analogy,” he said.
“The officer has an advantage over the average person they stop. They are backed by law, they legally carry a gun and they can use force. I don’t think they’re going into the situation afraid. I think they’re going into the situation already confident in what they’re going to do…”
Jabar did acknowledge that officers do have to exercise caution and defend themselves when necessary.
But, he said, “What happens is that they go above and beyond defending themselves. Basically, a person can’t defend himself against a police officer. So, the police officer has to know when he’s going overboard…”