Another Questionable Shooting of Unarmed Black Man by LAPD
By Jasmyne A. Cannick
In Los Angeles, yet again the LAPD finds themselves involved in another questionable officer involved shooting.
This time the deceased is Steven Eugene Washington, 27, who the LAPD says didn’t respond to commands and seemed to reach for a weapon. This all went down in Koreatown early last Saturday morning after Washington allegedly reached into his waistband for what officers believed was a weapon, authorities said. For that, he received a gunshot to the head and died a little after midnight.
Washington, according to his family had a learning disability and was afraid of strangers. Officers said they feared for their lives because Washington did not respond to their commands and appeared to be reaching for his waistband. No weapon was recovered at the scene.
Maybe I watch too much C.O.P.S. but I have a couple of observations.
One, my brother sounds a lot like Steven Washington. At 21, my brother is more like 12 mentally. He too suffers from being developmentally challenged and has a learning disability. And like Washington, my brother is a big person. Washington’s family said he was autistic and had learning disabilities but enjoyed riding the bus and trains. Again, my brother is the same. He is fascinated by buses and trains and enjoys taking public transportation to visit his girlfriend who lives on the other side of town and is also developmentally challenged. One difference is that perhaps because he’s mixed race and very fair skinned, being white and Black, my brother doesn’t come off as being that scary.
My mother sheltered my brother to the point where I believe that if he was in the same situation as Washington, not knowing the history of Black people and the police and how to act if approached by the police, if the police set upon him in the manner in which they did Washington with guns drawn, he’d in all innocence probably reach in pocket for his I.D. Why? Because my mother drilled into his head that he has to always have his I.D. on him to show who he is in case something happens to him or he gets lost and to respect law enforcement. A move like that in Los Angeles would cost him his life and I know it.
The second thing I want to mention is that two or so years ago I was invited to try one of the LAPD’s simulation programs. I was basically put into a room with a sensor gun that weighed and felt much like the real thing. The program puts you, the civilian, in the shoes of a police officer on patrol in search of a suspect in hopes that you have a better understanding of the life and death decisions that have to be made in the blink of an eye by officer. You have to react quickly while chasing an armed suspect around innocent civilians. I remember being a little apprehensive about doing it-mainly because I don’t like guns-fake or real. But I did it. I didn’t kill any of the civilians but I did kill the suspect. One shot to the head. It was either him or me and I wasn’t about to die.
When it was over, I remember one of the officers telling me I did a good job but that real LAPD officers do not shoot to kill. That they are trained to shoot to disarm-meaning shoot the suspect in the leg or somewhere that’s going to stop them but try not to kill them if at all possible. I remember thinking he should have told me that before I killed the suspect because I aimed and pointed and for someone who doesn’t like guns-it took one shot to the head for me to take my suspect out.
I mention that because when I first saw this story on the news I remember thinking if the officers were so scared why didn’t they shoot Washington in the leg or the arm or something. Why go straight for the head? That seems a little suspect to me.
Washington’s family understandably has more questions than answers at this point and all eyes are watching to see how our new Police Chief Charlie Beck, who I still like, handles this situation following in the footsteps of our former chief William Bratton. Bratton, made great strides in improving community relations and instituting transparent investigations and it will be interesting to see if this continues under the leadership of our new police chief.
Unexpected and unapologetically Black, at Jasmyne Cannick, 32, is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com.