Tuesday, March 03, 2015

America's Damaged Police Culture - Charley Robinet Shot & Killed By LAPD

LAPD officers fatally shooting homeless man Charley 
Robinet on Sunday March 1st.
Last evening after I got home from work and started dinner, my intention of starting off the month of March with a light-hearted blog about politics was interrupted by a text message I received from a friend of mine about a disturbing police shooting of a homeless man in LA.

Work was busy yesterday so it wasn't until after 7pm that I had a chance to go online and check out the story.

But what I saw left me feeling empty, angry and shocked.

To say nothing of being deeply disappointed in the professional conduct of some our nation's law enforcement professionals.

It's 5:30pm on Tuesday as I write this, so by now I suspect most of you reading this have already heard about the fatal shooting of an unarmed homeless man on Sunday in the Skid Row section of downtown Los Angeles.

According to an LA Times article, unnamed sources in the LAPD or district attorney's office have identified the victim as a 39 year-old man of African descent of French nationality named Charley Saturmin Robinet (pictured left).

Victim Charley Saturmin Robinet
My understanding is that the video of Robinet tussling with police before being shot was first posted on Facebook, then uploaded to Youtube where it has been viewed worldwide over 16 million times and counting.

If you're not one of those 16 million-plus, I'd advise you to take a few minutes to watch this four-minute version of the video of the incident posted on Youtube.

Now it's not "bloody" or anything, but it's disturbing. It's graphic enough that you can clearly see Robinet resisting arrest and twirling around flailing his arms before police get him down on the ground; he appears to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The man has no weapon. At least four armed members of the LAPD have him down on the ground before yelling starts and five or six loud shots ring out, leaving Robinet motionless on the ground and the witnesses who were standing less then twenty feet away when it happened, stunned.

Watch the video, there are at least six officers in the immediate area; why didn't they just taser the guy or crack him in the head with a nightstick? Judge for yourself, does it appear that the officers lives are in danger?

To be fair, no video can tell the whole story of what took place, but witnesses claim police were trying to question Robinet about a robbery that had taken place in the area when he scurried into a tent that was set up on the sidewalk.

I lived in Los Angeles from July, 2010 until November 2011 and I worked downtown at the intersection of Flower street and Sixth street not far from Skid Row; I know the area.

Typical scene on a typical day on LA's Skid Row
There's a lot of homeless people around there day or night, and it's perfectly normal to see them sleeping in tents or makeshift shelters set up over the ventilation grates over the sidewalk.

My experience, having frequently walked around downtown LA at different times of the day and night is that homeless people pretty much keep to themselves.

It's not like some 'Mad Max' landscape with homeless running around like madmen accosting people.

They usually stick to themselves and rarely bother pedestrians beyond the occasional guy asking for change or food.

Like Ferguson and Michael Brown, the LAPD were quick to start smearing Robinet's reputation.

They released the fact that Charley Robinet had been part of a group of men who robbed a Wells Fargo Bank in Thousand Oaks, California back in 2000 for which he was sentenced to 15 years.

As if a crime he committed more than a decade ago, and served time for, justified his being shot to death on a street 15 years later.

He claimed to have robbed the bank to get money for acting lessons. (Only in LA...)

Robinet was released back in May, joining the estimated 70 to 100 million Americans with criminal records who find themselves locked into a permanent second class status; one most employers want nothing to do with - so is it any surprise he was living on the streets of LA?

But was Robinet actually part of the alleged robbery that police were responding to when they confronted him on Sunday?

38-YO mentally-ill homeless man James Matthew Boyd,
shot & killed by Albuquerque, NM police on 3/16/14
Some reports say he can be seen in the widely-seen video reaching for the waistband of one of the responding officers and the LAPD claims he'd taken one of the officer's guns; but no proof of that has been released yet.

What's happening in the minds of these officers?

My last blog was about a frightening secret interrogation facility being run by Chicago PD in Homan Square.

If you didn't read Nick Pinto's stunning expose of the Albuquerque, New Mexico police department in a recent issue of Rolling Stone, ('When Cops Break Bad: Inside a Police Force Gone Wild'), you really should take some time to check it out.

He explores the violent overreaction by APD officers that led to the death of a 38 year-old homeless man named James Matthew Boyd (suffering from schizophrenia) who was camping in a remote area outside the city when APD officers confronted and killed him.

Pinto's article revealed a systematic loosening of psychological profiling standards by the APD that allowed a number of officers who were prone to a lethal combination of lack of emotional self-control and violent tendencies, to become members of the force. The result?

A massive increase in violent police assaults and some 25 civilians killed by the APD in a five year period; the city of Albuquerque had a population of 556,495 in 2013 so do the math.

But it's not like the police department of Los Angeles or Albuquerque are anomalies.

Ex-Ferguson PD chief Thomas was forced out after
DOJ statistics showed widespread biased policing
Just today, the Justice Department released the findings of a report on the Ferguson Missouri police department showing a clear pattern of excessive violence and biased policing against people of color.

The DOJ statistics posted in this article from the New York Times are truly alarming; showing Ferguson police routinely targeting minorities at a rate that far exceeds their percentage of the population.

Intentionally criminalizing minor traffic violations by jailing people who fail to pay tickets on time.

Or even those who don't show up to traffic court to pay the tickets evidence shows most they were likely unfairly targeted for in the first place.

All of this doesn't mean all American cops are bad, there or countless examples of law enforcement personnel going out of their way to help homeless people - stories that don't make the news.

But when you take evidence like the DOJ report, the expose on the Albuquerque PD, or the many highly publicized cases of blatant violent overreaction by police against suspects who are minority, homeless or mentally disabled, it does point to an entrenched culture within American law enforcement that too often sanctions the most violent kinds of reactions against people who in many cases are already marginalized by society.

Even if they're not a threat, or are innocent.

We haven't heard the last about the death of Charley Robinet, in the coming days the members of the LAPD will likely retreat behind the Blue Wall of silence as department officials try to use the media to distort the image of Robinet by painting him as a violent felon who was reaching for an officer's gun to justify his being shot and killed.

Another dead man tried in absentia after capital punishment has already been administered outside the walls of a court of law with lawyers presenting a case or a jury hearing evidence.

Another life lost to those sworn to serve and protect; right here in the streets of the greatest Democracy in the world in broad daylight - with a crowd of witnesses standing twenty feet away and millions more having seen it happen on video. Yet again.

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