Why was Ezell Ford shot?

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - En months af­ter

Ttwo LAPD of­fi­cers shot and killed Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old men­tally ill African Amer­i­can man, it is well past time for an­swers about what hap­pened that night, and for an open and frank dis­cus­sion about how of­fi­cers in­ter­act with the peo­ple they stop.

A bit of “pro­ce­dural jus­tice” is in or­der here. That refers to the sim­ple but com­mon­sense con­cept that if the po­lice want to gain and main­tain the trust of the public, they have to ex­plain them­selves.

In­stead, the public is likely to get a long and un­sat­is­fy­ing list of rea­sons why se­crecy is nec­es­sary when the Po­lice Com­mis­sion meets Tues­day to de­cide whether the shoot­ing was within de­part­men­tal pol­icy. Much of the dis­cus­sion will be in closed ses­sion, we ex­pect, and it will be ex­plained, as usual, that the Public Safety Of­fi­cers Pro­ce­dural Bill of Rights won’t al­low public dis­cus­sion of per­son­nel records, even when an of­fi­cer kills some­one, un­less the of­fi­cer in­volved gives his or her per­mis­sion. Again, the peo­ple of Los An­ge­les will be told that they need to chill out and trust that their lead­ers are mak­ing the right de­ci­sions in se­cret.

That won’t fly. Ford’s mother and other pro­test­ers showed up at Mayor Eric Garcetti’s res­i­dence Sun­day to call an­grily for public dis­cus­sion of the find­ings by an in-house depart­ment re­view and an­other by In­spec­tor Gen­eral Alex Bus­ta­mante. Those re­ports ap- par­ently dif­fer on whether the of­fi­cers should have ap­proached Ford in the first place, but agree that the shoot­ing was within de­part­men­tal pol­icy.

We get that there are legal con­straints for public of­fi­cials, no­tably the overly re­stric­tive state law pro­tect­ing po­lice of­fi­cers’ rights. But this is a mo­ment for strong lead­ers to move away from se­crecy and self-pro­tec­tion in fa­vor of full-throated dis­cus­sion. Why did the po­lice ap­proach Ford in the first place? Were they ag­gres­sive from the out­set?

And even if the shoot­ing is determined to have been “within pol­icy,” what ex­actly does that mean? Just be­cause the po­lice of­fi­cers may have been within their rights to shoot when they be­lieved that the sus­pect was try­ing to wres­tle away one of their guns doesn’t mean the shoot­ing had to hap­pen. There’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween say­ing that the two of­fi­cers should not be pros­e­cuted and say­ing that the killing was nec­es­sary and un­avoid­able. Would bet­ter train­ing have averted this killing, or tougher laws on what cops may and may not do?

This is an im­mensely im­por­tant point in his­tory for Los An­ge­les as it deals with the same anger and frus­tra­tion over civil­ian killings that has roiled cities across the na­tion. City of­fi­cials — the mayor, the po­lice chief and oth­ers — must ex­plain what was done right, what was done wrong, and what steps can be taken to en­sure that such tragedies will not hap­pen again.

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