The Mercury News

Anger simmers after two fatal police shootings

LAPD chief says officers involved feared for their lives

- By Kate Mather, Cindy Chang and James Queally Los Angeles Times

In a little over 24 hours this weekend, police officers fatally shot two people in South L.A.: an 18-year-old man they said turned toward them with a gun in his hand and another who allegedly pointed a realistic-looking replica at police.

After protests, Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck on Monday displayed images of the weapons and said the officers had feared for their lives.

But in a time of heightened scrutiny over how officers use force, particular­ly against African-Americans, police are finding a gulf between what many officers consider a justified shooting and the views of some protesters and residents.

The shootings came after several weeks of controvers­ial police killings across the country, including in Charlotte, North Carolina, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and El Cajon, all of which were at least partly captured on video. The shootings in Los Angeles inspired protests that stretched from South L.A. to the mayor’s Windsor Square home and the LAPD’s downtown headquarte­rs.

“In the black community, it’s not about individual shootings — and the police don’t understand why,” said Connie Rice, a prominent African-American civil rights attorney who has advised Beck. “It’s about the whole nation, the buildup ... more than a century of what the community has experience­d as accumulate­d abuses at the hands of law enforcemen­t.”

Building trust among black Angelenos has been a top priority for the LAPD since the riots that erupted 24 years ago after four officers were acquitted in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King. Even some of the LAPD’s toughest critics admit the department has made strides since then.

Los Angeles, however, has not been immune to the national outcry over police shootings. Critics have rallied against controvers­ial killings by officers in South L.A., Venice Beach and Skid Row. This summer, activists camped outside City Hall for more than a month to protest the deadly police shooting of a woman who carried a knife.

On-duty LAPD officers have shot fewer people this year than during 2015, but a higher proportion of those shootings have been fatal, according to a Times analysis. On-duty officers have shot 20 people this year, killing 16, or 80 percent. Last year, officers killed 21 of the 36 people shot, about 58 percent. Over the last decade, fatal shootings have hovered between 12 and 26 annually.

All of the people fatally shot this year were armed with either a gun, a replica gun or some other weapon, such as a knife or a pair of scissors, according to initial reports from the LAPD. Last year, 12 of the 21 people killed were armed with either a firearm, a replica or some sort of knife.

Lou Turriaga, a director of the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers, questioned what alternativ­e officers have when faced with a firearm. Two LAPD officers have been wounded by gunfire this year, one in Boyle Heights and another in the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts.

“If it was your loved one that these suspects were pointing a gun at — your son, your daughter, your wife — what would you have our police officers do during those moments?” Turriaga said.

Plenty, according to activists and those who knew Carnell Snell Jr., the black 18-year-old shot and killed on 107th Street on Saturday afternoon. Many have questioned the police account, including whether Snell had a gun. Even if he did, some said, police should have tried to use a Taser or beanbag shotgun before pulling the trigger.

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