Recent Boyle Heights Police Beating Incident Recalled
|Iglesia de Dios de la Profecia, where a police officer was caught beating a suspect|
on April 27th. Photo by J.N. Arias.
It was a hot afternoon. All week the humidity had driven me out of the house and into the shade offered by the fig tree out front. It was much cooler outside, and aside from the usual squirrel foraging for food from a perch above my shoulder or the occasional blare of a car alarm, there weren’t many distractions.
I was reading from one of my textbooks when I heard a man screaming. Although it was the only voice being raised so loudly, I figured my neighbors had gotten into an argument. I tried to focus on my reading again but was compelled to look toward the east where the yelling appeared to come from.
“Get inside! Get inside!” shouted another angry voice, as if yelling at a dog. I grabbed my camera and rushed out to the sidewalk. I saw a man facing the gate in front of the duplex next door to a neighborhood church. The newly arrived patrol car had not come to a full stop when both of its front doors swung open. I aimed my camera and waited for the back-up officers to unholster and aim their guns, but they didn’t.
I noticed the man being detained squirm as a Los Angeles police officer attempted to apply a restraining hold and immobilize the suspect, even as the latter was soon interjecting his own shouts and insults in response to the furious, verbally abusive epithets being hurled at him by the visibly agitated officer. However, if still very upset, it did appear that the officer was gradually becoming less distressed and was no longer nearly as amped up as he had been a few moments earlier when I’d interrupted my studies to watch the drama unfolding on my block.
Interestingly enough, two additional black-and-white Los Angeles Police Department patrol cars, for a total of four, had raced to the scene and crammed in at odd angles along our small, residential street. From the number of uniformed officers present at this point, I assumed the man who’d been detained on suspicion of trespassing had been drunk or on drugs. But I wasn’t sure. I’d watched it all from a distance.
And I had been very affected by the 2018 study that ranked LAPD as the deadliest law enforcement agency in the nation. Unsurprisingly, victims in officer-involved shootings--or in hard-to-prove excessive use of force cases-- here have been more often than not, people of color. Unfortunately I was too far to get a decent picture and was too intimidated to get any closer. I didn’t see any wrongdoing, and things seemed to be quieting down, so I just stood around until I saw the man being put in the back of a cop car
The rest of the officers lingered a little longer, speaking among themselves before returning to their vehicles, and staggering their exits at slow, even intervals. I sighed and returned to my homework, bummed that I hadn’t clicked the camera shutter once. I sat down and continued working on my assignment. Confrontations between people and police are hardly a strange sight to me. I went about my day.
The next morning as I finished my breakfast, there came a knock at the gate. I turned to my grandparents who were having their coffee. Their hearing has been failing them lately, so I got up, made for the front door, opened it and stepped through. To my surprise, it turned out that the knocking had come from two LAPD officers, one male and the other a woman. I felt duped.
“Good morning,” the policeman offered by way of a greeting. I was elated to see both officers wearing protective cloth face masks.
“Hello,” I responded, descending the steps to the walkway to open the outer gate.
“We’re conducting an investigation from LAPD Internal Affairs. There was an incident on this street yesterday at approximately five o’clock, and we’re asking neighbors what they saw. Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?” he continued. “If we get this done quick we won’t have to keep coming back here,” the policewoman added. Her tone was almost threatening, and I felt certain that if my answers were not to her liking, my grandparents and I might find ourselves being harassed at some later point.
“Sure,” I answered, knowing that a refusal to comply would be grounds for suspicion, and a suspicion was all they needed to engage in property search and/or an arrest without first filing for a warrant.
“What did you see?” inquired the policeman. “Es la policía!” I heard my grandma shout from inside the house.
“Well, I heard a man screaming, I looked out and saw he was being arrested,” I answered dutifully.
“Did you hear what he was screaming about?” the policewoman asked, lowering her gaze and pretending not to notice as her fellow officer subtly lowered his face mask to expose his nose.
“I couldn’t really tell, but he sounded angry,” I responded, then looking down to avoid seeing her reach for her own mask as if adjusting it and exposing her nose for a second before covering it up again. Try as I might, I could not dissuade myself of the suspicion that both were sniffing me for weed.
“And that’s all you saw?” asked the policeman as he tucked his nose back into his mask. While he readjusted it, I couldn’t help but think of the disproportionate number of law enforcement officers who have been exposed to and have contracted COVID-19 nationwide since the outbreak which has reached pandemic proportions and changed the way we live so profoundly.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Do you mind if we take down your contact information?” he asked, retrieving a notepad from his pocket. “Okay, I guess,” I answered. With notepad and pen poised to jot down my full name, cell number, and street address, he, the lady chota and I all flinched with a start at the sound of my grandfather opening the front door loudly.
“Hola, buenos dias!” he said, descending the steps and walking forward until he’d positioned himself between me and the two officers. “Que paso?” he asked, clearly directing his question to them and waiting patiently for several minutes for an answer neither bothered to give.
“Están preguntando de lo que paso ayer,” I said.
“De el gritón que llevaron?” he joked.
They repeated what they’d said to me, and then they left. On May 5th, I was fixing a sandwich for a late breakfast when my phone beeped. It was a message from my brother Jonathan. He’d forwarded me a video from Instagram. Sitting down to eat I opened it and saw two cops, one male, one female, standing behind a man being detained in preparation for cuffs in front of a church. It was the church on my street. I played the video.
It began with the man I had mistakenly assumed was drunk, standing against the gate with his hands being gathered and bound behind him. A couple seconds after the man was detained and essentially immobilized, the male officer repeatedly punched the detainee with a frighteningly hateful ferocity. I shot up from my seat as my mind started connecting the dots.
“Remember how I told you the cops came that one morning,” I messaged Jonathan.. “And I said I thought they were trying to sniff me?” My brother called me seconds after receiving the text.
“There’s a Part Two,” he announce, in reference to the viral video. My phone shook with new notifications. He had already sent me the second video, which I watched with morbid fascination immediately.
“Get inside! Get inside!” The screaming wasn’t an angry man yelling at a dog after all. It was one of LAPD’s finest yelling at an onlooker to get inside their house. I watched in person what happened a few frames later, but without knowing what had occurred just seconds before, it looked like the police were dealing with a hostile person.
“You know what happened the other day?” Jonathan asked , and continued no pause . “The cops showed up at Apartment 1, and they were there for six hours. My wife was telling me that they were trying to go through [the neighbor’s] phone but she wouldn’t let them. I think the vecina’s little girl has a video of what happened and they were trying locate it, confiscate the device and delete it. They kept asking for her phone saying that if she didn’t have anything to hide, she had nothing to worry about.”
“I wouldn’t rule out an attempt to cover it up,” I conceded. “And that’s a classic invasion of privacy.” My sister-in-law, Jonathan's wife, is still in shock after witnessing LAPD officers attempting to intimidate and coerce an innocent neighborhood bystander, treating her as if she were some sort of criminal accomplice to an individual she did not know, just because they suspected she might be in possession of video evidence documenting what many believe is serious police misconduct. Others have gone so far as to describe what the viral video making social media rounds reveals as an unprovoked criminal assault by a police officer on an individual who does not appear to have taken any action which could justify the fury and intensity of his haymaker blows the detainees cranial region.
“If you have nothing to hide, you are still not obligated to let them see. That’s called a consent search, and they will usually intimidate you for permission to search you in order to avoid having to get a warrant,” I counseled my brother. “Let them uphold the law they’re sworn to protect and get a warrant like their supposed to.”
The police force is funded by our tax dollars, we pay for these people to ‘protect and serve’ our community. Why do our public servants act as oppressors in our homes? Why does a trained professional police officer get so agitated that he feels the need to punch a non-violent, and likely homeless man--who probably has no health insurance or safety net--in broad daylight at the doorway of a church?
I understand the man was trespassing. I understand the job of the police can be scary, but what was so threatening about a man voluntarily joining his hands behind his back to indicate he was being cooperative but was simply making an effort to explain the special set of circumstances behind the appearance of his modest yet neat and very clean camping tent in a vacant lot next door to the church? What kind of message does this send to our most vulnerable community residents? Do they expect us to just forget about it and go back to work? Are the police lacking something fundamental that might function as a reminder that they work for us and that we pay the taxes which make their paychecks possible? Do some officers need a “time out” to recall that they are never free to comport themselves like freewheeling lawless cowboys just because the COVID-19 pandemic mandates that we stay indoors and, as a result, are less likely to witness any similar out-of-control conduct?
Is police training truly sufficient? Does the LAPD hiring process fail to adequately identify ‘bad apples’ and reject them from the Academy before they are unleashed with badges and guns upon neighborhoods where people are struggling hard just to provide shelter and sustenance for their families? Was the cop’s ego that fragile? Were the alleged trespasser’s insults so threatening that they somehow undid years of discipline and made all the officer’s training with respect to proper comportment during encounters with ordinary citizens seem like a waste of time? Is our police force just a farce?
Jeremy Arias is a journalism student at East L.A College and a lifelong resident of Boyle Heights. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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