Mayor and LAPD challenged by civil rights groups over police shooting
The Los Angeles Police Department is once again finding itself immersed in controversy. This time it is over the killing of Westlake resident Manuel Jamines, a Guatemalan-born day laborer.
[FOR THE RECORD: The name of the man killed by police is Manuel Jaminez Xum, not Manuel Jamines as originally reported.]
According to police, Jamines had threatened them with a knife. However, a witness to the shooting has come forward saying Jamines was unarmed. Now the LAPD is being challenged by immigrant and civil rights groups in its assertion that the shooting and their subsequent crackdown on demonstrations was legitimate.
At a press conference held today at City Hall, Jim Lafferty, Director of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles, said the LAPD had unconstitutionally interfered with lawful protests concerning, what he called, a “very questionable” police shooting.
Lafferty also took issue with prejudicial comments made by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. On Sept. 9, the mayor defended LAPD officers involved in the shooting while promising an investigation, even guaranteeing that it will show that officers acted heroically.
“I wasn’t there,” said Lafferty referring to the specifics of the shooting. “I don’t know what happened. But I know who else doesn’t know what happened and that’s the mayor of this city. He doesn’t know what happened either because he wasn’t there.”
Lafferty went onto to make the point that it does little for the Westlake community’s confidence in the police and city when the mayor is guaranteeing the outcome of the investigation.
To make matters worse for the mayor and the LAPD, recent attempts to quell Westlake demonstrations are raising questions of civil rights violations. Colleen Flynn, a board member of the National Lawyers Guild, who acted as a legal observer at the protests, spoke on these issues at the press conference.
According to Flynn, police restraint at the Sept. 7 protest was “short lived.” She said police provoked crowds by firing on them with rubber bullets, indiscriminately rounding up residents who were not involved in the demonstrations and failing to make “proper targeted responses.”
Jubilee Shine, an organizer for the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police and an elected-member of the South Central Neighborhood Council, was one of the over two dozen people arrested at the Sept. 7 protest for allegedly failing to disperse. In a telephone interview with LA Activist, Shine said that police had hemmed in some demonstrators, not giving them a chance to leave the area.
He said that once he saw police firing rubber bullets into the crowd, he began to walk west on Sixth Street toward Alvarado where his truck was parked, while most of the crowd headed north or south on various side streets. However, when Shine approached Alvarado, the LAPD had blocked all foot traffic to the street.
“I got to Alvarado … they basically told me ‘you can’t get out this way, you have to go back that way, back east on Sixth,’” said Shine. “I said, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea because those police are shooting rubber bullets and telling people to come this way’”
But police wouldn’t allow Shine onto Alvarado. When he headed back east, all the while walking on the sidewalk, he was again sent back west by police, essentially caught in a pickle.
“Then they just started closing in from the east and west,” he said. “Then me and four or five random guys that happened to get caught in the middle on the sidewalk with me just got swarmed [by police]. Next thing I know we are in a holding cell with a dozen people that got caught up [in this].”
Shine said the people who were arrested with him had, from his observation, nothing to do with the protest.
Since the shooting, more is being learned about Frank Hernandez, the officer who killed Jaminez. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hernandez, a 13-year veteran of the department, has fired his weapon twice in the line of duty. He shot a woman in 1999 who allegedly reached for a handgun and a man in 2008 who allegedly pointed a gun at officers.
Hernandez also has a bit of a reputation in Westlake for heavy-handed tactics towards street vendors and activists.
“He does have a reputation of being a brutal cop,” said Lafferty. “There are many people we have already talked to, and we will be talking to more of them, who can give case, chapter and verse of some of the outrageous things he’s done in that community before killing this man.”
Towards the end of the press conference, Villaraigosa appeared on the steps of City Hall to attend a celebration of Latino Heritage Month on the south lawn. He reiterated to reporters his support of the LAPD and said there would be an independent investigation into the shooting.
While the mayor walked toward the celebration on the south lawn, ANSWER Coalition member Michael Prysner took the opportunity to challenge the mayor regarding his position on the killing of Manuel Jaminez.
“Who are you representing?” shouted Prysner. “Which people are you paid to represent? Is it the community or is it the police? Why do you think people are rioting in the streets? Why do you think people are so mad?”