By Betty Pleasant
UNFINISHED BUSINESS — L.A.P.D. Chief Charlie Beck held a news conference the other day to explain to us how on March 1 his officers came to kill Charly Leundeu Keunang, a 43-year-old unarmed black Cameroonian who had made the mean streets of Skid Row his home. Beck gave a thorough explanation of Keunang’s killing, but he still owes us one about his Newton Division cops— Sharlton Wamples and Antonio Villegas—killing of 25-year-old unarmed, mentally challenged and black Ezell Ford last August. True, Beck held his press conference on the last day of the year about Ford’s killing — after Mayor Garcetti made him do it — but there is still a gaping hole in that explanation — a hole that must be filled before we give credence to anything our chief has to say to us. And this is it:
It was reported during the press conference that Ford was unarmed and walking along Florence Avenue when he was stopped by the two cops and ultimately killed. Beck was asked why the two cops stopped Ford in the first place. (We all know it’s perilous to be “driving while black,” now add to that the possible fatal outcome of being caught “walking while black!”)
Well, Beck replied: “The officers reported Ford was engaged in behavior they regarded as suspicious. So they stopped him.” What?!! That is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard come out of a cop’s mouth — and I’ve heard a lot of stuff during my 40 years of dealing with them. Exactly what was Ford doing while walking that led to his killing by cops? Was he engaged in illegal behavior? lewd and lascivious behavior? dangerous behavior? What other kind of “suspicious behavior” could Ford be exhibiting that would cause anyone — let alone, a couple of cops — to stop him? I assure you that had Ford’s alleged “suspicious behavior” been illegal, lewd or dangerous, the two cops — and Beck — would have been yelling it in detail from the rooftops!
The killing of Keunang has aroused the anger of Angelenos and has caused die hard activists Najee Ali, Rev. William Smart, Rev. K.W. Tulloss and others to, again, lead a series of protests against yet another LAPD killing of an unarmed mentally challenged black man. Najee made a good point when he said: “It’s outrageous that police are getting away with murdering unarmed mentally ill people. When all they have to do is wait until mental health professionals are called to the scene of possible trouble. But no. Instead they always rush in and escalate the conflict which always leaves the mentally ill person dead with the excuse they ‘reached for my weapon.‘ What did the police expect?”
While Najee and them are fighting for justice in the killings of Ford and Keunang and the others, I am fighting to keep my special needs son alive. Therefore, I require a list from Chief Beck of the “suspicious behaviors” for which his cops can stop an unarmed person who is walking down the street.
Ford had been diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic. My elder son has been diagnosed as high functioning autistic, and while his mental condition is not nearly as severe as Ford’s, he does have some behavioral issues— such as fear of loud noises and hostile approaches and treatment and he cannot be yelled at because it upsets him and makes him shut down and quake and to not do whatever it is you want him to do. It makes him run away from you in his search for a calmer situation. He needs to be treated gently. But we all know that cops are the very embodiment of hostility that upsets us normal people, who don’t like dealing with cops, period.
Of course, my son does not drive so he rides buses and trains and walks wherever he wishes to go. He’s obnoxiously law abiding and has never and wouldn’t even dream of doing anything nasty or dangerous that would cause him to be stopped by a cop. But now, Beck, Wampler and Villegas have added a whole new category of offenses — Suspicious Behavior — that can lead to his death. I need, therefore, a list from Beck of all his LAPD suspicious behaviors so I can school my son about them and make sure he doesn’t do them either. And I’d like to have it as soon as possible, along with the specific “suspicious behavior” exhibited by Ford on that deadly day in August.
My autistic son is a gentle giant (6’5” tall and big) and my greatest fear is that some stupid little white cop—fearing for his safety—will kill my kid.
THE ‘REAL DEAL’ — Next week, I want to talk about a good cop who has more than 42 years of public safety and municipal government experience and whose achievements in behalf of the people he serves outshine all the other politicians in the Southland: Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. As if that is not enough, there is much more to Mayor Butts than the 80,000-seat NFL football stadium he is creating in Inglewood, much to the chagrin of heretofore powerful white people.
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