I took a ride to Venice on Sunday night; it was part reporting expedition and part sightseeing trip.
My daughter was in town with her boyfriend, who'd never seen the tourist haunt. And I wanted to know more about the roving band of homeless young people who've made our city's signature beach their base camp.
It was late. The boardwalk was mostly deserted, and the parking lots were closed. We snagged the only open spot on Windward Avenue — right across from the tavern where a homeless man, Brendon Glenn, was shot to death by LAPD officers last week.
I saw half a dozen disheveled young people tending candles in a sidewalk vigil for Glenn. On the other side of the street, another group of young people — dressed in high heels, short skirts, skinny jeans — poured out of a different bar and piled into a stretch limousine.
A few steps away on the boardwalk, someone had set up a folding table, where two guys were ladling hot food from crockpots onto paper plates for a small but ravenous crowd. As we trekked past the basketball courts toward the weightlifting pen, we passed a few skateboarders, a trio of friendly pot-smoking teens and a couple of solitary men whose hard stares convinced us it was time to leave.
I'd never seen the Venice that emerges around midnight, after the metal gates come down on the T-shirt shops and the incense sellers pack up. It wasn't scary, but it did feel unpredictable and difficult to parse.
As I pulled away, a bedraggled black man moved toward our car, waving his arms. I checked my locks and felt my heart speed up. Then I realized he was only signaling that my headlights were off.
I waved my thanks — and felt ashamed that I'd jumped so quickly to the presumption that his good deed was a threatening gesture.
I don't know much about what happened on that sidewalk the night Glenn was shot. Police had been called because he was "harassing customers" nearby. Officers came, talked to him and returned to their car, then came back when they saw him struggling with a bouncer, they said. Their efforts to detain to him ended with fatal shots.
I'm sure the explanation will — as it always does — involve some sort of threatening gesture by a man who was unarmed and is no longer alive.
There's a surveillance video that police won't let us see. But LAPD Chief Charlie Beck found it troubling enough to warrant a rare public statement suggesting his officers may have gone too far.
That landed the chief in hot water with the union representing rank-and-file cops. "Completely irresponsible," union chief Craig Lally called the remarks.
But I think Beck deserves kudos for being forthright. And I don't fault him for not showing up at Thursday's community meeting in Venice, where angry residents and activists blasted police officials.
It might have been satisfying to see Beck squirm and be pelted with insults from the crowd. But we need more than the gesture of his presence to figure out why teams of officers have such trouble taking down a lone, unarmed man without firing their guns.
This is the second time in two months that a homeless man has been killed by LAPD officers. It's unfortunate that only after their deaths did we pay attention to their lives.
The skid row shooting death in March of Charly Keunang was captured on a bystander's video. He was shot while tangling with several officers who were answering a 911 call. Their account has him reaching for an officer's gun. Witnesses disputed that, and the video doesn't resolve it.
Keunang, 43, had spent time in a mental institution and was on probation for robbery when he set up his tent last year just outside the Union Rescue Mission. But he had recently reconnected with his family in Boston, who thought he was living in suburban Canoga Park. The night before he died, he texted his sister and promised to call.
Glenn, 29, also left behind a family and loving friends, including an urban tribe of young people from across the country who bed down at Venice Beach. He had a rap sheet of petty crimes in his New York hometown; he also had a 3-year-old daughter. He was a good-natured skateboarder, and an ornery drunk.
"He was a drinker. He has a drinking problem," Glenn's friend Allison Holden told reporters. "But we all have problems."
She is 23 and homeless too.
Once again, the LAPD is investigating, while the marches and protests and vigils ramp up.
The truth of these incidents is not as simple as racist cops or criminals so dumb they're bound to reach for officers' weapons.
But neither is it so complicated that it ought to take several months to decide whether officers did something wrong.
That's what happens in Los Angeles, where the LAPD's federal consent decree has been blamed for prolonging use-of-force investigations — which involve multi-layered reviews and can take a year or more to complete.
Compare that to Baltimore, where the local prosecutor didn't wait for officers to get their stories straight or family members to sue. Her office managed to interview witnesses, review videos, check forensics, consult with the coroner and determine whether prosecution was warranted within two weeks after a 25-year-old black man died of injuries he suffered in the custody of police.
You don't have to agree with the result — six officers charged with criminal conduct; three white and three black — to understand the importance of letting the justice system promptly and publicly run its course.
We deserve no less in Los Angeles. It shouldn't take a riot to light the fire under public officials who are asking us to trust them.