Tempers flared Tuesday morning as dozens of demonstrators packed the Los Angeles Police Commission’s weekly meeting to criticize the LAPD over its fatal shooting of a homeless man on skid row.
The meeting was the first since Sunday’s shooting, when a man known by others on skid row as Africa -- whom sources identified to the Los Angeles Times as Charley Saturmin Robinet -- was killed by officers responding to a 911 call about a robbery.
Cellphone video of the encounter posted online drew national attention.
More than 100 protesters marched Tuesday morning from skid row to the LAPD’s downtown headquarters, where the commission meetings are held.
Many of the attendees included people who regularly addressed the commission with criticisms about the LAPD. But the audience was considerably larger than normal, with some people watching the meeting in a spillover room.
Dozens of people addressed the commission, blasting the department for what many described as the unjust death of another black man at the hands of police. Many were critical of what they called problematic policing on skid row, the area of downtown L.A. that is heavily populated by homeless people.
Others jeered at Chief Charlie Beck and Commission President Steve Soboroff. One man called them “cowards” as he repeatedly blew a whistle into the microphone -- an attempt, he said, to get their attention.
Soboroff urged the crowd not to rush to judgment, asking them to wait for more information from investigations by the LAPD, the inspector general and the district attorney’s office. He said that the LAPD’s training, policies and methods for investigating such incidents were different from those of other departments that had been involved in recent high-profile police killings.
“This is a different tragedy than the incidents in Ferguson [Mo.] and the incidents in New York,” Soboroff said. “LAPD is not the same police force.”
“It’s worse,” one woman shouted from the audience.
When dozens of people had finished speaking, the demonstrators began chanting, “Black lives matter,” as they filed out of the room.
After the meeting, Beck said he had attended meetings with other public groups in recent days and “not felt the same animosity.” He said many people in Tuesday’s audience were frequent critics of the LAPD but said he did not believe they represented the “universal opinion in the city of Los Angeles.”
“But I will say, that group today was pretty irate,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday outside LAPD headquarters, protester Tina Medina stood amid the growing crowd and clutched at her chest as she spoke of recent controversial shootings by police officers.
"There's too many of these going on," Medina, 57, said. "If there's conflict, find some other way. That's someone's son."
Medina, a teacher at Dolores Mission School in Boyle Heights, says she teaches her students to educate themselves and learn about others.
"But how do we explain this to them?" she said.
Around 9 a.m., as the chants faded, the crowd gathered around activist "General Jeff," who called for the killings to stop.
"The investigations have to happen in a timely manner,” he said. “We will not wait for body cameras .... We need answers now.”
On Monday, Beck said video from body cameras worn by an officer and a sergeant involved in the shooting gave investigators a “unique perspective” of the incident. But, citing the ongoing investigation, he said the footage couldn't yet be released publicly.
The chief said he had reviewed the body camera recordings but declined to comment on what they showed.
“At the end of the investigation into this officer-involved shooting ... we will release the complete investigation through the inspector general’s office,” Beck said. “If there is a criminal proceeding in this or if there’s a civil proceeding in this, we will make all evidence available through those proceedings.”
Sources familiar with the investigation identified the shooting victim as Robinet, a French national and convicted bank robber who robbed a Wells Fargo Bank in Ventura County in 2000.
Activist Earnest Freeman, a Greyhound bus driver from Hawthorne, said it made no difference that Robinet was convicted of armed robbery 15 years ago.
"If this man committed a crime, police didn't know that at the time, and there's a certain way to handle that," he said.
Steve Diaz, 31, took a break from the chants of "Homeless life matters" to explain why the man's criminal record did not change the basic facts of the shooting.
"The reality is they killed an unarmed man," said Diaz, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network.
Mental health workers, he said, should have been the first responders. The man's death, he added, shows that policing is violent on skid row.
"Skid row has been home to police occupation under the Safer Cities Initiative," Diaz said. "They clear people out in the name of gentrification."