The police shooting of 14-year-old Antonio Gutierrez last Saturday night in Lincoln Heights raises many troubling questions. Were the fatal shots fired in overreaction and haste, as some neighbors have charged? Was the Police Department right in saying that the teen-ager had a handgun? When rioting broke out after the shooting, did LAPD officers react properly? A prompt investigation must determine all the facts. Community tensions, fueled by rumors, must not be allowed to fester.
Police say the teen-ager was preparing to fire a powerful semiautomatic pistol at officers. However, some neighbors say the youth had only a flashlight. Fingerprint analysis should establish whether Antonio Gutierrez carried the weapon.
Police deny an allegation that the youngster was shot while he was handcuffed. Autopsy findings, which might shed light on that allegation, should be completed speedily and released.
Councilman Mike Hernandez, who represents Lincoln Heights, thinks that the youth indeed was carrying the gun and that police acted appropriately, but he insists on a complete and timely investigation. Hernandez and Councilman Richard Alatorre, another Eastside leader, are appealing for calm.
Others question how the LAPD handled the unrest. Did it overreact in an effort to fend off another “Florence and Normandie”? Violence at that south side intersection was seen as one of the main sparks that set off the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and the LAPD was accused of failing to quell the disturbance there quickly.
The LAPD has made much progress since the Rodney King beating scandal and the Christopher Commission issued recommendations for departmental reform. Now, Police Chief Willie L. Williams emphasizes community policing. A measure of Police Department progress might be found in how well it handles the questions growing out of the Lincoln Heights shooting.