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Video: Skid Row Residents Force ABC 7 Van Out
It's just been four days since an onlooker captured on video LAPD officers scuffling with a homeless man in Skid Row before fatally shooting him. Since then, news camera crews have been filming in the area, and some Skid Row residents are less than enthused about it. One homeless man who confronted a news cameraman was even Tasered by police.
In a video posted by StreetWiseLA, a YouTube channel that covers the homeless and issues with LAPD, the day after the shooting, we see a group of people calmly walking toward an ABC 7 news van with their hands up in the air, trying to force the van out of the area. As they keep walking forward, the driver slowly backs up for the duration of the over 1-minute-long clip.
They're not the only TV news crew that faced blowback in the neighborhood. On Wednesday around noon, a Fox 11 camera crew went to Skid Row, and when they were in front of the Midnight Mission on 6th Street, a man reportedly snatched their camera and broke it.
Fox 11 reporter Phil Shuman recounted the experience in an article: "We were trying to calm him down as the crowd started yelling at us. He backed off, then grabbed the camera again, twisting off the viewfinder and destroying it."
They called police and when authorities arrived, they tackled the man to the ground. LAPD said in a press release that the man grabbed the officer's holster, and then they Tasered him twice before arresting him. Here is a video of the confrontation:
Tensions have been mounting since LAPD fatally shot homeless man, 43-year-old Charly Leundeu Keunang, who some knew as "Africa," on Skid Row on Sunday afternoon. Locals have been grieving, and protests have erupted.
Local residents are upset with the way LAPD handled the situation. A homeless man told KNBC: "You can't tell me five officers can't take down one man. What about police training? I think they treated him like they normally treat homeless people on Skid Row, with disrespect, with harassment."
Over 100 protesters marched in front of LAPD headquarters downtown on Tuesday chanting "homeless lives matter." They argued that police are using Keunang's criminal record as a way to justify the shooting, and that when officers tackled Keunang, they had no idea about his robbery conviction at the time.
"If this man committed a crime, police didn't know that at the time, and there's a certain way to handle that," activist Earnest Freeman told the Times.
Steve Diaz, a protester and organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network, said that police are violent on Skid Row, and that a mental health worker should have been on the scene first. "The reality is they killed an unarmed man."
Police said they were responding to a robbery call and when they saw Keunang, they believed he was the suspect and tried to take him into custody before the struggle occurred. The cell phone footage captured police wrestling with Keunang on the ground in the chaotic scene, and it sounds like a Taser is used. An officer shouts "Drop the gun! Drop the gun!" before five gunshots go off, killing Keunang. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says that during the struggle the man grabbed one of the officer's guns, and the officers responded by firing.
Police are reviewing other videos of the incident, including footage from the body cameras two officers involved in the scuffle were wearing at the time. However, authorities have been selective about the information they're releasing to the public. They haven't identified the sergeant and two officers involved in the shooting. Although Beck said that the body camera videos gave them a "unique perspective" on the situation, he hasn't discussed what they saw in the body camera videos or released the videos to the public.
Keunang's real identity was a mystery up until today. Although police identified him as French national Charley Saturmin Robinet, it turns out that he had stolen Robinet's identity so he could get a French passport to travel to the U.S. in the 1990s, according to the L.A. Times. Keunang wanted to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles, and took acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. However, he said when he had trouble paying for the class fees, he robbed a bank in Thousand Oaks in 2000. Keunang was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. During his time in prison, he received treatment for mental illness and was released in May 2014, and sometime after, ended up on Skid Row. According to the Times, Skid Row residents "described him as showing occasional outbursts of anger but generally well-liked."
People who knew Keunang painted a different picture of him than police. Mecca Harper, a woman who operates a snack shop in the area, told the L.A. Times that she got to know Keunang through her volunteer work reading to the homeless. She was saddened by his death and said that Keunang had always looked after her, and made sure that nobody bothered her at the shop. "He was very quiet," Harper said. "He was compassionate, gentle and sincere. He was someone I could depend on."
People who knew Keunang said he was mentally ill and lived in a tent on Skid Row. Lloyd Skannal, a Union Rescue Mission cook, told the L.A. Times that officers forced Keunang to take down his tent before a fight ensued.
Tony Jones, a custodial worker at a Skid Row mission, told the Times that his job was to pressure wash the sidewalk and mission wall, and in doing so, he had to get residents to move their tents. This was something Keunang would help Jones with. "He's always been pretty cordial to me and my staff," Jones said. "A lot of other guys give us problems but he's one of the guys that helps us move all the tents. When I would be rolling up the hoses he always would say, 'Thank you for cleaning up.'"
Author and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson told KTLA that he's concerned that the LAPD investigation won't be objective, and wants Gov. Jerry Brown to appoint a special investigator to the case. “The governor has the power and the authority to appoint a special investigator," Hutchinson said. "We’re calling on Gov. Brown to make this a priority."