On the day that the Los Angeles Police Department was hit with a $75 million wrongful death lawsuit by the family of Ezell Ford, an unarmed 25-year-old Black man who was killed by LAPD officers last month, a group called the Los Angeles Youth Justice Coalition released a report revealing that Los Angeles law enforcement officers have killed nearly 600 people over the past 14 years — a total of nearly one death per week.
The group took a closer look at the 314 deaths between 2007 and 2014 and discovered that 97 percent were male and 82 percent were Black or Latino.
In the report, titled Don’t Shoot to Kill, the youth advocacy group offers a number of recommendations to stop the killings, including asking the California attorney general to appoint and supervise an independent prosecutor to investigate all police use of force, holding Congressional hearings and requesting that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder launch a civil rights investigation into officer-involved shootings.
“In arguing self-defense, a civilian – even within their own home – must prove that the individual they attack poses an immediate threat to their life,” the report states. “By comparison, in order to use deadly force, law enforcement officers must demonstrate that the person posed a threat to the safety of the officers or others in the community. Therefore, even the shooting in the back of someone running away can be considered a ‘justifiable homicide’ when law enforcement claim that they posed a potential threat to community safety. We believe that this burden for law enforcement use of force is far too low, and the cases listed below from 2007-2014 document the results when officers see so many people – especially youth of color, the homeless, mentally ill or disabled, or people who are intoxicated – as serious threats to community safety.”
The statistics unearthed by the advocacy group are actually more alarming concerning the killing of Black men because of the county demographics.
Hispanics make up 48.3 percent of L.A. County’s population, and 53.5 percent of those killed between 2007 and 2014 were Hispanics. African-Americans make up just 9.2 percent of the county population, yet 28 percent of those killed were Black. Whites represented 15.4 percent of those killed while they make up 27.2 percent of the county population.
“This report is for the youth – especially youth of color in California and throughout the world – who leave home every day and wonder if they’ll come home. It’s for the parents and grandparents who have to teach 8 year-olds what to do when they’re stopped by the police,” the report states. “It’s for all Los Angeles, because no one will have a future here until all youth have a future here. It’s also for law enforcement personnel and their families, because the aggressive policing of our communities means that they work daily with the stress that comes from both being feared and unappreciated and also being afraid, angry or distrustful of the community. But, most of all, it’s for the families who have buried loved ones killed by law enforcement – those we have stood with and most we have never met – who will never be whole again.”
In the wrongful death suit, Ford’s family alleges that LAPD officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas engaged in an unlawful search and seizure of Ezell Ford, during which they violated his civil rights by denying him due process and using excessive force that resulted in his death, according to family attorney Steven Lerman.
The lawsuit, obtained by the Huffington Post, called the officers’ conduct “reckless” and says they “acted with callous indifference to the federally protected rights of Ezell Ford.”
In the police version of events, a struggle ensued Aug. 11 between Ford and the officers during an “investigative stop.” They said Ford “grabbed one of the officers” and “they fell to the ground,” during which Ford allegedly attempted to pull an officer’s handgun from its holster. The “partner officer then fired his handgun and the officer on the ground fired his backup weapon” at Ford.
But that story is wildly different from that told by eyewitnesses. One witness told KTLA that Ford was shot “in the back” while he was “laying down,” adding that Ford’s neighbors knew he was mentally unstable — his mother, Tritobia Ford, told HuffPost last month that her son showed signs of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to another eyewitness, he heard a police officer shout “shoot him” before three bullets were unloaded into Ford, who was already on the ground, the Huffington Post reported.
The statistics in the report by the youth advocacy group appear to document an increase in the percentage of all killings that were officer-involved shootings. While overall homicides in L.A. County from 2000 to 2006 ranged between 1,074 and 1,231 per year — making up between 2.5 to 4.5 percent of the total — after 2007 the overall homicides dropped down to just 595 in 2013, but the officer-involved homicides doubled to between 4 and 8 percent of the total.
“If the killing of community residents is one measure of police-community relations, then law enforcement’s fear, distrust and/or aggressive treatment of people – especially youth and people of color – have not improved, and may have increased,” the report said.