Crime & Justice

Skid row activists keep up the pressure - and questions - after fatal LAPD shooting

Activists want LAPD to change their tactics on Skid Row.
Activists want LAPD to change their tactics on Skid Row.
Robyn Beck /AFP/Getty Images

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Ten days after the fatal shooting of an unarmed man on Los Angeles' Skid Row, activists are demanding an end to what they call aggressive policing in the city’s poorest neighborhood.

“They’re bullying homeless people. They’re criminalizing homelessness,” General Jeff Page, who has lived in an apartment on Skid Row for eight years, said outside a meeting of the city's Police Commission Tuesday.

He heads a group called Issues and Solutions and was one of about two dozen people who showed up to urge the civilian panel to investigate the fatal police shooting of Charly "Africa" Leundeu Keunang. Police say Keunang, 43, a Cameroonian man previously convicted of armed robbery, tried to grab an officer's gun.

A rally complaining about police tactics in the shooting last week attracted more than 150 people.

LAPD Commander Andrew Smith.denied officers bully homeless people on Skid Row. He also said Chief Charlie Beck has visited the area twice since the shooting.

“He’s walked Skid Row a couple times in the past week, talking to people in the neighborhoods, seeing what the conditions are.”

The three officers who opened fire on Keunang have been pulled from the streets for their own safety, Smith said.

“If they were recognized by some of the folks on Skid Row that are agitated or upset about what happened, they might take that out on the officer," he said.  A fourth officer was injured in the incident and remains off the job.

The department's Force Investigation Division is investigating the incident, along with the LA District Attorney's office.

Officers say Keunang tried to grab one of their guns. The incident was videotaped by a bystander and viewed more than one million times on YouTube. That can present a challenge to investigators, said Smith.

"Once people see the video, we can’t get what’s called a clean interview," he said. People may be tempted to recount what they saw in the video, not what they witnessed.

Activists like Page remain frustrated police and the city have not done more to address longstanding problems. He said the shooting has raised the anxiety level of people.

“We’re still here, we’re still keeping up the pressure,” he yelled out to his fellow activists outside police headquarters after the commission meeting. "We are traumatized."

But he said he understands the officers' position, too. The thousands of mentally ill and drug-addicted people on Skid Row are a bigger problem than the police themselves can handle, he added.

“Obviously they themselves are crying out for help,” Page said. “Why are they not receiving the help?”