I saw the video of the man shot and killed on the streets of Skid Row this morning, Monday, March 2, 2015. And I read Andrew Romano’s Yahoo News article on it tonight. I think I am more disturbed by Romano’s article. I am a bit inured by unjustified murder. Romano’s article opens “A grainy cell-phone video of several LAPD officers shooting and killing an unarmed black man made national headlines Monday, reigniting the debate about race and law enforcement that was sparked last summer by similar incidents took place in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.” Grainy? Which video is he looking at? He said “cell-phone video,” and the video that has made its way around the web is the same video you see here . . . and it is not grainy. The quality is excellent.
Is Mr. Romano’s vision grainy? Or just biased? He’s already defending the cops who murdered the unnamed Charley Robinet, 39, who is seen in ungrained clarity swinging at four cops. A background check was run and the courts have learned that Robinet was a convicted bank robber. ABC News learned through court documents that he was released from federal prison on May 12, 2014 after serving 14 years in prison. What happened to the original tale of him being in a mental institution for a decade? But this is the standard treatments of any officer-involved shooting: discredit the victim by rendering him a non-person. Was prison the mental institution?
Next, we see the ugliest displays of the state when after the black officer shot Charley Robinet, the rest of the officers lined up in phalanx style and pointed their guns collectively at the dying man.
Is this what the state does to prisoners? Robinet bolts into his tent because he knew that if he were arrested that he’d be going back to prison, probably in violation of his parole.
In that embedded video, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck pointed to a round stuck in the chamber, “indicative of a struggle.” Well, that might sell to any non-gun owner, but that makes no sense.
In the video above, the camera does not scan to the picture to which Beck refers. But you get the picture. I’m just not convinced that the dislodged shell is the result of a struggle. And so what if there is a struggle? Does it justify murder?
Romano calls the event “sad news.” He doesn’t mention the loss of the man’s life at the hands of LAPD. For some reason the loss of life does not sadden Mr. Romano. Compounding his grainy bias, Mr. Romano jumps from a lie and a glaring omission to a horrible distortion. He calls the event sad and tried to pin the source of the problem onto a “systemic, festering problem.” We can assume that Romano is not pointing a rush-to-judgment finger at the police officer error or miscalculations. Though the police themselves seemed to act in a rush-to-judgment form. They try to seize “Africa,” then taze him, then shoot him all within a few minutes. And this shortly after patrol officers arrived on the scene. That to me sounds pretty rushed. But Romano does rush to judgment on Skid Row, using it to deflect from the brutality and unjustified, official murder with impunity. Remember, police brutality is not the festering problem; no, it’s Skid Row, that section of Los Angeles that has been around for more than 100 years. Apparently after this one murder, it is suddenly festering. Why did we not hear of this festering yesterday or last week?
“But the sad news from L.A. should also call attention to a systemic, festering problem that devastates more Angelenos, day in and day out, than sporadic police shootings ever could.” Sadly, Romano still has that grainy eye on the situation and cause. Before a police report has been issued, before eye witnesses have been culled and questioned, Romano points to a street. The man shot was not murdered by other members of Skid Row, no derelict on drugs. If that were to happen we might not have even heard about any murder at all. But everybody, every man on the streets has a camera these days, which makes it more difficult for the police to get away with murder. Even though the makeshift cardboard gravemarker reads “Cameroon” (perhaps a friendly play on Cameron), the best that Romano could do to identify the murder victim is that he goes by the name of “Africa.” Could Romano dig no further? Nothing more specific than a continent? Talk about globalizing.
I parse Romano’s words and phrases because the whole narrative surrounding young black men being shot is like a tug-of-war by at least three different groups vying to get their narrative of the story to stick. You know the usual race hustlers–Jackson, Sharpton, and others. And they coach the surviving members of the family how and what to say to the police. The police have their own narrative–cop was threatened, victim was careless, etc. The reports begin first by rendering the victim a non-person. In this case, the first we hear of Charley Robinet is as “Africa.” Was it because his style or speech was as big as Africa? I do not know. Was it because he was from Africa, Cameroon, perhaps? Maybe. I do not know.
Then just as “Cameroon” will need witnesses from beyond the grave, Romano seeks out witnesses to corroborate his grainy distortions. Ah, one Reverend Andy Bales. Father Andy perhaps? “I think this tragic event is more a reflection of Skid Row itself than a reflection of the police or the man who was killed,” the Rev. Andy Bales tells Yahoo News. (Bales runs the Union Rescue Mission shelter and has worked on Skid Row for 10 years.) “We’re asking the LAPD to maintain peace in a horrible environment. Skid Row is full of people trapped in an untenable living situation — a Twilight Zone they can’t escape.” Bales doesn’t blame the uniformed thugs or the man who was swinging crudely at four LAPD officers. So not that man’s fault. I would say that he’s at fault a little since it looks like he was reacting to being provoked. His lashing out caused the officers to gang up on him, to take him down, taze him, and then murder him. So, no, Rev. Bales, I think that you’re wrong. The deceased definitely had his fate in his own hands.
What about the LAPD? Bales says that it “is more a reflection of Skid Row itself than reflection of the police . . . .” I don’t know about that either. You hear about police shooting all the time in the news. There are YouTube channels and websites and blogs dedicated to police brutality and unjust murders at the hands of the police. This was not the case in the 1950s of the Andy Griffith era. In the span of 60 years we’ve gone from Barney Fife to a team of marauding thugs who have each others’ backs in court. Yes, Skid Row has overgrown. I was down there last summer and was shocked at the increase of homeless folks. The homeless folks used to be contained on streets between 3rd and 7th west of Alameda.When I was down there last summer, Alameda was overflowing with homeless men and women on the sidewalks. Just seemed like the businesses in the area had no help. I mean what customer, however eager, would walk those crowded sidewalks?
It’s not until after Romano wades through a detective-fiction description of Skid Row that he examines the shooting. Romano does not write with any shock or horror of a callous, unjustified murder. Instead, he hears one of the officers command “Africa” to “drop the gun.” “A confrontation ensued. The graphic, disturbing video, which was later posted on Facebook, shows the police punching and Tasering the man before one of them appears to shout, “Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” Five shots are fired. Africa was pronounced dead at the scene.” Romano goes on to say that “Africa” grabbed an officer’s gun. But where does a Skid Row man with 10 years of mental illness suddenly get the wherewithal to snatch a cop’s gun. Or maybe they will claim, no, it’s the fact that he is crazy that he attempted to grab the gun at all and in the first place. This just sounds to me like a repeat of the drop gun. But it’s a familiar story. It is claimed that “Africa” “grabbed” one of the officer’s gun. You do hear one of the officers say “drop the gun! Drop the gun!” But this is a scenario that it way too familiar to the point that it scripted and rehearsed as a way to set someone up who is targeted for murder. I am not saying that “Africa” was targeted or that the LAPD were running surveillance on him. I am saying that it is beyond a cover story, but in fact a cover scenario. “Africa” didn’t seem to me like he was strong enough or fast enough to subdue four large, bulky police officers. But just to be sure, I ran the video back a few times to look for “Africa” stealing taking one of the officer’s guns. I could not find that. But I did find at the 27-second mark the officer who pinned “Africa” to the concrete pull something up from the sidewalk and holster something. Was it that officer’s gun? If it was and if he was holstering the gun, why did the officers need to shout it as though they are conducting a drill? Why not just mention it, pin the man’s hand down, and extract the gun? Why is it that four officers with guns are more afraid of a homeless man, weak, demoralized, and undernourished with a possible gun? Police don’t lie, do they?
After Romano lays the foundation that “Africa” had a gun (without ever being clear that it was loaded, that it was pointed at anybody), he then goes onto assassinate “Africa’s” character by pointing to “Africa’s” history with mental illness. Odd that Romano and the LAPD don’t even know the man’s name besides tagging nothing more specific than a continent on him but they know about the 10 years he spent in a mental hospital. “The more difficult questions, perhaps, are the ones that fewer Americans will ask. Why was a troubled man who reportedly spent 10 years in a mental facility living in squalor on the streets of the nation’s last dedicated homeless district? Why was he surrounded by as many as 6,000 men, women and children in similarly dire straits — 2,000 of whom sleep on the sidewalks? How can a place like this even still exist? And what can be done about it?” And then Romano turns back to Skid Row. Not surprising, the article reads more like a petition for a grant, a grant of federal funds to address the problem not of police murdering with impunity but of the problems with Skid Row.