Los Angeles police officers shot and killed a man Friday night at a busy intersection in one of the city’s tourist hotspots while onlookers ducked into nearby stores for safety or recorded the aftermath of the incident on their phones.
Conflicting stories surrounded the shooting on Friday evening. Police sources told local reporters they were investigating an assault with a deadly weapon nearby when officers shot a man armed with a knife around 7 p.m. Friday night at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. “When he saw the officers, he approached them and an officer-involved shooting occurred,” Detective Meghan Aguilar told KTLA. A bucket drummer who witnessed the shooting said the man put his hands in his pockets when officers “ran up on him,” drew their guns, and killed him.
“I don’t know what he had but I can say that when they told him to get down and comply, he did not at all. He had his hands outside of his pockets. When they ran up on him, he went inside of his pockets and stuck both hands inside of his pockets,” drummer Bruce Cherry told reporters. “That’s when they pulled out on him, that’s when the shots rang out.”
But no one turned up injured in connection to the alleged assault that officers were investigating, and a man said the victim was a friend of his named Cody who “liked to wave a knife to scare tourists,” according to NBC Los Angeles. Police have not yet identified the dead man.
The setting, the suddenness, and the reported provocation make Friday’s incident reminiscent of a controversial police shooting in New York City in 2013. Officers shot two bystanders in Times Square while attempting to shoot an unarmed, seemingly unstable man who was weaving through traffic in Manhattan’s high-traffic tourist mecca. They then charged the man with assault for causing the officers to shoot the bystanders.
While details of Friday’s shooting are still emerging, officers seemed to have engaged in the same rapid escalation that has been criticized in other recent shootings. In St. Louis this past August, officers shot a man holding a knife less than 20 seconds after arriving at the convenience store where he had allegedly stolen two cans of soda. While police in Los Angeles, St. Louis, and New York City have long been criticized over their deployment of lethal force, Burlington, VT officers had not fired their guns on duty in 16 years when they killed a mentally ill man last November because he was brandishing a shovel.
These clashes occupy a different category of police violence from the killings of unarmed black men that have sparked mass street protest around the country in recent months, such as the barehanded killing of Eric Garner by New York police who applied a prohibited chokehold while the 43-year-old said “I can’t breathe” repeatedly. Protests have also been inflamed by twelve-year-old Tamir Rice, who Cleveland police shot and killed for playing with a toy gun. The officers killed Rice so soon after getting to the scene that the driver of the car wasn’t even out of his cruiser yet. Officer Timothy Loehmann’s record of handling his weapon was so poor that a previous department had forced him to step down.
Los Angeles police are also under scrutiny as the public awaits the release of autopsy results in the LAPD killing of Ezell Ford, an unarmed man who eyewitnesses say was laying on the ground when officers shot him this past summer. Ford was killed two days after officers in Ferguson, MO shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
In each case, trained officers escalated the situation, and killed someone who might have been subdued another way. Police killings are notoriously difficult to track and analyze systematically because hundreds of them never get reported to official crime and violence databases maintained by the federal government.