The latest fatal police shooting to be caught on video happened on Los Angeles’s skid row. The victim was a man — likely homeless — currently identified only by the name “Africa.” LAPD has claimed that they became involved with Africa after responding to a report of a robbery. While resisting arrest, the man allegedly grabbed one of the officer’s weapons.
Although the details of the situation are unclear, the video clearly depicts at least five shots being fired at the man while other officers surround him and pin him down.
Even if the body-cam footage and the audio enhancement that the police intend to use during the investigation prove that the killing was justified, it’s always sad when officers have to resort to deadly violence.
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It’s even sadder when the victim of police abuse is targeted or discriminated against for being homeless. While Africa might have been involved in a robbery, many other homeless people face arrest for crimes that they’re unable to avoid. Loitering, public urination and panhandling are all considered crimes. Even sitting or sleeping in certain locations can be criminalized. Throwing homeless people in jail for such minor offenses is far from the rehabilitation and help that they need.
Just a few days before Africa was shot on the streets of Los Angeles, a California state lawmaker introduced the “Right to Rest Act” in the state Senate. The bill, which is similar to those introduced in Colorado, Oregon and Hawaii, would grant homeless people the right to use public space as they wish. It would reduce discrimination against California’s homeless population, making it legal for people to eat, rest and protect themselves from the elements in public.
“It’s time to address poverty, mental health and the plight of the homeless head-on as a social issue and not a criminal issue,” said State Sen. Carol Liu. “Citing homeless people for resting in a public space can lead to their rejection for jobs, education loans and housing, further denying them a pathway out of poverty.”
The man who was shot and killed on Skid Row yesterday might have threatened the police officers by resisting arrest and attempting to grab a firearm, but the high-profile nature of his death means the "Right to Rest Act" is being introduced in timely fashion. Hopefully the truth about what actually occurred will emerge in more detail, but the fact remains that the victim is dead.
Just as Mike Brown and Eric Garner sparked a national debate about the role race plays in law enforcement, hopefully Africa’s death can be a wake-up call to the amount of abuse homeless people face on a daily basis. Even if Africa was somehow guilty, there’s no question that discrimination played a factor. Homeless lives matter, too, and the "Right to Rest Act" is a chance to guarantee that all of California’s citizens are awarded the equal rights that they deserve.
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