07 Sep Police Kill Two Youth; Refuse to Release Footage
By Bob Wing
The Los Angeles Police are under fire again, this time for the fatal shooting of two teenagers in August. Facts in the cases are under hot dispute, yet the police refuse to release body camera footage.
On Aug. 16 a Los Angeles police officer killed Kenny Watkins, 18, in South L.A. during a traffic stop in the early afternoon. The shooting took place just hours after residents made a powerful demand on the city Police Commission to release body camera footage of the Aug. 9 police killing of 14-year-old Jesse Romero in Boyle Heights.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Watkins “is the 16th person shot by on-duty LAPD officers this year.” Thirteen have died.
Alberto Retana, president of Community Coalition questioned, “Why did white shooter Dylann Roof who massacred nine African Americans during a prayer service in their Charleston church come away alive, but Blacks and Latinos—with or without guns–too often end up shot dead by the police.”
A community member who knows Kenny Watkins asks: “How does a traffic stop end up with the police killing an 18-year-old Black kid?”
Teresa Dominguez, 36, Romero’s mother, said she could not understand why police would shoot someone so young. “It was not right for them to do what they did or kill him. That’s why they are trained as police officers. Not to kill him.”
Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter says that, over the last three years, “the Los Angeles Police Department has killed more of its residents than any other law enforcement unit in the country.” BLM has been staging an ongoing 40 day sit-in at City Hall calling on Mayor Eric Garcetti to fire LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
‘Release the body camera footage. We want transparency!’
The facts in the shooting of Jesse Romero are hotly contested. The police say Romero shot at them, and they killed him in return fire.
But an eyewitness who only gave her first name, Norma, claims she saw Romero dispose of his gun while running away from the police. She says the gun discharged as it hit the ground.
“These cases are usually decided on facts and the LAPD has been very aggressive at promoting the facts as they see them favorable to their own officers in justifying the shooting,” said Jorge Gonzalez, an attorney for Ms. Dominguez.
He said the only way to know for sure is for the LAPD to release the video images from the body cameras.
“Let the public figure out if this was a wrongful shooting or a justifiable shooting,” Gonzalez said. “We want transparency.”
Ramon Gomez, an aide at Hollenbeck Middle School where Jesse was a student, lamented: “He was a bright, smart kid. To see him go like this, I never expected this.”
In the wake of the shooting, 23 nonprofit organizations in Boyle Heights say they want the city of Los Angeles to create a special department for more youth programs.
According to the group, Los Angeles invested only $35 million in city-wide youth programs for the fiscal year 2015-16, compared with New York City’s $536-million investment.
“Everyone says that youth are the future, but the city of L.A. doesn’t invest in us or our future,” said Araceli Rodriguez, 17, a youth leader at Legacy LA.
An LAPD spokesperson says the man who killed Kenny Watkins was a traffic officer. She said the officer reported that he was pursuing Watkins and opened fire when he saw the teenager “start to turn toward him while holding a gun.”
Police have not explained what prompted the officer to stop the car at Century and Figueroa where the incident began.
The officer involved was wearing a body camera, but police have not released the footage.
Attorney Caree Harper said he and Watkins’ mother were skeptical of the police account and were launching their own investigation.
On the evening of Aug. 17 dozens of people gathered at the site where Watkins was killed to pray with his mother, Precious Sasser. Ms. Sasser said Kenny “just had that winning smile and personality. He was my baby.”
He was near completion of Duke Ellington Continuation High School where he enjoyed photography and computer science.
An unidentified cousin of Watkins said, “He was a good kid, didn’t get in too much trouble,” the unidentified man said. “I just hate that this happened. I just wish the killing would stop.”