http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmBOv4QEzO0&feature=youtu.beLOS ANGELES — Community activists are demanding the firing of a Los Angeles police officer who mistakenly shot an unarmed teenager last week.
At a rally held outside the 77th Street Community Police Station Feb. 17, a small gathering of activists demanded a meeting with Police Chief Charlie Beck in the wake of the shooting of Jamar Nicholson, 15, who was shot in the back Feb. 10 while on his way to school with a group of friends.
Najee Ali, political director for the Los Angeles chapter of the National Action Network, questioned the competency of the officer who shot Nicholson.
The officer was with other officers in plainclothes conducting an investigation in the 7200 block of 10th Avenue, near Crenshaw Boulevard and Florence Avenue at about 7:45 a.m., when they came upon a group of teenagers in an alley. One of the teens had a replica handgun in his hand.
One officer called out to the youth with the replica weapon and ordered him to put it down, and when he didn’t, an officer-involved shooting occurred, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Nicholson, who was not holding the toy gun, was hit in the back, the bullet narrowly missing his spine and lodging in his back.
The LAPD said that multiple warnings were given before the shooting, but nearby residents who heard the gunshots said they did not hear officers issue a warning to drop a weapon.
Nicholson told the Los Angeles Times he knew his friend was carrying an airsoft gun but had no idea whether his friend was pointing it in his direction.
The boys were walking their normal route to school, when he heard someone yell, “Freeze!” Seconds later, he was shot.
The boy holding the replica gun was not injured. At the time of the shooting, he was pointing the replica away from officers, who were apparently unable to see its red tip, said LAPD spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Smith at a press conference last week.
Nicholson was taken to a hospital, treated and released to his mother.
An LAPD captain apologized to Nicholson’s mother, The Times reported, but the teen said he wants to hear that directly from the officer who shot him.
“I don’t want to see him again … but I do want that ‘sorry,’” Nicholson told The Times.
No arrests were made, but officials said the boy with the replica handgun could eventually be charged.
The department blamed the incident on the existence of realistic replica weapons.
“When you carry a fake weapon or a fake gun in a community that has a lot of weapons in it, people will react much differently than they will in a community where there aren’t weapons,” Phillip Tingirides, an assistant commanding officer for Operation South Bureau for the LAPD, said.
“Whether it’s a police officer or whether it’s somebody else who is armed — who shouldn’t be — when you pull out a fake gun, you take a chance of getting shot.”
“It’s one of those things where you might ask yourself ‘Is it fair, that in this community, I’m in a lot more danger than I am in that community?’ No, it’s not fair, but it is the reality,” Tingirides said.
To say replica weapons pose a serious threat to public safety is an understatement, Tingirides said. He said he has heard of cases where people took real guns and put a colored tip on the end so they couldn’t be distinguished from a toy gun.
But community activist Ali, recalling incidents over the last six months in which an unarmed Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and Ezell Ford was shot to death by police here in South Los Angeles, called the shooting inexcusable.
“The officer shot the wrong kid to begin with,” Ali said. “We know for a fact that statistics show that all children of all races play with toy guns. But it seems only the black and Latino children end up being shot.” “It’s inexcusable.”
Other activists agreed with Ali and called for greater accountability.
Three days after the shooting, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, called for better training to help officers recognize the difference between a real gun and a fake one.
Outside the 77th Street Police Station Feb. 17, public reaction was mixed.
“I don’t want to blame the police for something like that at all,” Lawrence Ross said. “I’ve seen toy guns and they look real. I don’t know if people are thinking the best lighting is always going to be available to the police, but if it’s dim outside, I’m going to think it’s a real gun, too.”
Raymond Nelson remembers a time when toy guns did not have a colored tip indicating they were fake. When Nelson was a child, both replica and real weapons looked convincingly similar. But nowadays, he cannot see how an officer could make such a grave mistake.
“Well, I guess their training speaks for itself, don’t it?” Nelson said.
The shooting is under investigation by the LAPD’s Force Investigation Division.
The coalition of activists plans to march and rally against police brutality at 10 a.m. Feb. 21 in front of the Southwest Division Police Station, 1546 West Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.