On Monday, the LAPD’s Deon Joseph took to the preferred platform of cops and developers, the Los Angeles Downtown News, to attribute blame for the humanitarian crisis on Skid Row to everyone but those in law enforcement:
When it comes to policing Skid Row, it seems as if my fellow officers and I are keeping our fingers in the cracks of a dam to prevent it from breaking. Though many people may not realize it, we are in the throes of a mental health state of emergency.
An extremely marginalized class of the Central City East community today is vulnerable to the criminal element that operates in Skid Row. That segment of the community is the mentally ill.
“We have done the best that we can,” Joseph wrote. “It is not the LAPD that has failed the mentally ill or the public. It is our society that has failed them.”
There is of course a good deal of truth to that — American society has failed the poor and mentally ill — but it’s a self-serving truth that glosses over the fact that it is the LAPD which everyday harasses the homeless residents of downtown Los Angeles, keeping them from sitting or lying on the street during the day; it is men and women with badges who put the mentally ill in jail. The police are not a benign force on Skid Row, but an active participant in the efforts to clear the homeless out of sight in order to clear the way for developers and upper-middle class gentrifiers.
Indeed, 2 days after Joseph’s Op-Ed, “Skid Row residents met . . . with Los Angeles police to protest the death of a mentally ill homeless man who fell off a rooftop after officers shocked him with a Taser as he attempted to avoid arrest,” according to The Los Angeles Times:
[Carlos] Ocana, known to his friends as Amado Ocania, was one of a group of Cuban emigres who spend their days at the skid row intersection.
Roberto, a member of the group who would give only his first name, said in an interview that Ocana had scrambled up the billboard after a security guard discovered him sleeping on top of the one-story building, which houses a mini-market, and called police.
Roberto, speaking through an interpreter, said Ocana had taken off his shirt and was waving it in an obvious signal of surrender when he came down the ladder. He also said Ocana had longstanding mental health issues that were well-known to the officers, and that police refused to let his friends try to talk him down.
“He was scared. SWAT came with big guns — real, real guns,” Roberto said.
Go ahead and blame “society” for willfully neglecting its poor and disenfranchised — society deserves it — but don’t forget that the police and their big guns are the armed wing of those among us who care the least: the rich.