Police and city officials met Thursday night with residents and activists in a standing-room-only town hall, two days after police fatally shot an unarmed homeless man near the Venice boardwalk.
Emotions were running high in the Westminster Elementary School auditorium. Voices were high too. Several times, audience members shouted down the officials who were trying to make introductory remarks.
City Councilman Mike Bonin said the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Brendon Glenn highlights problems with how LAPD interacts with panhandlers and people living on the streets.
“We always fail each other and the homeless when we make LAPD our first responder for homelessness,” said Bonin. “That doesn’t work.”
Bonin, who represents Venice, also said he recognized that residents are frustrated by homelessness in the community. “Many people in Venice are angry about encampments outside their front doors on the paths their children take to school,” adding that they “get heckled and threatened in their own neighborhoods.”
The town hall organized by LAPD, revealed disagreements not just over the chain of events that led to Glenn’s death, but also whether the incident is symbolic of a wider systemic problem: Was it all about the tensions between homeowners and homeless in a gentrifying neighborhood? Or the escalation that often arises when police confront suspects suffering from mental illness?
An activist named Sean Janoschka got loud cheers when he told city and police officials they were missing the point.
“One of the reasons the crowd is so angry is they’re seeing a lot of deflection from this group. We don’t really want to center this issue around mental illness or homelessness, we’re looking at a crime scene,” he said. “Part of the reason why people have been motivated to come out tonight is they see it not as a local issue but as a national issue, it’s a police abuse issue.”
Residents, store owners, activists and friends of Glenn lined up to speak. Marvis Davis, pastor of the New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Venice, asked a question that others echoed. “We want to know the name of the officer, we want to know if he’s been relieved of his duties,” Davis said.
Glenn, who went by the nickname “Dizzle,” died Tuesday night after a struggle with two officers near the Venice boardwalk. One officer opened fire. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Wednesday that after viewing a video of the shooting he was “very concerned” about the justification. The shooting is being reviewed by the civilian Police Commission, its inspector general and the district attorney’s office.
Inspector General Alexander Bustamante heads civilian oversight of the LAPD. He told the crowd “one of the officers has been interviewed about the incident” but did not know whether it was the shooter. He said his office was still reviewing security surveillance video.
LAPD Deputy Chief Beatrice Girmala was also short on answers. When speaking about the security video, she said that they wanted more witnesses to come forward before releasing the footage, if ever. “One of the reasons that video is not out there is we cannot taint the memories of witnesses, we want them to be absolutely pure,” she said.
A few blocks away, Glenn’s friends scrawled colorful chalk messages as a memorial. A young man picked at an electric guitar. Another was petting a black and white dog named “Dozer” that he said belonged to Glenn. Tourists and TV crews looked on as a couple homeless teens wondered whether the coming rain would wash away the chalk.