Everyone knows there are few certainties in life. Yes, you always hear about death and taxes, but recent events here in Los Angeles have revealed other certainties which are, perhaps not coincidentally, related to the first two.
The first is this: If it is your custom to spend your afternoons getting drunk, wielding knives, and menacing passers-by on busy street corners, and if, after the police have arrived as they must when this behavior has been brought to their attention, you fail to drop your knife when ordered to do so, and if then you further tempt fate by advancing toward a police officer with the knife raised in such a way that the officer reasonably believes his life is imperiled, it is as close to a certainty as this world can produce that you will be shot and maybe even killed.
So discovered — too late — one Manuel Jamines (a.k.a. Manuel Ramirez, a.k.a. Gregorio Luis Perez, a.k.a. heaven knows what else) on the afternoon of September 5 at the corner of 6th Street and Union Avenue, just west of downtown Los Angeles.
The facts presented by the Los Angeles Police Department are these: At about 1 p.m., three officers from the LAPD’s Rampart Division were patrolling that area on bicycles when they were flagged down by people who informed them that Jamines (or whatever his name is) was brandishing a knife and threatening people, including a pregnant woman and some children.
The officers stopped and got off their bikes, and at least one of them ordered Jamines — in both English and Spanish — to drop his knife. Rather than comply with the order and surrender, Jamines raised the knife and advanced on one of the officers as if prepared to attack him. That officer fired his service pistol, striking Jamines and killing him on the spot. The entire encounter lasted about 40 seconds.
There followed four nights of protests, some of them violent, when area residents and some outsiders took to the streets and challenged the many LAPD officers who were called in from all over the city. Protesters threw all manner of projectiles at officers, including rocks, bottles, and eggs, they lit trash cans on fire, they rolled fully loaded Dumpsters weighing hundreds of pounds downhill at them, and when officers chased some of them into nearby apartment buildings, they threw microwave ovens, air conditioning units, television sets, and a variety of other items from upper-floor windows and rooftops. Some also armed themselves with slingshots and used them to shoot marbles at police officers and reporters.
The protests were fueled by what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has described as a “deliberate campaign of disinformation about the facts concerning this shooting,” the most egregious example of which was the claim that Jamines was unarmed when he was shot. Why some people have chosen to believe this assertion, made by a woman who was on the other side of a traffic-filled, four-lane street rather than the version of events provided by those who were themselves threatened by Jamines and his knife is a mystery that will no doubt go unexplained.
But then again, perhaps it’s no mystery after all. In fact it involves yet another certainty, one involving both death and taxes, which we may sum up simply thus: When a police officer kills someone, no matter how clearly justified he may have been in doing so, there will soon come forth relatives of the deceased who will tearfully claim he would never, never hurt anyone and certainly wouldn’t have threatened a police officer. These assertions will be made in preparation for the inevitable lawsuit and demand for millions of dollars in compensation to be extracted from the taxpayers’ pockets. And, just as anyone who follows these stories here in L.A. might have expected, along came Los Angeles attorney Luis Carrillo, sometimes referred to as the Latino Johnnie Cochran, who joined the protesters on Tuesday and presumably handed out a business card or two to Jamines’s relatives.