On Thursday morning, at just after six o’clock, a lone gunman shot and wounded two men in the underground parking area of the Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic synagogue, in the North Hollywood area of Los Angeles. Given the setting and the scant details immediately available, it is unsurprising that the Los Angeles Police Department responded on the assumption that the crime may have been an act of terrorism. Los Angeles has a large Jewish population, and a visitor to any synagogue or other Jewish facility in the city is bound to notice the signs of vigilance against the threat that ever lurks outside its doors.
Yesterday, Phyllis Chessler chronicled only a sampling of the world’s more infamous anti-Semitic attacks of the last several years, but she neglected to mention an incident that occurred ten years ago just a few miles from the scene of Thursday’s shooting. On August 10, 1999, white supremacist Buford Furrow opened fire at the North Valley Jewish Community Center’s child care facility, wounding four children and an adult. (And could you invent a better name for a white supremacist than Buford Furrow?) He then shot and killed a Filipino-American letter carrier in a nearby neighborhood before fleeing to Las Vegas where he surrendered to the FBI. He escaped execution by pleading guilty to all the charges against him and accepting a life sentence.
Some of the LAPD officers who responded to Thursday’s shooting were there ten years ago as well, and for them there must have been something of a here-we-go-again feeling to it all. It soon turned into a full-blown media circus, with politicians and LAPD brass parading before the cameras and hundreds of police officers brought in from all over town for purposes never made entirely clear. But as I watched the incident unfold on television and listened to the radio traffic from the scene, it soon became apparent that what had occurred was not a terrorist act but rather an example of the kind of violence that, in other circumstances and in other parts of the city, would have been easily ignored by the politicians, the brass, and the press. The Los Angeles Times reported that detectives believe one of the victims may have been specifically targeted over a business or personal dispute, and that the second victim was shot merely because he happened onto the scene. Even as crime continues to fall all over Los Angeles, shootings such as this one remain sadly common.
Nevertheless, the neighborhood where the shooting occurred was turned upside down for hours on Thursday while the entire LAPD remained on tactical alert. Deputy Chief Michael Moore told reporters that officers were maintaining what he described as a “loose perimeter” around the neighborhood and that officers were searching the area for a suspect. Moore knows, or should know, that having a “loose” perimeter is like having none at all, especially when, as was the case on Thursday, it’s set up long after the crime has occurred. To no one’s surprise, no suspect was found.
But as one of three finalists hoping to succeed William Bratton as chief of police, Moore surely wanted to pull out all the stops in an incident as fraught with political implications as this one was at first believed to be, one that offered him the chance to take center stage just as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is set to make his selection for chief. So it was interesting to watch the LAPD’s machinery grinding and lurching and spinning into overdrive over what will probably turn out to be a fairly routine crime (if indeed any shooting can be said to be “routine”).
Though William Bratton has left town, his resignation isn’t official until Saturday. Deputy Chief Michael Downing, the head of the counter-terrorism bureau, has been designated to serve as interim chief but hasn’t yet been sworn in. Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell, another finalist for chief, was Bratton’s second-in-command and on Thursday was technically in charge of the department. Both Downing and McDonnell were at the command post Thursday, as was Moore, who as the head of Valley Bureau was the incident commander. After Villaraigosa spoke to reporters from the scene, it was McDonnell who next took to the microphones, which must have been galling to Moore, whose craving for the spotlight is surpassed in recent memory only by that of William Bratton.
McDonnell spoke to reporters in his characteristic fashion: confident, but without the superciliousness that so marked Bratton. He spoke for a minute or so before yielding to Moore, who demonstrated his annoying habit of lapsing into multi-syllable cop jargon when plain English would better serve. (The victims, he said, had been shot in the “lower extremities.” What’s wrong with “legs”?)
Given the amount of resources that will be thrown into this investigation, it’s surely only a matter of time before a suspect is identified and an arrest made. Which is all well and good, but it’s a shame the city of Los Angeles can’t make the same commitment to every violent crime victim. I recall an incident from some months back in which seven people were shot, but because none of them died, not a single detective rolled out to the scene.
Nor did any reporters, which in its own way is just as shameful.