Take a Google Maps Tour of L.A.'s Skid Row, Where LAPD Shot a Homeless Man

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The headline above the Los Angeles Times story was instructive, but not for the reasons the writer may have intended.  “Dozens protest LAPD shooting of homeless man on skid row,” it read.  A reader may have asked, “Dozens?  As many as that?”  On any given day in Los Angeles you might find dozens of people protesting any number of things, but seldom does such a small gathering warrant coverage by the L.A. Times.  One can almost hear the editor asking the reporter, “Are you sure there weren’t more people there?  Can’t we say ‘hundreds’ in the headline instead?”

Television station KTLA was a bit more generous with its estimate of the crowd’s size.  “Hundreds Protest in Downtown L.A. After Homeless Man Is Killed by Police,” read the headline on the Internet version of their story.  In numbering the protesters, the station’s reporter took care to note that there were “a couple hundred of them,” making the headline technically accurate, if only barely.

But still, the sparse turnout must have disappointed those in the media hoping to turn the March 1 shooting death of Charly (some sources say Charley) Leundeu Keunang into the next rallying point for the type of “social justice” campaigns that followed the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.  Video of the shooting (warning: deadly violence and abundant coarse language) has been widely seen, most often accompanied by the description of the deceased as “unarmed” and “homeless.”  Both terms are accurate but, as things turned out, irrelevant.  The video revealed Mr. Keunang did indeed try to remove an officer’s sidearm from its holster, this, while the officers were trying to detain him in the course of a robbery investigation.  And as details about Mr. Keunang’s past emerged – he went to federal prison for a 2000 bank robbery in which he pistol whipped a teller – the story lost the kind of public traction that propelled Messrs. Brown and Garner into international prominence.

Indeed, if your protest can’t draw more than 200 homeless people, who have nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, what hope do you have of attracting a wider audience?  KTLA interviewed one resident of skid row who summed up the case nicely.  “If you grab a cop’s gun,” he said, “they’re going to kill you.  They’re going to put you in the ground.  You’re going to have a funeral service.  You’re going to be dead if you grab a cop’s gun . . . Don’t protest for a homeless crackhead bum.”

And “homeless crackhead bum” is a description befitting many denizens of L.A.’s skid row, including just about every single one of the people you see gather in the video after the shooting.  I’m very familiar with that part of downtown Los Angeles.  I’ve arrested people on that very block, in fact, and I can tell you that the only place where you’ll find a higher concentration of criminals is inside an actual prison.  I described conditions on skid row back in 2006 in a column I wrote for National Review Online.  In that column I discussed the recent decision out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, one that for all practical purposes created the constitutional right to be a bum.