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Murder, Shootings, and Excessive Force: Tracking the String of Police Violence that led to CHP Plowing Through Protesters in L.A.

[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]ollowing the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, this week in Los Angeles, the Sheriff’s Department shot and killed a man in Westmont, the LAPD shot a man in North Hollywood and later that day a CHP officer plowed into a group of protestors. These are the most recent use of force incidents in Los Angeles County and the week isn’t even over yet. 

On Tuesday, a day after the George Floyd video surfaced on social media, a man in South L.A. was shot and killed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department at around 5 PM. The shooting occurred near the corners of 109th Street and Budlong Avenue in Westmont, an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, less than a mile away from the L.A. County Sheriff’s South L.A. headquarters.

The shooting victim was described by the sheriff’s department as a “Hispanic male” that was a suspect in a nearby murder a few weeks ago. According to Lieutenant Robert Westphalt of the LASD Homicide Division, the shooting occurred after undercover sheriff’s identified the man and he fled. According to Westphalt, the man produced a handgun and pointed it at sheriffs before the deputy-involved shooting occurred.

Community members identified the victim as 18-year-old Robert Avitia aka Sykes, a lifelong resident of 110th and Budlong according to friends. In a video posted on Instagram, a reported witness of the shooting and close friend of Avitia’s details the incident. According to the witness and video footage, Avitia was up against three Sheriffs barricaded behind a parked car. After being shot once, Avitia reportedly tried to surrender. According to witnesses, Sheriffs approached Avitia as he was bloody and crawling on the sidewalk and shot him several more times at close range. Avitia’s body reportedly remained on the sidewalk for more than six hours.

A graphic Instagram video filmed from across the street corroborates parts of what witnesses described.

According to a GoFundMe page set up by Avitia’s sister, Michelle Avitia, her brother was unarmed at the time of the shooting, “He was saying his last good byes (sic) on the phone to my mother and not holding a gun as the sheriffs want everyone to believe.” The fundraiser has garnered over $3,000 in donations and attracted the support of community leaders like rapper Swifty Blue.

“He didn’t have a gun on him anymore. The point is, he was surrendering. My little homie was still alive and they didn’t call no ambulance. We are all proven guilty or innocent by the court of law not by the guns of the police,” Wealthy Robando, an artist and close friend of Avitia, told L.A. Taco via Instagram Thursday morning.

Avitia’s death comes just a day after video footage of a fatal arrest in Minneapolis surfaced, sparking national outrage.

The disturbing, 10-minute video shows a Minneapolis police officer with his knee firmly on the neck of a pinned down George Floyd. “Please, please I can’t breathe,” Floyd pleads in the video as the officer continues to hold him down for over seven minutes until he appears unconscious. Eventually, the paramedics arrive and pronounce Floyd dead.

Despite being 1,900 miles away from Minneapolis, the murder of George Floyd was heartfelt in Los Angeles, a county where police shootings occur in the dozens each year.

There has been an LAPD Officer-Involved Shooting in North Hollywood, on the 6400 block of Elmer Ave (major cross streets of Tujunga & Victory). A Public Information Officer is responding to the scene and we will provide more details as they become available.

— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) May 27, 2020
This year the Sheriff’s Department has been involved in over four deputy involved shootings and the LAPD has been involved in over 18 use of force incidents.

This week’s deputy involved shooting in South L.A comes nearly a year and half after Anthony “AJ” Weber, a 16 year old father, was gunned down by the Sheriff's Department and almost a year after Ryan Twyman, a 23 year old father, was fatally shot by deputies in Willowbrook last summer. On June 6, 2019 Twyman was shot at over 30 times while he sat unarmed in a car. That same day, four other people were shot by L.A. County law enforcement officers.

On February 4, 2018, Weber was shot and killed on the 1200 block of 107th Street, just a couple of blocks away from where Avitia was fatally shot.

According to Wealthy Robando, one of the cops that shot Weber was also involved in the shooting of Avitia.

This week’s deputy involved shooting also follows an alarming series of gang-related shootings across South L.A. over the past two weeks, including four shootings in a five hour span last week.

On Wednesday night five people were shot near West Athens, a little over a mile from where the deputy involved shooting occurred that same day.

An uprising on the freeway and a head injury

In honor of Floyd, Avitia, Weber and over 600 other victims of police violence, Black Lives Matter announced that they would resume their in-person “Bye Jackie” demonstrations, a weekly gathering that’s been going on for over two years, to honor the victims of police violence while denouncing the leadership of District Attorney Jackie Lacey. The incumbent prosecutor – who is often criticized for not prosecuting law enforcement – is facing a November runoff election with former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon.

In-person protests are one of the approved activities that were announced on Tuesday as a part of the county’s reopening plan. Under the county order, protests of 100 people or less are allowed to recommence.

“Online protests only take us so far...Time to get up!” Black Lives Matter L.A. declared on social media early Wednesday.

At around 4 PM that afternoon, hundreds of people gathered around the Los Angeles Hall of Justice near the corners of Temple Boulevard and Spring Street. Barriers, seemingly set up to deter protestors, forced the crowd into the first lane of traffic on Spring Street.

The action started the way most Black Lives Matter actions begin, with a libations ceremony—a ritual pouring of liquid that coincides with participants calling out the names of victims of police violence.

Following the ceremony, demonstrators split up in different directions. Later a group of people stalled traffic on the southbound side of the 101 freeway. Demonstrators were met by a CHP patrol car on the freeway and that’s when things turned violent.

As tensions between the CHP patrol car and demonstrators climbed, the CHP car quickly accelerated through the crowd, pushing its way through dozens of people and sending one person that latched onto the vehicle flying off of its hood. That person was briefly knocked unconscious but survived and was transported to a hospital.

The demonstration continued into the late evening although by that time, many of the original organizers had already left the scene.

Wednesday's action mirrors similar demonstrations that took place across the country following the death of George Floyd and follow weeks of local opposition contesting the latest city budget. Under the Mayor’s proposed budget, LAPD will receive a substantial bonus and account for over half of the general fund, while most other departments experience cuts. A coalition of organizations led by Black Lives Matter L.A. are calling for a “People’s Budget,” a budget that reflects the needs of the community and not politicians or police.

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