Last Friday, the Memphis Police Department released its videos of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, prompting an outpouring of protest, grief and commemoration across the country, including in California where Nichols spent much of his life.
One day earlier — and initially receiving little public notice — Anthony Lowe Jr., a 36-year-old Black man whose legs had both been amputated at the knee, was killed by police in southeast Los Angeles County.
Only this week — with the circulation of a grainy 23-second video, taken by a passerby, of the moments leading up to the shooting — is Lowe’s death getting more attention from the press, with activists demanding justice.
What we know so far, from the reporting of LAist and others:
- Police officers in Huntington Park responded to reports of one man in a wheelchair stabbing another and found Lowe in an agitated state, holding a butcher knife.
- The officers were not required to wear body-worn cameras, but a passerby captured footage of the standoff, in which Lowe leaves his wheelchair and stumbles away on his knees.
- Officers reportedly shot Lowe dead moments after the footage ends.
At a Monday press conference, members of Lowe’s family said that he was experiencing a mental health crisis and insisted the police did not need to resort to lethal force.
- Ellakenyada Gorum, Lowe’s cousin: “You guys knew your lives wasn’t in danger. He’s running on his limbs. How cold-hearted could they be?”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is investigating. If there is an outside investigation, it probably won’t come from the state Department of Justice Department’s police shooting teams, CalMatters’ justice reporter Nigel Duara explains:
The department is required under a 2021 state law to investigate when unarmed citizens are killed by police officers. The department isn’t always quick to act, and it has declined to investigate some incidents referred to it at all.
But in this case, the law likely doesn’t apply. No matter his limited mobility, Lowe appears to have been armed with the 12-inch butcher knife.
The Huntington Park Police Department told KABC-TV in a statement that its officers twice used a stun gun on Lowe, who “tried” throwing the knife at officers before they fired.
In California, a law enforcement officer is only allowed to use lethal force when its deemed “necessary in defense of human life.”
When police killings make the news, it’s often because a camera, either in the hands of a vigilant bystander or attached to an officer’s body, records the violent death. Is it incumbent upon a responsible citizen to watch?
It’s a complicated question and not everyone comes to the same answer:
- New York Times film critic A.O. Scott: “A delicate ethical line separates witness — an active, morally engaged state of attention — from the more passive, less demanding condition of spectatorship.”
- Julie Scelfo, executive director of Get Media Savvy: “Unless your work requires otherwise…look away.”
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