Reader warning: the following is not all Christmas season touchy-feely.
I’ve reached my breaking point. I feel profoundly sad, and helpless, over this.
Three weeks ago I wrote about police overreach and outright brutality and cited an incident in Kern County last May where the father of four young children, lying intoxicated on the sidewalk across the street from the medical center (where he may have been trying to go, and where he should have been taken), was set upon by nine sheriffs and CHP (and a K-9) and beaten to death. The officers then illegally confiscated the phone cameras of folks across the street who recorded the brutality. The department defended all the actions as being proper procedure, and brazenly intimated that their investigation (with no one suspended) would take a long time.
It was unfortunately not an isolated, extreme incident. I’m reading some similar report every few days. I wrote that, of all the similar incidents I’d read about, that one “really broke my heart.”
Then I opened up my L.A. Times last Saturday and saw a photo that wrenched my heart and very nearly brought me to tears.
It was of Bill Beaird, his face contorted in unbearable pain and grief.
Dec. 13 Beaird got a phone call from his son Brian, 51. He was being chased by the police, as a suspected drunk or reckless driver. The elder Beaird said he urged his son to pull over.
He described his youngest son as a disabled veteran, who was discharged from the National Guard in 1988 after botched surgery on a brain tumor. He could be paranoid, the father said, particularly about police. Which probably explains why he didn’t pull over.
Bad move on Brian’s part, of course, and he finally broadsided another car (seriously injuring one person). His mangled Corvette spun to a rest on the street corner. He tried to pull away (continued bad judgment) but then abandoned the vehicle and got out and walked around to the passenger side, surrounded by about 20 LAPD officers.
Television footage (of course it was on TV, it was a car chase) shows him briefly putting his arms in the air, with his back to the officers. One of them fired a bean bag round at him. But three of those officers opened fire and shot 22 rounds at the unarmed man with his hands raised in surrender. He was seen on TV clutching his stomach and collapsing to the ground, fatally wounded.
Those three officers of the law were placed on extended leave by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who said he was “very concerned” about the incident. Better than Kern County.
The Beaird family is suing the city, and the photo of the elder Beaird was taken at the news conference last Saturday to announce that, as he recalled what happened that evening.
Bill Beaird turned on his TV Dec. 13, and saw his son gunned down in front of his eyes. It’s said that there’s no greater pain than that of a parent who has lost a child. But I think Bill Beaird’s nightmare hits near the pinnacle, becoming horror. It showed in his face.
If there were 20 officers, 17 of them acted with proper restraint, according to their training. That is part of the tragedy and shame of all these incidents, that police in general get a bad reputation, when of course most of them perform with dignity and grace in the face of citizens behaving very badly, and real bad guys who would just as soon shoot them as look at them. That’s their everyday reality, and I have nothing but the highest respect for the job they do.
I saw another photo a few days ago, I think in downtown L.A., of a policeman giving some food and clothing to a man he had to escort out of a public building. And there was the viral photo of a New York cop a year ago who bought some new winter boots for a homeless man.
Those cops, the overwhelming majority, must be incredibly angry when some of their fellow officers smear their good name. I’m also angry, and I’m afraid.
Brian Beaird was a 51-year-old white guy driving a Corvette. He done bad [sic], but he was surrendering, was unarmed, and at that point not a threat to anyone. Not exactly the kind of racial/economic/age profile one usually associates with these incidents.
In the end, Beaird did the right thing. But he was still gunned down. Like him, I’m over 50, white and a homeowner, and I drive a Prius. Will I have mortal fear if I’m ever again stopped by police? You bet.
It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m sick to death of egomaniacal thugs in uniform who think their badge makes them judge, jury and executioner.
I have no solutions for remedy. But I feel the problem is rooted in a police culture in the U.S. that hires badly, trains and monitors insufficiently, and protects its own.
Sorry to be writing such a downer on Christmas Day. But maybe it’s the best day to consider how we can improve our society.
May I have another Christmas wish?
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at [email protected]
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