The Los Angeles Police Department rapped up the biggest man hunt in the region’s history earlier this week, causing Angelenos to breathe a collective sigh of relief. People felt more at ease now that Christopher Dorner–an ex-LAPD officer who promised to murder police officers to avenge his dismissal from the force in his manifesto–had been neutralized.
Despite an ending many hoped for, the search provided two incidents that stirred up even more fear and caused people to question the police’s actions after they shot first and asked questions later. Most notably, two Hispanic women–47-year old Margie Carranza and her 71-year old mother Emma Hernandez–were driving through Torrance in the early morning delivering newspapers. LAPD squad cars rolled up behind them, opened their doors, and seven officers opened fire on the unsuspecting truck. Both women sustained gun shot wounds, though they are expected to make a full recovery.
Police Chief Charlie Beck lamented, “Tragically, we believe that this is a case of mistaken identity by the officers.” Calling the incident a case of mistaken identity is an interesting characterization by Beck. That implies the officers even made some sort of attempt to identify the vehicle or the victims in question, but the facts do not seem to back up that assertion. Officers were looking for a gray Nissan truck, but the women were driving a blue Toyota pick-up. A quick glance at make of the vehicle would have alerted the officers to the fact that this was not Dorner’s vehicle. On top of that, these women did not resemble a 270-pound African-American male in the slightest. One resident begged the obvious question:
“How do you mistake two Hispanic women, one who is 71, for a large black male?” said Richard Goo, 62, who counted five bullet holes in the entryway to his house.
To mitigate the situation, Beck offered to replace the truck in question. However, his gesture is not enough. LAPD needs to take some serious action against the officers involved, including suspension without pay, to show its unequivocal intolerance for this behavior. I understand these officers were working under extremely stressful conditions. I can’t imagine what it must be like chasing a fugitive knowing his sole goal is to kill fellow police officers. The situation, however, does not automatically allow the police to open fire on anyone they think might be the suspect, and this form of vigilante justice can’t be tolerated. It automatically places people who simply drive a similar vehicle or possess similar physical characteristics of a suspect in harm’s way. At that point, it becomes unsafe for anyone to be out on the streets, and that is not the type of society anybody should strive to live in.