Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck remained calm and soft-spoken as he faced a hostile audience Tuesday night at the the Paradise Baptist Church in South Los Angeles.
Some 300 community members showed up to voice sometimes angry criticism of the Los Angeles Police Department, eight days after the shooting death of Ezell Ford.
As Beck attempted to answer questions from more than 30 people, about 250 others jeered and heckled him. The chief asked for respect as questions became heated.
“Police officers don't come to work thinking that they’re going to have to use deadly force,” Beck said.
Ford, 25, was shot and killed after being stopped on a sidewalk by two LAPD officers Aug. 11 near 65th Street and Broadway. The incident has stirred demonstrations in the past week over conflicting reports between family and police. The peaceful demonstrations in Los Angeles have been a stark contrast to a police shooting stirring violence on the streets of Ferguson, Mo.
Tuesday, what started as a peaceful reunion quickly turned loud and intense.
Police say Ford fought with police and tried to grab an officer’s gun. Family members and friends say Ford was mentally disabled and was being cooperative with police
“We wonder the same things: Was it necessary? Was it justified? Could there have been another way?” Beck told the crowd. “I want exactly what you want ... and that is the truth."
Earlier Tuesday, Beck said Ford’s autopsy was on hold as investigators seek and interview more witnesses. Tuesday night, Beck vowed to share findings of the Ford investigation with the public as soon as it was completed.
Eddie Johnson, 49, lifelong resident of the city who helps inner city youth, said he believes officers working in the South Los Angeles area are more ready to shoot than to solve problems.
“How are they supposed to be peace officers if they don't know how to keep the peace?” Johnson said.
Some accused police of racism and hurled personal attacks at Beck.
“Just like I stand here and not prejudge Mr. Ford, I expect these officers aren’t prejudged,” Beck said.
Minnie Hadley Hempstead was one of the few quiet speakers.
“We are one team,” she told Beck. “We just want you to remember to treat everyone with respect.”
Earlier in the day, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, pointed to a lack of public outrage over two law enforcement officers wounded last week in the line of duty. A sheriff’s deputy went to the hospital in critical condition after being kicked last Friday at the Lakewood Mall. A 22-year police veteran was shot during a traffic pursuit Monday on the 110.
“The reality is that when somebody attacks a police officer, they should expect the reaction to their attack will be swift, sure and met with enough force to end the assault,” the league wrote in an online blog post Tuesday.
Representatives for the City Council, L.A. Police Commission, District Attorney’s Office and Office of the Inspector General also attended the community forum. But the questions, and at times the attacks, were directed at Beck.
The chief remained calm, however.
“Remember,” Beck said, “this is equally hard on both sides.”
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