The LAPD Had a Wild Town Hall About the Shooting of Brandon Glenn

City officials who showed up to take questions were the recipients of an outpouring of rage and sadness.

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08 May 2015, 8:00pm

All photos by the author

On Tuesday night, an unarmed homeless black man named Brandon Glenn was shot and killed by an LAPD officer outside of a bar in the Venice Beach neighborhood of Los Angeles. The incident marks yet another tragic episode in a seemingly endless string of controversies over the use of force by police, especially against men of color.

The incident was filmed, but so far, the city hasn't released that footage to the public.

The unusual twist in this particular incident is that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is being criticized by the local police union for being too hard on his cops. Protesters called for Beck's resignation when another unarmed black homeless man was shot in March, and he defended the LAPD. This time, after viewing the footage of the shooting, Chief Beck told the press that, so far, he hadn't seen the "extraordinary circumstances" that might justify a killing. Craig Lally of the union representing LAPD officers called the comments "completely irresponsible" at this stage of the investigation.

Beck was noticeably absent from Thursday night's town hall meeting about the killing, as was Mayor Eric Garcetti. Instead, the city dispatched Francisco Ortega, a "community engagement specialist," to emcee the event at Venice's Westminster Avenue Elementary School. Ortega introduced a panel of officials that included Beatrice Girmala, LAPD deputy chief for the city's West Side, President of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners Steve Soboroff, and the area's City Councilman Mike Bonin.

The evening got off to a rocky start, with Ortega's opening remarks—"We know these aren't the best of circumstances"—almost immediately being interrupted by an attendee shouting, "You haven't said anything about murder!" Through the two opening invocations from neighborhood ministers, and a few remarks by Girmala, the atmosphere got even more raucous. When Bonin spoke, he was booed almost completely off from the podium.

The event soon became an outpouring of rage and grief from the crowd that lasted almost three hours. The panel shied away from straightforwardly defending the cops, but also seemed determined to avoid falling into the trap Beck did. Their solution was to mostly remain silent.

The evening took a surprising turn when one man (above), who claimed to be an eyewitness to the shooting, gave his account of Glenn's state of mind minutes before he got in a fight with a bouncer, which led to his fatal encounter with the police. He and his friends were outside the bar playing music, the man said. "Brandon came up to our spot. He was clearly in an altered state." But the self-identified witness wasn't threatened, he said.

"He just wanted to look me in the eye and tell me about his life. He wanted to hug me too, and I wasn't interested in being hugged by a drunk stranger. He was a muscular guy. I can see why someone could be intimidated. I just looked him in the eye, listened to his story, and it wasn't that difficult. That's when the bouncer threw down." He became emotional as he explained that he had tried to defuse the situation "with my tongue, with my hands, and with my eyes."

Many attendees had a long history of interacting with members of the panel, and seemed discouraged. Tibby Rothman, a retired journalist, told the panel that "the problem is disproportional use of violence against the poor," before recounting several examples she had witnessed. "I don't think you're going to change it," she said, adding, "Fucking prove me wrong."

Andrew Keegan, a Hollywood actor best known for his role in 10 Things I Hate About You, was the last person to speak. He spoke of a need for harmony and mindfulness, before complaining about the police poking around his new age temple in Venice called "Full Circle."

The trio of officials simply absorbed the crowd's expressions of pain and outrage. They gave few substantive answers—mostly about distinguishing the investigative procedures of the LAPD from those of the district attorney's office—and it's safe to say that few people left satisfied.

Scroll down for more photos of an emotional evening.

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Activists carried this banner up the center aisle of the auditorium just before the event got started. When he started speaking, Ortega asked the audience to clear the aisles, and it was carried to the back of the room.

Many attendees who spoke were concerned about the homeless problem in Venice, or were homeless themselves. Long stretches of the town hall were dedicated to local problems like the lack of bathrooms, along with over-policing of the beach, and early closures.

Only once did the subject turn to the contentious issue of body cameras. This man complained that smaller police forces in the US have outfitted officers with cameras. The LAPD has settled on a rollout for body camera usage on all officers, but Chief Beck has indicated that the footage won't be made public unless the LAPD receives an order from a judge.

Individuals in the crowd would, when the tone became placid, blurt out accusations. Sometimes outbursts weren't received well by other attendees, sparking arguments like this one, the details of which couldn't be made out in all the noise.

News crews in attendance couldn't settle on a clear center of attention. When a conflict in the crowd started up, they swung their cameras around to single out the source.

Knowing the crowd was emotional, Ortega asked for questions and solutions. One question was, "Mr. Soboroff, are you going to make sure that this department stops training their officers that the only way to handle a situation is to escalate to the use of force and violence?" In response, he reached for a copy of the Constitution and held it up in order to invoke it as ironclad law. One attendee interrupted with, "Then we need a new Constitution!"

This guy flipped off the police.

Keegan helped lead the closing moment of silence to honor Brandon Glenn, the man who died.

The man in the blue hoodie and bandana interrupted the moment of silence by shouting at God to "bring judgment down upon the police." People clapped for him, but in the photo, you can see Keegan asking him to stop talking.

As the meeting dissolved, this woman approached the man who had loudly prayed for God's wrath, and gave him a hug.