Gun on flesh
By Janine Jackson FAIR.org August 4, 2015
On March 1, Los Angeles police officers killed an unarmed, homeless black man named Charly Keunang on LA’s Skid Row (FAIR Blog, 3/4/15).
Captured on cellphone video, the incident received attention because we are living in a moment when many people have decided that the state-sanctioned killing of black people by law enforcement is worth our attention—and that’s very uncomfortable for those who want to believe that every police killing must be in some way justified, if we could only see how. So Keunang’s autopsy—five months later—was likely to make some kind of news, but what kind?
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The Los Angeles Times headline (7/29/15) on the autopsy report: “Skid Row Shooting: Autopsy Shows Man Shot Six Times, Had Meth in System.” And, indeed, the story by Kate Mather, while it notes that the autopsy can’t actually show how drugs might have affected Keunang’s behavior, nevertheless elaborates, with comments from a pathologist from San Francisco, on the possible effects of methamphetamine—and even talks about “marijuana exposure,” because the victim may have smoked it within days of his death. A quote from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck underlines the drug angle: “The combination of mental illness and drug abuse on skid row leads to multiple violent confrontations,” he says.
GQ‘s Jeff Sharlet (7/30/15) reported on Keunang’s killing and on the autopsy. His headline: “An LA Cop Pressed His Gun Into the Chest of an Unarmed Man and Shot Him Through the Heart.” For Sharlet, the news from the autopsy is that two of the six shots into Keunang were “contact wounds”; in other words, “Officer Martinez pushed his 40-caliber Glock 35 directly into Charly’s body—hard muzzle pressing down into the flesh—and fired.”
Noting the LA Times‘ different emphasis, Sharlet writes:
In a media narrative now familiar from responses to the police killings of Michael Brown to Freddie Gray, the LA Times devotes more ink to the effects of small amounts of meth and marijuana than to the effects of a police officer pressing his gun directly into Charly’s chest and pulling the trigger. Weed isn’t news. On Skid Row, meth isn’t news. The news from the inquest is that of the gun against the flesh.
But then, that depends on whether you are interested to see a problem or to unsee one.
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