Mon, Jul

Tragic Shootings in San Pedro’s Peck Park Politicized by Joe Buscaino

GELFAND’S WORLD - My current hometown of San Pedro, California made the national news last weekend.

It wasn't because of our contribution to the trade deficit or the view of the channel, but (as you all know) because there were shots fired in a local park on Sunday afternoon, leaving bodies -- dead and alive -- scattered around the baseball diamond and at least one of the wounded attempting to flee by car. The one thing that was odd about the incident was that it was not the usual "active shooter" scenario. It was just a couple of guys who had grudges with each other and figured to shoot each other in the midst of a crowded park on a crowded afternoon. Presumably they were participants in, or at least familiar with, a softball game that was being played that afternoon. 

There is an old saying that truth is the first casualty of war. Evidently it is also the first casualty whenever Americans start shooting at each other. Seemingly within minutes, rumors abounded as to the nature of the fight, the identities of the shooters, and whether members of car clubs who happened to be there had anything to do with the problem. The evidence says that the car enthusiasts were innocent, but the question continued to be asked. 

There was also an immediate, almost reflexive response. Was this similar in any way to the Uvalde massacre? Specifically, did the police rush in, or dawdle, or set up a perimeter and stand back? And what, exactly, did the Fire Department do? 

Legitimate questions all. The obvious thing for the authorities to do would be to hold a public meeting where the different agencies could tell their stories and inform the public about what is currently known. That's exactly what they did. On Tuesday evening, the LAPD, the LAFD, a representative of the city's Park Rangers, a representative of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, and a politician or two spoke to the public. 

There were winners and a couple of losers in the proceedings. Here's my scorecard: 

The captain of the LAPD Harbor Division easily won the day as the person who functioned as master of ceremonies and acted as a credible source of information. Here are a couple of facts we got from him: When the shooting started, numerous people called 911 on their cell phones and from homes in the surrounding community. There were approximately 17 such calls within the first moments. The 911 operators were able to hear gunshots in the background, which suggested a frightening possibility. It could have been an active shooter event, for all that the operators could ascertain at the moment. 

How long did it take the LAPD to arrive on scene? The captain allowed as how he did not have the actual logs with him, but the estimate was 3 to 4 minutes. 

The rest of the story gets a bit more complex, in that arriving LAPD and LAFD units came across a scene of disorder, including a car crash within the park itself. The crash happened because a gunshot victim had been trying to escape by car, but lost control. This partially slowed the access to the crime scene. 

The captain explained that it took a while to fill the park with LAPD officers -- they came in from all over the city and eventually numbered about 100. At the beginning, as some units approached the park, they saw wounded people on the ground. These officers immediately pulled over and began treatment. This approach was explained to the public. I will paraphrase it as being in keeping with a philosophy of "first things first." You treat the wounded, secure the area, and eventually begin the crime investigation. 

I can't affirm that all of this happened the way it was described. It was not a movie, and the department was not putting on a video production showing LAPD body cameras. But the story that we heard was consistent with professionalism and a fairly rapid response. Considering the distance to Peck Park from the Harbor Division headquarters and the small number of police officers assigned to this area, it is to their credit (and maybe a bit remarkable) that somebody from the LAPD arrived at the scene so quickly. Nobody thought to ask where the first units were coming from, but we may find that they were close-by, perhaps at Pt Fermin or nearby along the harbor. The question ought to be of interest to the LAPD. 

The Fire Department representatives were equally professional in their comments. In a nutshell, the department responded in force, brought in lots of ambulances, treated the wounded who were still alive and had not already driven away, and transported people to the hospital. 

One policeman, explaining the scene when the LAPD first arrived, used the word "chaos." People were trying to escape the site of the initial shots -- the baseball diamond -- and were heading in various directions including up the road that the Firemen and Police needed to travel. 

One pertinent fact: The police eventually identified more than 50 shell casings (colloquially called "brass") indicating that there were at least that number of shots fired. This raises critical questions: How many shooters were there in order to fire this many rounds? When the two combatants began their fight, did others in the immediate area reveal guns of their own and start firing? Was the shooting at random, resulting in victims who were unrelated to the softball game? 

As the information about the brass and about any bullets that may be located accumulates, we will get a better idea of how many guns were actually fired. The police did mention that 4 guns were collected at the site. This of course does not necessarily indicate that there were only 4 guns present in the park. It is entirely possible that one or more people left the scene taking their guns with them. 

Residents of other parts of the city may wish to compare the rapidity of the LAPD and LAFD responses in San Pedro to what happens in their own districts. 

In news accounts and during this meeting, it was made clear that the softball game was intended to allow a couple of street gangs to have a friendly get together, as opposed to fighting. Numerous members of the public explained that the intent was peace making. San Pedro locals, in conversation with each other, wondered why street gangs from out of the area chose this part of town to hold their event, and further wondered at the level of violence prevention that was on sight. At the same time, it should also be noted that Peck Park is a public site that belongs to the whole population of Los Angeles and would be expected to have a pleasant summer climate. 

The unfortunate politicization of the event by two people who should have known better 

There were two other speakers -- one a law enforcement officer, the other a former cop -- who gave speeches that, in the view of this observer, were inappropriate and inflammatory. Those speakers were the current head of the Park Rangers and the current City Councilman from this district, Joe Buscaino. Each used the event to politicize and inflame. 

Joe Buscaino led off with a relatively calm effort at thanking the police and fire departments for their work during the incident. Buscaino made sure to remind everyone that he had been a police officer himself. But then he went off the rails. He spoke of the city's upcoming election and reminded us that we should support a candidate or candidates who are not aiming to defund the police. He wants somebody who will strengthen the police force, or something to that effect. He seemed to be insinuating that there are candidates in the coming election who are on the wrong side of the Joe Buscaino measuring stick. 

Overall, a rousing and inflammatory speech, suitable for the latest Donald Trump rally (and not all that different from the speech that Trump gave just a couple of days ago). 

It was inappropriate for the occasion, which was supposed to be an exercise in informing the public of what is known about the shootings. The stock cliche is that the dead aren't even buried yet, and some of the survivors are still in the hospital, and yet Joe Buscaino gave a political stump speech about how we need to be tough on crime by funding the LAPD etc etc. 

We should take note of the context. Buscaino dropped out of the race for mayor back when he was doing poorly in the polls. He cast his lot with Rick Caruso. it was obvious that there was some sort of a deal by which Buscaino would endorse the Caruso candidacy. So that's the Joe we saw on Tuesday evening. Was this supposed to be a Caruso for Mayor speech? In retrospect, that's what we heard. 

Buscaino spoke rousingly about how the police would ramp up their activities in San Pedro from now on, and he even finished in a flourish, promising (if I understood his remarks correctly) that no such shooting event would ever befall the people of San Pedro in the future. How one can make such a promise is a mystery to me, considering that (as the police captain had explained) the shooting was basically fueled by two people who had grudges against each other. It's the sort of event that happens frequently, all over the country, simply due to the fact that there are lots of guns and lots of people without self control. 

The head of the city's Park Rangers also spoke. He made sure to lobby for his currently unarmed Rangers to be allowed to carry guns while on duty. He also made some other inappropriate political remarks. 

All on all, the head of the Park Rangers and the City Councilman made what was supposed to be a public information event into a right wing political circus. At the time, the word that came to my mind was "shameful." Perhaps I was overreacting, and what I was seeing was just opportunism at a mediocre level. In any case, it wasn't right. 

Addendum: Popcorn Sales Soar 

It is reported that Donald Trump is now threatening to file a defamation lawsuit against CNN, presumably because they are telling the truth about him. Mind you, he hasn't actually filed the suit. He's just putting them on notice that he might. Readers of CityWatch don't need to be reminded that if Trump were to file that lawsuit, he would be subject to giving a deposition under oath. We might also remember that it is harder to intimidate a large news organization than the contractor you failed to pay.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])