Mon, Jul

Three Stories, Nine Victims and a One-Hammer Councilman

GUEST COMMENTARY - Harbor Division Capt. Brent McGuire of the Los Angeles Police Department made the truest observation I heard throughout the entire July 26 town hall meeting about the Peck Park shooting two days earlier where two people were murdered.

“In incidents such as these,” he said, “we sometimes see the worst in humanity, but also, as we have seen in these incidents, we also see the best in humanity.” 

McGuire made special note of news footage showing community members working together with law enforcement officers and emergency responders working hand-in-hand, lifting people on stretchers and bringing them to help, getting them aid; regular citizens, cops and firefighters giving CPR trying to help some of the injured victims in the shooting.

I heard similar testimony from witnesses of the shooting who showed up for the morning press conference on July 25 organized by Justice for Murdered Children, San Pedro/Wilmington chapter of the NAACP and community activist Najee Ali. So, what do we know about this incident?

Day of the Event

Sisters of Watts co-founder and chief operating officer Keisha Daniels arrived at the park’s baseball diamond at 3 p.m. The softball game organizers were setting up, attendees were starting to take their seats in the bleachers. As Daniels recalls, “[July 24] was a peaceful Sunday afternoon at the park, with no conflict … no strife. It remained that way until about 3:40 p.m., when shots rang out.” 

On her way to escape the gunfire, she encountered Officer Joshua Rodriguez and a gunshot victim who had crashed his dark colored Hyundai. Officer Rodriguez was one of the first two officers to arrive on the scene and was attempting to assess the situation. Rodriguez and Daniels pulled the victim from his car. Daniels told Rodriguez she knew CPR, and asked him for direction. 

Rodriguez asked her to perform CPR, while he did chest compressions on the victim to get him to breathe. 

“I did CPR until the paramedics came,” Daniels said. “The victim was alert and still breathing when the ambulance took him away.” 

She recalled that the entire time she was performing CPR, she was praying over the victim.

“I was like, if you know God, just talk to Him. Don’t worry about anything else. Just talk to Him.” 

The experience was particularly emotional for Daniels because she lost her brother, who was killed due to gun violence. 

“All I could think about was that there was someone there to help him [the shooting victim in front of her]. My nephew was shot in the stomach. The bullet went in but it never came out,” Daniels said. “[He] almost lost his life. He was an innocent bystander. So on Sunday,  I just … I just went into action.” 

I thought it best to lead this column by focusing on the humanity of the first responders and the community members who assisted the wounded and injured when they couldn’t leave the park for several hours. This offers a different narrative as opposed to what emerged on social media and the vitriol of community residents outraged that outsiders would disturb their peace. This narrative speaks to a different reading of the tragedy than the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks’ decision to cancel Sunday events through the remainder of the summer would suggest. 

Chronology After the Shooting

According to McGuire’s summary of events, 19 emergency 911 calls began pouring in at 3:50 p.m. of a shooting at Peck Park. 

Callers described an unfolding chaotic scene of people who had been shot and wounded on the ground. Some were initially describing the shooting as continuing, leading officers arriving on the scene to believe they were confronting an active shooter.

The LAPD reported that 500 people were fleeing from the park. 

When the first two officers arrive on the scene, McGuire paints the scene of 500 people running towards them yelling and screaming, some of them with injuries and blood flowing down their arms and legs as they tried getting to their cars. 

Those initial officers were first concerned with identifying the threat, to make sure that there was not an ongoing threat. So there were several officers running against a wave of cars and humanity fleeing the area.

After determining that there was no active shooter, officers arriving transitioned to life preservation mode and a triage site was set up.

Capt. Adrian Gonzalez, South Bureau Homicide Division explained that normally a homicide investigation would have a two-person team who are the primary investigators who come and investigate a homicide. For the Sunday shooting, six teams and more than 20 personnel from South Bureau homicide were assigned. 

“The first one was the baseball field and that’s where we believe the shooting actually happened,” Gonzalez said. “It carried over to the second crime scene, which is the parking lot above the baseball field.”

 The third crime scene was at the entrance of the community center at Peck Park where blood was found.

Four handguns and 50 shell casings were recovered. Investigators have ruled out rifles being used in the shooting. 

Capt. Gonzalez dispelled the rumor that participants of the car show at Peck Park and the participants in the Peace Ride caravan rolling from Harbor Gateway to San Pedro had anything to do with the shooting.    

Capt. Gonzalez also dispelled the notion that the violence was the result of an intergang dispute. Rather it was a dispute between two individuals who they have identified. The two shooters, as of publication, have not been apprehended. 

Buscaino’s Town Hall Meeting

This was supposed to be a town hall meeting to answer questions about the July 24 Peck Park shooting. Councilman Joe Buscaino turned it into a political talking point, saying, “What took place on Sunday … seeing the men and women of the LAPD respond to the threat … respond to this emergency here in this town. What took place here at our beloved park reminded us of the continued call for more police services, not less.” 

He said before making the fantastical claim that such a tragedy will “never happen again” in our backyard. 

Since the first years of his long tenure as councilman, he has always been a hammer who looked at every problem as if it were a nail. 

He turned even saltier when taking a swipe at recently-elected 1st District  Los Angeles councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez when he quipped, “for those local elected officials that don’t want police officers representing them or in their respective districts, bring them here, we will gladly take them, because this reminds us that everything hinges on public safety.”

Buscaino, as had many civic leaders since the shooting, recalled memories of taking his children to the park, and playing there himself as a child in an effort to recall more peaceful days. Except those rose-tinted memories didn’t jibe with the collective memory of violence at Peck Park over the past 40 years.

Social Media, Rumors and Perception

Ahead of the town hall meeting, local social media pages were rife with rumors about whether the groups were permitted, that the shooting was between rival gangs, and a number of commenters wondered why these outsiders were allowed to hold events at the park.

Most newscasts were reporting that the shooting was a gang shooting between two parties. This combined with the KTLA newscast of Moneke Howard, the purported mother of one of the victims, turned her into a social media meme. Howard gave more than one interview for television and print. The more disastrous interview was the one she did with KTLA where she called the shooting a “Compton Massacre,” suggesting that attendees were mostly gang affiliated Compton residents. 

From the comments made during the townhall meeting, I had a hard time imagining that that imagery wasn’t what was playing through the minds of community members as evidenced by the continued questions regarding the permits and numbers allowed under the permits. The general sense was that Parks and Recs and LAPD’s Harbor Division should have known that greater police presence was in order given the participants at the softball games were gang affiliated. And more importantly, this shooting happened against a historical backdrop of which shootings and gang violence had been a recurring issue at the park over the past 40 years — regardless of Buscaino’s rose tinted recollections. 

The comment of one public commenter at the townhall was illustrative of the challenges in providing greater public safety. She said, “So, 500 people leaving on Sunday wasn’t a large event? The permit that was permitted for the baseball game was for 100 people. Okay … I own a home at Peck Park … I raised two babies there … at the peak of this in 2016, there were crackheads, homeless people shooting up heroin … I saw a LAPD officer at CVS and I told him about my situation. And his response was, ‘ma’am, move to Orange County.’”

Her point: there are all of these elements that are making her community unsafe and the best and quickest solution the police could offer was to move to a wealthier community. More police officers and increased patrolling at a time when housing isn’t becoming more affordable,  and paychecks aren’t stretching far enough. As one member from a neighborhood council in San Pedro said, “He’s been the councilman for the past 10 years and now he wants to talk about more police?”  

Buscaino has made it a part of his schtick to place air-quotes around solutions other than more police officers.    

A local nonprofit organized the softball league about five years ago to safely bring together members of different Crips sets, according to gang interventionist Skipp Townsend. Sunday’s game — just weeks after the death of the league’s founder in a car wreck — was between teams from Compton.

There have been a number of these softball games at Peck Park over the past five years. Of the eight calls to Peck Park before the shooting, none involved the softball league or the car show. Nonprofits such as this and more, are the non-police components in crime reduction and public safety. We can’t afford to overlook tools that don’t look like a hammer in the tool box. If we could, we’d all just move to the tony neighborhoods of Palos Verdes or Orange County.

(Terelle Jerricks is a writer for Random Lengths News, where this story was first published.)