Part of the wreckage after LAPD agents detonated a seizure of fireworks in a southern LA neighborhood.
Photo: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / Shutterstock
Last Wednesday, as people stocked up on sparklers and hot dogs for the weekend of July 4, an explosion ripped through a neighborhood in southern Los Angeles. The explosion smashed windows and overturned cars up to two blocks away, injuring 17 people and forcing residents of at least 12 homes to move to a temporary shelter set up by the Red Cross. The elementary school on East 28th Street, about a block from Ground Zero, was not affected, but several people in nearby buildings were hospitalized because flying shards of glass cut their faces.
Police said they would “investigate” what happened. But their investigation will not include the typical search for a suspect, as the party responsible for the explosion is the Los Angeles Police Department itself. The police were executing what was supposed to be a “controlled detonation. “A week later, some local residents are still displaced and the department is still trying to figure out what went wrong.
The police are sure of two things so far, and the first is how it all started. Cops raided a house in Block 700 of East 27th Street and seized about 5,000 pounds of fireworks, including what an LAPD detective described as “a small amount of improvised and unstable explosive-type fireworks”. Most of these materials were to be transported to a storage facility, but some of them were deemed too volatile, so the demining team decided to detonate them right in the middle of the neighborhood. To do this, they brought in a special truck with armored walls and tried to detonate about 10 pounds of fireworks inside.
Then there was a “total catastrophic failure of this containment vehicle,” said LAPD chief Michael Moore. Part of the container lid was sent into the air, smashing part of someone’s roof several blocks before landing in their backyard, reports CBS LA.
The second thing the cops are sure about is that they don’t want to pay for the damage. According to the Los Angeles Time, “Marta Elba, 61 years old… [asked] police how she could be reimbursed for a broken window caused by the explosion. Elba said the police told her she had to call her insurance company.
These two things are related. And they illustrate how police impunity extends beyond destroying people’s bodies to destroying almost everything else in their neighborhood, including people’s homes.
Police license to kill has fueled hundreds of protests and riots over the past year, involving up to 26 million people, the largest movement of its kind in US history. These protests have mainly focused on the killings of civilians by the police, which over the past seven years have grown in importance, if not necessarily in numbers, as a nationally recognized emergency. Cops and their supporters have attempted to divert dissenting energy in other directions, often to the protesters’ own behavior and how this supposedly undermines the goals they claim to pursue.
A frequent object of this misdirection has been property. Whenever buildings are damaged, a familiar chorus is heard, showing the damaged structures as proof of the dissidents’ irresponsibility. “If you loot, riot and destroy, you lose all moral credibility, in my eyes, to protest injustice”, tweeted Charlie Kirk, then President Trump’s deputy, at the start of last year’s uprising in Minneapolis, expressing a common opinion.
When the destruction of property is not militarized as an emblem of protestors’ indignity, it is invoked to make them feel guilty and to claim that they are failing as bona fide partners in the communities they share with others. other people, including the cops. When Daunte Wright was killed by police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, in April, then-leader Tim Gannon appealed to “our community, a community I’ve been a part of for 27 years” to avoid the damage. materials during the events that followed. . Never mind that its officers spent years announcing how much they didn’t want to share a community with the people they patrolled, embodied in the fact that none of them actually lived in the city.
But this irony is secondary to the material fact of police recklessness. In the course of their official duties, cops’ sense of responsibility for people’s living spaces and property is often as negligible as anything they accuse protesters of, and the police are generally much less responsible.
When LAPD agents told Elba she should contact her insurance company last week, they did so with a confidence instilled by years of legal precedent. According to Time, a 1995 California Supreme Court ruling confirmed that “the government should not be held liable for damages resulting from lawful and reasonable actions of the police.” This is no guarantee that the cops or the city will not compensate the victims of last week’s explosion. But that makes law enforcement accountability a piecemeal affair at best, and a lot of it depends on cops recognizing what they’ve done wrong.
It doesn’t happen with any consistency. In past cases where law enforcement has damaged property, they have sometimes deployed a civil litigation unit to assist those affected. Other victims were hung out to dry. In 2011, police in Schenectady, New York, persuaded a landlord to give them the keys to one of his tenants’ homes. The next morning, they smashed down the man’s door with a ram, destroying the door frame and dislodging the wall between the apartment and the hallway. The owner was encouraged to file a compensation claim with the city. He was quickly denied because “the police had a search warrant. “
Some victims try to take the case to the United States Supreme Court. In 2015, a SWAT team ripped out every window of that of Léo Lech home in Greenwood Village, Colorado, and sprayed most of the interior while searching for a guy they suspected of shoplifting. A federal appeals court ruled that they owed him nothing. He’s still trying to make SCOTUS hear the case.
The suffering and inconvenience experienced by insured landowners – along with the time and resources required to file claims, compile comprehensive documentation, and follow up over weeks, months, and even years – is one thing. But in many cases, the destruction caused by the police affects people with fewer means to recoup their losses. Residents of the area where the cops detonated the fireworks last week stressed that the recklessness of law enforcement in neighborhoods like theirs is no accident, precisely because they are more vulnerable.
“The bombing of communities of color is not a mistake” mentionned a resident at a press conference. “[The police] called the press … [They] did not warn any head of the neighborhood council ”before triggering the explosion. Cops have warned some residents by going door-to-door – a questionable method in a neighborhood long marked by police abuse, and where many people are used to being wary of law enforcement. (The LAPD is renowned for an anti-drug innovation it developed in the 1980s that literally involved cross people’s houses with a chariot.)
Several residents were at home when last week’s explosion occurred. Some are fundraising on GoFundMe to cover their new living expenses and medical bills. These fallouts are normal and widely understood to be elementary. “It’s like your house is in an area where there has been a landslide and we are closing you down for safety reasons,” an LA County Sheriff’s Department officer said. Time in 2005. “The government entity is not responsible for this.
Debates over whether the police are a security force in American communities would be more comprehensive if they considered not only the deaths and bodily injuries caused by officers, but also the destruction and displacement that they impose on people’s everyday living environments. This is not an inevitable result of the laws of nature, as the “landslide” metaphor suggests, but a consequence of the quiet decisions made by the cops and the standards that protect them from accountability. The extent to which residents of southern LA will be cured remains to be seen. But the officers’ decision to detonate what was in fact a bomb in their neighborhood is inevitably linked to their low esteem for the community in which they did so.
Responsibility is systematically demanded of those they wish to shame. They stand in the middle of the rubble which declines it for themselves.