California’s police officers are at it again. This time they’re from Los Angeles and this time they killed a homeless woman after stopping her to find out if the shopping cart she was pushing was stolen. A high crime in a city where drive-by shootings are the order of the day.
So this homeless, mentally ill, 54 year old, 5-foot-1-inch tall woman weighing 102-pounds is walking along a street when two 20-something year old bicycle cops come along and stop her. Anyone knowing anything about homeless people would know that many are mentally ill and if that’s the case, they are usually highly mistrustful of anybody. The cops claim that Margaret Mitchell immediately became hostile and brandished a 13-screwdriver at them saying she would kill them. (Rumor on the streets is now that Los Angeles officials will seek to ban screwdrivers.)
Mitchell then ran; the cops pursued; she lunged at one of the cops, who in trying to avoid being injured, stumbled and fell to his knee. He then felt so threatened by this crazy little woman that he shoots her in the chest.
Margaret Mitchell’s son had been trying to get her help for years. A college-educated woman, she slipped deeper and deeper into a state of paranoid-schizophrenia, hearing voices and so forth. She was most comfortable on the streets. Her son contacted police in Los Angeles and Pasadena for help in getting her committed so that she could be medicated. He was told that the police could do nothing until his mother had either hurt herself or someone else.
The shooting incident is now under investigation. Among some of the questions: why a gun and not a baton or pepper spray? I’d like to know what the second bicycle cop was doing. And I’d still like to know what the police department is going to do to train our “protectors” and when. They need social skills as much as practical shooting training because in the Riverside County case that has that community up in arms, four police officers there felt the need to direct 26 rounds at a woman who they eventually killed with 16. In that case, the woman was unconscious in a locked car with a pistol in her lap. The cops crashed the window startling the woman who then reached for the gun.
I keep thinking about the shopping cart. If we’re not going to solve the homeless situation one way or the other, then surely we can allow them free access to shopping carts for their varied belongings. These bicycle cops went out of their way to pursue a woman with a possibly misappropriated shopping cart and then killed her as a result of it. It would be funny if it weren’t so horribly tragic. (original post June 14, 1999)