After a police officer’s fatal shooting of a resident, the poor, immigrant Westlake neighborhood is presenting Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck with perhaps his thorniest challenge since becoming chief eight months ago, the Los Angeles Times reports. The police response, Beck told the Times, “is about so much more than just this shooting. Our challenge is to figure that out and to understand what it is really about. We’re still working to peel back those layers.” Beck said he did not anticipate the level of vitriol. A few dozen people each year are shot by police in Los Angeles and, in recent years, the incidents have rarely led to widespread turmoil. This shooting, involving a man armed with a knife who had reportedly been threatening others, who ignored police orders to surrender, and advanced toward the officer, sounded to Beck like one that the community would understand. “On the face of it, this one seemed pretty straightforward,” he said. “And because of that, I didn’t do things I wish now I had done. You can ask, ‘How would I have known?’ But that’s the point, you never know.”
Beck believes the shooting became a flashpoint that brought to the surface much larger issues facing the impoverished community of immigrants from Guatemala and other Central American countries. Westlake has a transitory population, with immigrants settling there, only to move into other parts of the city as soon as they can. The eruption of anger and hostility laid bare for Beck the fact that the police department has fallen short in maintaining a level of trust and close ties with an ever-evolving population, whose community leaders are often hard to find.