Jan. 16, 1958
In the space of a year, in a county of 6,000,000 persons, a lot of policemen draw their revolvers a lot of times.
And use them, too.
They do it because we expect it of them.
But every now and then, after they do it, we tell them--with remarkable hindsight--that they shouldn't have.
And we rise up in very audible indignation.
I remember a case a few months ago where the body of a teenager who had been sitting in a parked, stolen car was riddled with seven bullets fired by two Los Angeles Police Department officers. [Note: The Times reported that Dennis Montes, 17, was at the wheel of a stolen car on Chicago Avenue near Whittier Boulevard when he was shot nine times after making three attempts to run down Officers N.B. Carpenter and R.F. Shelley of the Hollenbeck Division, May 19, 1957--lrh].
A lot of persons complained to me of the brutality, the barbarity of the shooting. But the officers' report of the incident pointed out that it was their lives or the boy's.
And with information like that, no thinking citizen is going to side with the kid, no matter how young.
Then, over this last weekend, there was the case where another LAPD officer shot a 21-year-old robbery suspect in the back when the youth tried to run out the back door of his home after the police had entered it via the front door. The shots killed him. [The Times apparently didn't report this incident--lrh].
I received some calls and telegrams on that one too.
This one involved a deputy sheriff.
He was attacked by a 17-year-old kid, apparently crazed, six inches shorter and a lot lighter than the deputy.
But the kid had a 3 1/2-inch switchblade knife.
The result of the fight was that the kid was killed. There were four bullets from the deputy's gun in him.
I received more calls--many more--from mothers, from businessmen and from schoolmates of the boy.
They wanted to know why an officer, trained in self-defense and in disarming violent persons, couldn't have subdued the boy by some act short of killing him.
The shooting occurred in La Puente and the extreme of public sentiment was expressed by a group of high school classmates of the dead youth. They sent the involved officer an engraved trophy.
It read: "To the World's Greatest Hero."
About this time, I thought that maybe it would be a good idea to bring this type of an incident out into the open, where the public could see it and hear it.
And maybe, understand it.
So last night, I invited the concerned parties to appear on my 10:15 news telecast. I explained why I wanted to do the program.
They accepted my invitation. The boy's father appeared. The deputy who shot the boy appeared.
Each told his part and his resulting grief.
The father said his boy was a good boy, with no trouble in his background. He said he didn't believe the deputy's explanation, and he didn't believe his only son needed to die.
Then, after I thanked him for talking with me, he blurted out--in pained emotion:
"I hope the deputy lives to be 107 and suffers every second of it."
The deputy was standing only a few feet from him. I talked to him next, not daring to look at the boy's father.
The deputy said he had never been forced to use his gun before, that he had three children of his own, and that he never would have fired at the boy if it hadn't been a case of a battle for survival.
He admitted that he had been under a doctor's care since the shooting, and that it was a pretty terrible experience for him, too.
When the television lights went out and the program was over, some of the studio crew moved in to keep the men apart--just in case.
But it wasn't necessary.
The deputy moved over to a corner, pulled out his handkerchief and broke into tears.
The father stood where he was and bit his lip, hard.
I sat, wondering, after it was over, if I proved what I started out to prove. And I realized too well that the victims of a tragedy such as this are not only the dead boy and his next of kin.
Carrying a loaded gun and knowing you may have to use it obviously is not an easy assignment.
[Note: The coroner's jury was divided over whether this was justifiable homicide. Read the story below--lrh].