By Dave Lindorff / CounterPunch
The shooting death by Los Angeles Police of 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta, who died in a changing room of a Burlington Outlet store while with her mother trying on a dress for her coming 15th birthday celebration, is an atrocity beyond comprehension.
I don’t care what kinds of excuses are made by the cop or cops who fired shots, one of which tore away this young girl’s life as her horrified mother had to watch and desperately try to save her. There is simply no possible justification for firing police guns in a crowded store.
I cannot even bear to try and imagine the agony her family is now suffering, especially listening to the tired police excuses and lame platitudes that always accompany such all too frequent monstrous acts by America’s centurions.
News reports quoting police officials say that the police were called because a man was attacking a store customer with a “heavy duty” bike lock and “threatening to destroy store property.” That in itself doesn’t sound terribly scary or grounds for the use of police firearms, especially with three officers on the scene at the time. There were also reports of shots fired, the police claim. But even if that were the case — and no gun was recovered from the attacker, who was also killed by police bullets, nor were there any reports that he fired at police or had a gun in his hand when he was killed — police should not be excused for firing their weapons in “self-defense” or to put a stop to a situation in a situation where there are crowds of people in the potential line of fire.
The primary responsibility of the police is and must always be protecting the public. Period.
Their primary responsibility is emphatically not protecting property, and it certainly is not protecting themselves. Police wear or should wear, body armor on duty, and they must, as a part of their acceptance of the job of being a cop, accept the responsibility to put the safety of the public before concerns about their own lives.
That is not what happened here.
We are hearing comments from the police in news reports that the kill shot that snuffed out little Valentina’s young life pierced a “solid” wall that police had “no way of knowing” had dressing room booths behind it. That is simply BS! Everyone, including police, has to know how department stores like Burlington Outlets are constructed, with cheap pressed-board partitions set up throughout a large open space to separate various departments and to create flimsy changing rooms. There is probably not a single concrete wall on any floor level within the confines of any large department store. It’s all ticky-tack
, easily moved and altered construction inside these spaces.
What happened in this tragic killing of a young girl was that police adopted the same approach employed by the U.S. military for assaults in its imperial wars: they went in prepared to “take out” a “bad actor” and placed concern about their own safety first. The civilians in the target zone were simply “collateral damage” in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What happened is not policing; it is engaging in a military assault. For that matter, when such an action happens in places like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan or any of the other places where the US sends its “warriors” these days, it’s actually a war crime. That’s because, under the international rules of war, attacks are not supposed to take place when there is the probability or risk of significant civilian casualties. That is to say, at least from a legal perspective, police in the US have a freer hand to kill innocents than do soldiers.
We in the U.S. are becoming a society inured to this kind of casual and largely unpunished police slaughter of civilians. Police frequently fire shots through opaque doors during “no-knock” house break-ins to make arrests or home searches, and if someone gets killed, as happened to Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky last year in such a raid, the cops are exonerated. Prosecutors typically conclude the cops were just “doing their job” and refuse to indict, of if they do indict, judges and any juries that are selected typically reach the same conclusion.
This latest killing is even worse than shooting through an apartment door. Firing a police weapon in a crowded store in any but perhaps — and I say perhaps — a hostage situation where a gunman is holding a gun to a captive’s head has to be completely unacceptable. And there is no indication at all that this latest killing involved anything like that.
Just once I’d like to see a police officer who murders a child like this just turn his or her gun and badge in, admit to having committed an inexcusable atrocity, and not try to lawyer her or his way out of trouble and hang on to a job as a cop.
I have yet to see that happen in all the years I’ve covered police killings.
There should be an immediate firing of any police officer who fired a weapon in this particular incident because of the huge risk that was posed in firing a gun inside a crowded store. There should be a prosecution for at least reckless endangerment and involuntary manslaughter.
I’m not holding my breath.
This slaughter of innocent suspects and bystanders, and especially of children, by our nation’s cops, must cease.
Whenever something like this occurs, I keep thinking about firefighters and how they operate. As I reporter, I’ve watched firefighters arriving at blazes where there are at least feared to be victims trapped in burning buildings. The firefighters who rush in my experience don’t even hesitate. On arriving, if told there may be people trapped, they heroically race directly buildings putting their lives in grave danger, to try and locate and rescue whoever is at risk. That kind of heroism is largely lacking among the nation’s police officers, who all too often justify their murder of people, including kids, whom they later claim they “thought” were carrying a weapon, using the tried-and-true line, “I feared for my life.”
That cowardly excuse doesn’t cut it though. If you’re a cop, you need to put concerns about your life second to the lives of the public. There can be no justification for killing an unarmed suspect, and when that suspect is a kid, the offense is all the worse. It is even more intolerable when the person killed is just someone in the line of fire, like poor Valentina.
I was a reporter in Los Angeles back in the late 1970s, when the LAPD first introduced to American policing the militarized policing concept of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams — a violent approach now widely adopted and grossly overused by law enforcement agencies all across the country. I reported during those years on all too many cases of LAPD murders of unarmed people, which usually resulted in no legal consequences for the officers involved. So I won’t be surprised if we learn that it wasn’t just one wild shot that was fired when Valentina was killed in Los Angeles. U.S. police have a propensity to fire multiple rounds in incidents like these, and often several cops will fire at once. If that turns out to be the case, we’re lucky there were not more injuries and fatalities as a result of the unfortunate police arrival on the scene to “rescue” the public from a deranged attacker swinging a bike lock.
This is no aberration. The LAPD has for decades had one of the most deadly records of police killings. Just this year, which is not quite over, LAPD officers shot at least 37 people, killing at least 17, according to the Los Angeles Times. That tally represents a significant increase from 2020, when 27 people were shot and 7 killed by LA officers, and 2019 when 26 people were shot and 12 killed.
My heart goes out to the Orellana-Peralta family, whose members have to endure this Christmas season and then go on through life without their precious daughter.
There is no way that horror can be explained or compensated for, no solace that can be offered, no prayer that can bring her back.