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Justice For All

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topaz2.jpg

I live in Inglewood. It’s one of the many urban small towns that aren’t technically part of L.A. but are at the core of the storied megalopolis that is L.A. (What would L.A. be to the wider world without Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, even Culver City?) Inglewood isn’t exactly glamorous, but it shares certain characteristics with its fellow small towns, including having its own police force. Lately that force has been under intense scrutiny for fatally shooting four people, three of them unarmed and all gunned down in controversial circumstances, in the last five months. Unsettling to say the least, especially given the history of Inglewood as a resolutely white city that abruptly became black in the 60s and 70s but retained a police department that too often viewed its new black and brown populace as suspects, not citizens. Ever heard of sundown towns? Inglewood is part of that sordid tradition of de facto racial exclusion that L.A. didn’t invent but certainly succumbed to, led by its law enforcement. This is all an introduction to the story of Michael Reed and his dog, Topaz. Michael was involved in the last Inglewood shooting that happened August. 31; he wasn’t the guy killed, but he certainly qualifies as a victim.

Michael is a local, 48-year-old homeless man who happened to be on the scene when another homeless man, Eddie Felix Franco, was cornered and shot to death by IPD after a local merchant reported that Felix had a gun (it turned out to be a toy). Because Michael was there, and presumably because police thought he might be connected to Franco, he was put in the back of a patrol car. He immediately worried about Topaz, his female pit bull who was sitting on the curb tied to his shopping cart. Next thing he knew, shots rang out—47 in all—that killed Franco. Michael, terrified, couldn’t see his cart or Topaz and assumed she’d been killed too. The cops drove him away from the scene and down to the station for questioning, he says. He was released later that day.

Michael searched for his dog, with no luck. Four days later, thanks to the frantic efforts of several animal rescue groups, one of which actually put its ID tag on Topaz because Michael had no phone number, he was reunited with her at the Carson shelter. But the reunion was hardly joyful. It turns out Topaz had been wounded in the fusillade of bullets that had cut down Franco; one of the bullets had shattered a hind leg, and she required an amputation. Michael was distraught, of course. As for the rescue groups, they were furious - led by Streetsmarts, the pit bull-rescue outfit that had given its tag to Topaz and was in fact contacted by authorities after the shooting, they had tried for several days to get the traumatized dog out of the Carson shelter, where it had ended up, and into the specialized care of a vet. No luck. Only when Michael appeared (after being informed of Topaz’s whereabouts by Ingrid Hurel-Diourbel, the founder of Streetsmarts) would the shelter release the Topaz to the presumed safety of her rightful owner.

What’s the moral of the story? Being an Inglewood resident concerned about social justice and a dog owner and sometime rescuer myself, I can think of at least two. Let’s just say that if the quality of any town, or place, is truly measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, Inglewood has far to go.

Photo: Micheal Reed (kneeling, second from left) and Topaz, with Airport Cities Animal Hospital staff. Credit: Dr. Toya Jackson; Airport Cities Animal Hospital, 1120 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, CA 90301; (310) 641-8800

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