This photo essay is one in a series titled "In Plain Sight: Photographic Recordings of Police Violence" by Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin.
The Koreatown/Westlake section of Los Angeles is home to a diverse intersection of cultures. In this part of the city lies a history of police-involved investigations, including the infamous LAPD Rampart Division corruption scandal of the late 1990s. This photo essay includes the Rampart police station as well as several other sites of violence where residents have reportedly died at the hands of officers.
The Rampart police scandal was centered on the activities of the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) gang unit. A documented incident of corruption, in this case, involved police officers who framed an unarmed man for murder, but there were many other incidents as well. A major (though less publicized) component of the scandal was the beating, and subsequent cover-up of it, of a suspect while he was being detained at the Rampart station.
Acts of police violence in Koreatown are not limited to the Rampart scandal. Between 2008 and 2010, two unarmed men were shot and killed by the police. The investigations that followed determined that the police department was at fault in both cases, as neither man was armed or posed any threat to the responding officers. The two incidents received some scant local coverage in comparison to the current wave of attention that the subject of police violence has received. These relatively unknown cases speak to the fact that police violence against men of color is not a new phenomenon, nor is it limited to a certain part of the city.
Dontaze Storey Jr. was shot and killed by a Rampart Division police officer in front of his pregnant girlfriend on the corner of 3rd Street and New Hampshire. The police said they thought he had a weapon initially but multiple witnesses confirmed that he had nothing in his hand when he was killed. A wrongful death case was later settled with the mother of his then unborn child.
Roughly two years later, an unarmed man with learning disabilities named Steven Washington was shot and killed while walking down Vermont Boulevard. No weapon was present but officers shot him because they deemed him unresponsive to verbal commands. The shooting sparked immediate criticism from Washington’s family. The department initially concluded that the shooting was justified but that was eventually overruled by an independent civilian oversight commission.
The pace of life in a place as populated as Koreatown and Westlake can be daunting. Because of this dynamic, it can be easy for some to forget (or ignore) the long history of police violence in this community. Just as in other areas of L.A., this bustling urban landscape continues to be in a state of redevelopment so documenting its spaces before they disappear is of critical significance.