By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Manuel Ramirez's bloodied body lay on the grimy Sixth Street sidewalk, partly obscured by a La Opinión newspaper rack, which would feature the Guatemalan-born day laborer in headlines for days to come.
Ramirez, 37, was shot on September 5 by a veteran Los Angeles Police Department officer responding to a call of a man armed with a knife, threatening people near the intersection of Sixth Street and Union Avenue in Los Angeles' heavily Latino Westlake area.
One couldn't help but think Ramirez would have been stunned by the level of outrage over his shooting, and the overt efforts by city politicians and LAPD brass to explain the fatal incident.
For several days and nights, hundreds of people converged on the corner where the makeshift memorial, including a Guatemalan flag, were arranged atop the La Opinión rack beneath which he died. The coroner later announced the slain man was not Manuel Jamines, a name he lived under, but Manuel Ramirez, according to a fingerprint match from U.S. Department of Justice records.
Some insist his death was an extreme case of police harassment in an area where authorities have cracked down on illegal street vendors.
Many see it as another police shooting that should have been avoided. Many say Ramirez was so inebriated that he was harmless.
At 5 feet 3 inches, and a slight 136 pounds, Ramirez wasn't exactly Ray Lewis. People continue to ask, "Couldn't police have shot him in the leg, or shot the knife out of his hand?"
But no police force in America is trained to take half-steps with a drunk who has a knife. "That is just preposterous," says an LAPD field sergeant at the memorial scene. "People watch too many movies, and they think the police can act like that in real life. Shoot the knife out of his hand. Stupid. Just plain stupid. The guy had a knife and was threatening people. Someone called 911 on him."
Ramirez ignored warnings in English and Spanish to drop the knife, according to both police and most witnesses. With a folding knife raised, he allegedly made a move toward three bicycle officers who'd responded to the 911 call and were 10 to 12 feet away from Ramirez.
One of them, 13-year veteran Frank Hernandez, shot Ramirez twice in the head.
"After they killed him, they frisked him and handcuffed him," says a highly emotional Daniel Hernandez, 20, who arrived hours later and did not see the shooting.
He is referring to a strict LAPD procedure, in which police must secure even a "dead" suspect because sometimes they are alive and can lash out — even kill.
Yet, Hernandez says, "That's just wrong. To protect and serve, my ass."
Others in Westlake, however, clearly side with the police.
"They said maybe he didn't understand the police because of the dialect he spoke, but when police have guns pointed at you and they are yelling, that's like an international language," says Edward Lizama, a security guard who had come to pay his respects at the corner.
"I grew up in the 'hood and if you have a weapon — have anything in your hands — and the police with guns are yelling, drop whatever you are carrying. I don't care if it's a cheeseburger."
Few protesters — more than 20 of whom were arrested, some for throwing rocks and bottles at police — knew Ramirez. The angriest often seemed more interested in the video cameras aimed at them than in the tribute to the victim.
"The frustrations that the community are displaying are frustrations of the current social environment throughout the city," says an unnamed veteran LAPD source. "The shooting is being used as a catalyst to speak and act out. Unfortunately, it's not pretty when this happens, because you have those in the community who are just looking for a reason to act out."
Of more than 50 people the Weekly spoke to at the site, five said they knew Ramirez.
"He loved to work and he loved to drink," says Juan Lorenzo, a fellow Guatemalan who knew Ramirez for four years. Ramirez, he says, was from the town of Santo Tomas La Union in Guatemala, where his wife still lives.
Lorenzo, who says he witnessed the shooting from across the street in front of the Food4Less, isn't sure if Ramirez made a move toward the bicycle officers or simply stumbled in his stupor. "I wish I could ask him what happened, but he's dead."
The neatly dressed Lorenzo stood watch over the memorial, which consisted of a picture of Ramirez, bouquets and candles. The light pole was scrawled with "Justice 4 Manuel." On the sidewalk fronting a razor-wire–topped fence around the Dollar Market lot, a chalked message read: "Hope he gets more than a slap on the wrist."
Occasionally, passersby dropped dollar bills into a box on which Ramirez's photo was taped. "I didn't know the man, but I feel sorry for him," says Maria Mundo, who gave $2.
Daniel Hernandez saw Mundo make her contribution and shook his head. "People around here make $8 an hour, $5 an hour," he says. "They wear $5 jeans and they are putting dollars in this box for him."