In the Shadow of the Freedom Tree

The Police Murder of Chubby Hood

by Michael Slate

Revolutionary Worker #934, November 30, 1997

There are stories that are so painful I wish I never had to tell them again. But these are stories that must be told and retold. We need to hear them today. We need to record them and someday when the world is very different and someone asks, "Was it really all that bad?" we can pull these stories out and they will know. The story of Darryl "Chubby" Hood is one of those stories. Chubby was a 40-year-old Black man who was executed by the LAPD in the Jordan Downs Housing Projects at noon on Saturday, November 15.

If Watts is a hidden corner dangling off the end of Los Angeles, Jordan Downs is like an inside vest pocket in Watts. It's down across the railroad tracks where 103rd Street stops looking like an avenue and seems to be more like a concrete path slashed through abandoned buildings, vacant lots, storefront churches and tiny grocery stores. It's a left onto Grape Street and back behind a community garden dense with cactus and corn. There is nothing soft about Jordan Downs. It's about 500 units divided up into row after row of army barracks style buildings. With the security bars on the windows and the building numbers slashed across the top of the outside walls in big black numbers it looks a lot like a prison camp.

There's a football field/baseball diamond sitting in the middle of Jordan Downs. It's sandwiched in between the gym and a children's playground on the north and a rusted out warehouse with empty shipping containers stacked up like coffins in the parking lot to the south. The neck of a rusty crane that hasn't moved in years is stretched out on the far horizon.

On Saturdays the children on the local football team, the Jordan Downs All Stars, play their hearts out. Later, the older people come out for their own games. People cut across the path at the south end of the field to go from one end of the projects to the other. And down on the southwest corner of the field, there's the Freedom Tree, a big old tree with a huge gnarled root system jutting out just above ground that provides some sitting and chilling space in the projects.

The Execution of Chubby

On November 15, sometime around noon, the Jordan Downs All Stars had five minutes left to play in one of their last games leading into the district playoffs. Chubby Hood was back behind one of the buildings on the edge of the field. He had a big kitchen knife and was stabbing himself in the head, trying to commit suicide.

The police moved in. Within minutes a storm of bullets broke up the kids' football game and Chubby's bullet-riddled body was sprawled out in the football field. A few minutes later the police moved in and handcuffed Chubby's corpse as 80 to 100 riot-geared cops fanned out across the projects, forcing people into their homes under the threat of arrest, beatings and worse. A tactical alert was called for Watts. Newly appointed police chief Bernard Parks, schooled under the notorious Daryl Gates, rushed to the scene. He told the angry people in the projects that the police couldn't use rubber bullets because Chubby didn't have a rubber knife." Another cop explained to a woman who angrily went up in his face that they had to shoot Chubby because "we can't just sit back and let someone take his own life." Soon after arriving on the scene. Parks issued the official police version--Chubby had lunged at the police, threatening them with bodily harm so they had no choice but to kill him.

Everyone in the projects who knew Chubby tells stories of a man born and raised in Jordan Downs and somebody who was always ready to help whoever asked. He was constantly driving friends to the market or picking up kids at school. People talk about Chubby and his wife, high school sweethearts who had five children and one grandchild together. They talk about Chubby being "a hardworking family man," an ex-boxer, ex-forklift operator who ended up doing whatever odd jobs he could around the neighborhood when he lost his job. While the police describe Chubby as a deranged killer, his friends and relatives talk about how he has had a mental illness for years--"people inside his head telling him to do things"--and for the last few years he had desperately tried--and failed--to get admitted into hospitals for treatment.

Chubby's friends and neighbors are searching for answers and debating what to do. And they angrily pick apart the police cover-up. As one long-time friend of Chubby's put it, "It's all a godamn lie. One big lie. We don't like the police over here anyway. We don't like to call them cuz it always seem they ready to turn on the victim. You call them and they come after you. They come down here and shoot us like animals. And then they say we get what we deserve. No, sir--we got to tell the truth now!"

About 300 were on the scene when the police fired the fatal shots. Some came running out after they heard the first two shots. Others had been on the field watching the football game. And people were yelling at the police not to kill Chubby. There were four or five people in the projects who saw the whole execution up close, from start to finish. One brother was hanging out at the Freedom Tree that Saturday afternoon and rushed to Chubby's aid. "Two cops came on the scene and they pull out their guns and told him to put down the knife and everything. Me and about three or four other people were out there telling the cops that he wasn't in his right mind, that he was a good person. We was asking them to just don't shoot him but just try to calm him down. Instead they told him to put the knife down and when he didn't respond they just started shooting. He wasn't trying to hurt them. On the news they say he was trying to lunge towards them. It wasn't nothing like that. All he did was have a knife in his hand and he was looking at them and steady backing up away from them. And they steady moving towards him. Next thing you know they start shooting him. This happens too many times.

"It happens every day all across L.A. and all across America, police shooting people and getting away with it. They steady locking people up for murder but when you really think about it that's what the cops just did and they just got away with murder. It's not right. Why they get away with this? Cuz they got a badge and they got a gun and they got a law that they can't go to jail and suffer the consequences for what they done did. They should be punished for what they did.

"We was all out here saying don't shoot him, that he wasn't in his right mind and they should just calm him down. It wasn't like they didn't know what was wrong with him. It wasn't like that. We all told them what was wrong with him. They didn't care. They just wanted to shoot him. It gets me mad every time I think about it. It ain't right. It just ain't right at all."

Clarence, a long time friend of Chubby's, told the RW: "I looked behind the building here and I seen Chubby was stabbing himself in the head. So I come from around the fence and asked him--begged him--I said, `Chubby, Chubby, what you doing to yourself man? You got a wife and kids and everything.' He stopped stabbing himself in the head. I asked him for the knife and he almost gave it to me til he looked over my shoulder and saw the police coming. That's when he ran into the field and came back.

"Now, people don't know he was shot twice. He was shot once in the arm and once in the leg. He fell down and he was on his back and that's when they tried to tase him and shoot mace in his face. At that time they could have just swarmed him. But they just stood back. And when Chubby got up and ran out in the field I was running after him. I was saying, `Chubby, Chubby, Chubby--please give me the knife man. If you don't give me the knife they gonna kill you.' Then the police sergeant come up to me and say `Get your ass out the way!' I said to `wait a minute' and said I was talking to him before the police came here and maybe if they give me a few more minutes of talking to Chubby, maybe he'll put the knife down. Then the sergeant approached me again and say, `Didn't I tell you to get your motherfucking ass out the way.' Then when I went to turn, that's when all hell broke loose--POW! POW! POW! POW! POW! POW!

"There was about 20 police around him. They ask me how many times I think he was shot and I said 25 or 30 times. But when he got to the hospital, I guess they saying he was only shot 11 times. They say he lunged at them. He never lunged. He had his arm and his hands pointing backwards. The knife was pointed backwards. And he couldn't stab them cuz they was 10 or 15 feet away from him. After they shot him, after Chubby was dead, they put handcuffs on him.

"I went to the police station later to say what happened and all the police that was out here was sitting up in there eating pizza--like it was some kind of party. That sergeant come out and ask me do I want some pizza. I told him, `No, I don't want no goddamn pizza with you.' When Parks was out in the projects some of us asked to talk to him. He shook our hands and everything and then told us he got all his information and everything. I asked him, `How can you have your information when I'm the man that seen it.' He told me that he got all his information from his boys and he don't need no more information. Then he walked away and got in his car and drove away."

A Gathering of Memories

By November 16, there was a memorial erected for Chubby on the spot where he died. The memorial speaks to the very deep effect this murder is having on people in the neighborhood. For instance, there is a history of tense relations between Black and Latino people in Jordan Downs. But many Black and Latino people have come together around this murder. Everyday Chubby's friends, relatives and neighbors come to visit the memorial. They bring candles, religious pictures and flowers. Teachers brought a pre-school class to the memorial and talked with them about what happened. Chubby's grandchild brought a toy to leave at the memorial. Friends in the projects left cards and letters. One older woman put down a plastic peanut dispenser in memory of all those afternoons and evenings that she and Chubby sat and shared salted peanuts while they talked. A small ceramic figurine of two people riding a tandem bicycle symbolizes how Chubby loved to ride his bike. Someone else left a Sugar Daddy taffy. Placards came from people in other projects in Watts and other neighborhoods. And among the cards and flowers is a special RW poster with pictures from October 22 that reads, "It's Right to Rebel Against Police Brutality"

At night there are candlelight vigils. People come to share their grief for a friend and to voice their anger about his cold-blooded murder. Some people from other neighborhoods come by to see where they can drop off money they are raising in their own neighborhoods to help out Chubby's family. On Wednesday night, November 18, a spur-of-the-moment march through the projects gathered 150 people chanting "No Justice, No Peace! No Murdering Police!"

Life Under Police Occupation

Everywhere in the projects people are talking about the police and what they did. And they talk about what it's like to live in the projects. One brother put it this way, "I did eight and a half years for gang-related murder and now that I'm out I feel like I am incarcerated--even more than when I was in jail. I felt safer in jail. Out here, the police come through, harass us, chase and do what they want. They sweep up on us and you never know when you gonna end up in jail. I'm tired of seeing the police out here hurting my people."

People tell stories of constant police brutality and intimidation. Two women, one of them pregnant, were beaten down about a month ago for parking their car on the lawn so they could be closer to the door when they unloaded their groceries. The beating forced the pregnant woman into premature labor. Around the same time a young man was shot in the back for hanging out in the parking lot with his friends. He survived the shooting but was charged with attempted murder. A Task Force that includes the FBI and other police agencies routinely busts down doors and rampages through people's homes. Another woman talks about how she was stripped, molested and then thrown out of the car naked by two cops patrolling the projects.

Just asking people about the murder of Chubby lets loose a river of anger. Queenie, a sister facing eviction under the "one strike" law in force in federal projects, jumped up to speak to the people around the Freedom Tree one afternoon last week. As one man shouted out, "The crackers was wrong!" Queenie began to speak: "My name is Queenie and I saw the whole thing. The man was on the other side of the projects. He was out to kill hisself and somebody called in a suicide hit. The police came out and when they came, they came with utilities. They didn't come with no freeze guns or stun guns and all that. They came drawing down on the man and they shot him twice. Still the man got up and started running. Then they surrounded him in the field and he was stabbing hisself. I was standing there and when they said `Miss, get moving!' I said, `I'm not moving, I know him.' Then they just let loose on him. They opened up with all their guns, their shotguns and all.

"Look, if they catch you outside all by yourself over here they gonna kill you too. Just like that. And every time they do come over here, they drawing down on us. Every time they come over here they riding with their doors cracked and they got the gauges outside the door, just rolling around. It's like they trying to tell us to come outside and try to start something with them. This is how they ride around. The cops get away with murder. They are bloody murderers! Bloody murderers!"

As the sun set one night last week Chubby's friends began to light the more than a dozen candles around the memorial. The flickering candlelight in the dark field drew in people from every corner of the projects. Anger began to bubble over. One sister told the crowd, "You know, that day, when they shot that man it make a lot of people strong. They killed him for no reason and I say that was murder. It made me sick and then it make us all strong! To kill him out there in front of everybody. That was really a stupid move for them. We don't like police out here anyway so that just makes us dislike them even more. It make us strong. We start to see the need for us to come together to do something about this."

As people debated what had happened and what to do about it, a couple of Chubby's cousins broke away from the crowd and went off to sit on the swings, alone with their grief and anger. One of the cousins told me that Chubby's father had always warned his family that in the end the "Watts police" have your life in their hands. The other cousin listened quietly for awhile and then spoke up, holding back tears as she did. "This is really messing with me. I can't eat, I can't sleep. Right now, I don't even like to hear the words cops, police, pigs--fuck the police! They did not kill my cousin. They executed him and there must be Justice."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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