The LAPD Murder of Joe Joshua

By Michael Slate

Revolutionary Worker #980, November 1, 1998

Late last week I was having a discussion with someone from the middle class who was very concerned and outraged about police brutality, but who was also trying figure out if it really is an epidemic. The reality of L.A. today was a far more powerful argument than anything I could say. Around the same time as this discussion, the LAPD killed two people within three days. A woman was shot and killed when she got out of her car in a parking lot. The police say that she pointed a gun at them. Two days before this murder the police executed Joe Joshua, a 76-year-old Black man in South Central L.A. They claim he charged at them with a knife, and they didn't have time to use other forms of restraint against him. This is Joe Joshua's story.

The corner of Manchester and Vermont is in that part of Los Angeles where the buildings really flatten out and the crowded downtown look of the rest of Vermont fades. Down here the buildings look like they are desperately clinging to the ground, and one good shake could send them sliding and tumbling down off the tip of the city. This corner is a transit point, a place where greasy old buses pick people up in the morning and carry them off to work in every corner of the city. In the evening, the buses spit them out again, tired and spent.

There is very little beauty down here. It's empty and gray--except for one little spot on the northwest corner of the intersection where someone placed three bouquets of bright roses, daisies and carnations. A small, stuffed white bear holding a heart that says "I Love You!" is wrapped up in cellophane with another rose. A card sits in the middle of this little shrine bearing witness to the love of a son and daughter for their father. The shrine marks the spot where Joe Joshua was executed by the LAPD on Saturday evening, October 10.

Joe Joshua was always riding his bike with a big old radio attached to the back. He stayed in an abandoned house a short distance from where he was murdered. Joe knew the streets could be dangerous so he often carried a hunting knife, something to protect himself. He had been on these streets for years and knew everyone. Joe was a retired meatcutter and lived on a pension. He hustled to make the money he needed beyond the small pension checks. Sometimes he hustled bottles and cans. Other times he sold bus tokens on the corners. Joe drank sometimes and sometimes he gave the bookies a little money. He also had some psychological problems and was recently hospitalized for treatment. But everyone, including his ex-wife and five children, says Joe Joshua was a nice old man who never did anything to harm anyone.

That day, the LAPD swarmed into the neighborhood. They say they were there to investigate an alleged bank robbery about a half-block away from Manchester and Vermont. There was no robbery, but the police were steadily harassing people on the corners.

The cops say that when they confronted Joe Joshua, he lunged at them with a 12-inch butcher knife. Alan, a middle-aged man selling tokens on Manchester, spit out his opinion of the story told by the police and repeated by the L.A. Times about the circumstances surrounding the murder of his friend. "The L.A. Times lies, and so do the police. Joe was backing up. How the hell you gonna be coming at the police with a knife when you backing up towards your bike and your hands in the air? Whose life was he threatening? Answer me that.

"We Black people don't have no rights. White people got rights, we don't. This is South Central. When the police pull us over they got their guns drawn. But when they pull over a white boy they all like, `Did you know, sir, that you were doing such and such.' Police don't pull over five white people riding down the street in a car. But let five Black people be rolling down the street and see what happen. They always stopping us, jacking us up damn near every day. They telling us to get the hell off the corner--or go to jail. Some people go to jail, some people leave. I'm on parole so I got to leave. But some people stand up to them.

"I was really surprised when I heard Joe was killed. The way I found out it was him was, I was watching it on the news and I saw the bike. Then I saw his knife laying there, I knew the knife. Joe didn't attack the police. He was going to get on his bike, and they shot him."

Jesse, an old man collecting cans and bottles, stopped to talk about his friend Joe. Jesse worked for the railroad for 30 years and now he needs to pick cans and bottles out of the garbage and the gutters to make sure he has enough money to eat. For 35 years, Jesse and his wife used to live in a house just down the street from where Joe was murdered. He lets out a bitter laugh when he explains that he raised six children in that house--and one day the landlord stopped taking care of it. Eventually the rats and the roaches took it over and forced Jesse and his wife out.

Jesse saw the police shoot Joe. "I was standing right there. The police told Joe to put his hands up, so he had his hands up. His knife was in his right hand. They said he charged them. But he didn't, he was just standing there and they shot him in the chest. It was murder! I read the papers and I listened to the news. All they said just wasn't true. It's false to the bone. Joe never hurt nobody. He just ride his bike up and down the street. He be right here, on his bike, every day."

George is 18 years old and he spends a lot of time walking the streets of his neighborhood. On this day he stands across the street from the spot where Joe was shot. And every time a cop rolls by he gives them a long and hard look that makes his contempt and hatred clear.

George saw the murder of Joe Joshua from the beginning to the end. "The old man was riding his bike up the street past the police. The female police told him to come back and the old man just said, `For what? I didn't do nothing. What you got to bother me for?' The police was supposed to be up in here checking out a bank robbery--so why they got to come down on an old man? This old man wasn't doing nothing. He got his life took for nothing. When the police told him to come back, he just held his hands up and was saying `Just leave me alone. I didn't do nothing and I don't want no problems.' But then the police said something smart to him and he told the police to fuck off. He had a little knife--it wasn't real big--and he was holding it with his fingers up in the air. The old man had his hands up and then he took a step forward and one of the police just shot him. The old man died right there for nothing. He didn't want no problems, he just wanted to go on about his way.

"As soon as the police shot him, the other police hurried up and got that cop up out of there. I went up and asked a Black policeman, `Man, did you see that?' And he tell me, `Nah, I didn't see nothing.' I told him, `How you gonna say that, you standing right there and you hear the gunshot and you see what all your partners doing.' They always telling us to follow the law. I say fuck the law cuz the police always be bending the law. The police trying to help their own out and not trying to be with the reals. After that old man was shot, the police was all up in there rolling his body around. And they know ain't nobody supposed to be touching a dead body after the person been shot. Then they shocked the man's body with them tasers--they shot those little metal things into his body to shock him so they could see if he was dead or not. I saw all this. I was standing right there. Then the other officer was all trigger happy. He went to the car and got him a shotgun, a pump, and he was standing there and pressed on that old man to see if he was still moving. I say if the old man was still moving, that cop would have put that birdshot up in him. You know, there was nine of them cops out there, including the FBI, and they all came out there with their guns out like the old man was gonna kill somebody."

Jesse spoke bitterness about the brutality and harassment that cops carry out every day in South Central: "Cops harassing us all the time down here. Just today I'm sitting in the yard with my homie and the cops come up and ask us if we live there. I was thinking, what do it matter if we live here or not. But I figured if I say we don't live here then we would be up against the car--and for what? They would have put us against the car like they always do. They always harassing us for no reason. I don't understand that. I'm 18 years old and I can't be walking down the street without being told to get on the hood of a car. For what, I'm just walking down the street and what they gonna do, arrest me for walking down the wrong side of the street. That's bullshit. Fuck all them cops. I don't like them at all--with a passion.

"They was wrong when they killed that old man. But they kill people every day and get away with it. They cover it up. Down here the police got a license to kill people. They out here stealing dope and selling it. The police is dirty, all of them is dirty. I don't care what nobody says. And when the police is wrong and dirty what you gonna do then? Call the police? And then what? They come and fuck you up."

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