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Working for the county probation department, the largest in the nation, means being equal parts social worker and law enforcement

On a Tuesday morning in October, Los Angeles deputy probation officer Booker Waugh made his way down a nearly sheer hillside, just a few feet from the entrance to the 10 freeway heading east.

Waugh, 48, was conducting a field visit to one of his probationers, a man named Joshua Bey. Bey lives in the affluent neighborhood of Cheviot Hills not in a stately colonial house but in an orange tent, pitched between the freeway and a retaining wall, buffeted by old window blinds and a blanket decorated with kittens.

Hidden from the cars racing by below and the $2m homes above, Beys world is invisible unless you know where to look.


  • Waugh cruises the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles.

Booker Waugh does. Waugh is an officer with the Los Angeles county probation department, the largest agency of its kind in the nation. It oversees more than 35,000 adults under community supervision, meaning probation or parole.

Twenty of Waughs 38 clients are homeless. We do this every day, Waugh says about the challenges of his work. You cant let hopelessness get the best of you.

More than 4.5 million people in the US were under community supervision in 2016, the last year for which the justice department has released data. Thats twice as many people as the number of people incarcerated, and a 239% increase since 1980, according to a study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

There isnt enough data on probation to determine the cause of this explosive growth with certainty, but we do know that the increase in probation has far outpaced any increase in crime. That suggests that departments have become more liberal with their use of probation. In the past few years, those liberal policies have been challenged by activists, scholars, and a remarkable number of top brass probation officials who aim to revamp what they view as a bloated, ineffective system.

But within individual departments, there are many probation officers like Waugh: drawn to the work because they want to help people who are struggling, and who see the job as equal parts social work and law enforcement.

Waugh, who has lived in south-central Los Angeles his entire life except for a stint attending the University of Hawaii, is a 15-year veteran of the probation department. Like most officers, he started his career in the county juvenile facilities.

I dont get an extra check for locking your ass up, Waugh says he tells new clients. Im here to work with you, Im here to help you. The less work I have to do the better.

Joshua Bey
  • Left: Waugh pays a visit to Joshua Beys encampment near the 10 freeway. Right: Joshua Bey in his tent, which is hidden between a hedge and a retaining wall.

On days when he goes into the field, Waugh sets out in the white Ford Taurus provided by the department, the radio tuned to a 90s hip hop station. He visits clients in their home, shelter, tent or place of work, if they have one, and tries to get a sense of how the client is navigating re-entry from lockup. Are they employed? Sober? Lucid? He asks them if they need anything he can help provide, from facilitating a ride to mental health services to providing train fare.

At a shelter in Santa Monica, Waugh meets a client of three months, Earl Love.

Loves hands tremble from Parkinsons disease and, like a significant amount of probationers in Los Angeles county, he has been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Waugh visits him once a month, and has connected Love to a telecare medical team so he doesnt have to travel to get support.

Love was incarcerated for most of his 46 years, he says. Ive been in the struggle all my life.


  • Waugh visits Earl Love, 46, a client at a Santa Monica homeless shelter who has been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Later in the day, Waughs off to the jungle, the south-central Los Angeles neighborhood named after both its foliage and what Waugh calls its antics.

Hes visiting 55-year-old Derek Williams. Williams joined a gang in the late 1970s, but says hes done with that lifestyle. I dont carry guns anymore. I hear a car backfire, he mimics being startled. Im shell-shocked.

Williams says his probation has gone smoothly because he is unencumbered by mental health struggles and has been able to comply with probation rules, which are strict. Requirements vary. All probationers have to call in to a special phone line daily, report to their officers regularly, submit to drug tests when instructed and not carry weapons. Many must attend mental health or substance abuse classes. Some cant be around gang members if they have an injunction, others cant open a checking account if they were charged with fraud, still others cant access the internet unsupervised if they were charged with sexually assaulting a minor.

Those rules are there to help probationers, Waugh says, a safeguard to keep them from doing the same things again and again. Probationers can choose whether to follow them or not, he says. Still, he concedes, the rules stringency can be a setup for failure; if work hours coincide with required mental health treatment, for example, a probationer who skips the appointment to keep a job may end up back in jail.

The rules also make finding work challenging for those in re-entry under the best of circumstances even more difficult. Probationers may be told to come in to the office for a pop-up urine test with next to no notice, and given a narrow window of time within which to complete the test, though Waugh says they try to accommodate clients schedules.

Even for a probationer who truly wants to play by the rules and finish probation, its not easy. There are lots of barriers to being successful, Brian Lovins, the former assistant director of Harris county community supervision and corrections department and an advocate for probation reform, points out. People dont operate individually, theres a host of family and social systems that keep them pressured into where they are in the world.





  • Top left: Derek Williams peers out of the window in his apartment building. Top right: Jeffrey Chenevert, a truck driver and entrepreneur, visits the west LA office. Bottom left: Jarrad Durke, a homeless US Navy veteran, is at the west LA office for his monthly check-in. Bottom right: EarlLove shows off his photography.

Like most other probation officers in what Waugh calls inner-city Los Angeles, he currently has close to twice the number of clients he is supposed to manage. This means he gets less time than hed like with clients, and he has to make some choices about where to direct his energy.

You tend to drift toward the guys who want to help themselves versus the guys who keep getting arrested over and over, Waugh says. You have to decipher who wants my help and who is just here because they got put on probation out of jail.

Today, however, he passes the time in his cubicle, surrounded by Lakers paraphernalia and a Colin Kaepernick action figure.

Waughs client Jeffrey Chenevert, 46, comes by for an office visit. Hes been working with Waugh for two and a half months and has failed two drug tests. Chenevert says his medications are affecting the test results.

Waugh tells him to bring in the medications at his next visit so he can determine whether thats the case. But if you mess up again, he warns, Ill send the results in and youll be locked up again.


  • Waugh waits in the corridor at the central arraignment court in downtown Los Angeles.

Because this is Los Angeles, Waugh spends a lot of time in his car. He drives from his west Los Angeles office to the central arraignment court downtown, where his client Keion Anderson is appearing before a judge on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

Arrested 20 days earlier, Anderson stands silently in a plexiglass enclosure, craning his head downward to speak through a small opening in the wall when called upon to answer a question. Waugh is there to speak on Andersons behalf, telling the judge that prior to the arrest Anderson had been reporting consistently. The judge rules that Anderson should be released soon and must report to Waughs office within 48 hours.

Waugh makes his way back to the west side, passing through the vast Skid Row area. The day is bright, sunny and warm. Men and women sitting in lawn chairs line the sidewalks, the Twice as Nice ice cream truck has carnival music blasting through its speakers.

Waugh parks and strolls down the middle of Crocker Street, as tents, carts and stacks of possessions dont leave enough room on the sidewalk for pedestrians. A former client, Donald Smith, 64, spots Waugh and shouts gleefully. Smith, a veteran originally from Alabama, was Waughs client for two years, through last spring. He soon begs off, confessing that hes high on meth and doesnt want Waugh to see him like this.

Imma call you when Im sober, he tells Waugh. I love you with all my heart.

He walks away. Waugh stands still for a moment, moved by the encounter. Hes glad that seeing him gave Smith a moment of reckoning. Just from that, being embarrassed, that might straighten him out.

Whether or not Waughs actions can really affect the course of Smiths life is debatable. Still, Waugh is on the front lines of the system, and its up to him to keep faith enough to carry on with the work.

This is cool, he says. This is why I do it.


  • Walking through the Skid Row area of LA, Waugh runs into a former client.

This article was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project

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This week, a police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner was fired. For most families of African American men killed by police, even partial closure proves terribly elusive

In America, there is a common conversation between black parents and their children, long known as the talk. It is about what to do when approached by a police officer.

How to talk. How to act. How, simply, to survive.

In recent years, high-profile killings of black men and boys have brought the talk to national attention. It has become part of discussion of the inequalities of race, of the problem of police brutality itself.

For most black families, the talk is a choice, a just-in-case, a part of raising children. When explaining what can go wrong, there are too many examples to use.

They may discuss what happened to a young man who visited a convenience store and then made his way home in New York. They may discuss what happened to a 12-year-old boy who played with a pellet gun in a park in Cleveland. They may discuss what happened to a 40-year-old man who stopped his car on a public road in Tulsa.

Others discuss those cases each day. They are the women, men and children who lived with the dead, who raised them, who called them brother or father or son.

In New York, Ohio and Oklahoma, the Guardian spoke to those families. For them, the talk does not define one moment in their lives. It is the definition of everything after.

They are the families left behind.

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The brother

Chinnor Campbell, brother of Ramarley Graham. Photograph: Khushbu Shah/The Guardian

Chinnor Campbell cowered in the living room, hiding behind the white wall that separated the space from the narrow hallway.

Ramarley Graham, his 18-year-old half-brother, had walked through the front door of the apartment in the Bronx, New York, a couple of minutes before, as the six-year-old was changing his clothes and talking to their grandmother. She had just picked him up from elementary school. The conversation was stopped by a banging on the door.


They had started following Ramarley just a few minutes before, around 3pm on 2 February 2012, when he left a bodega on White Plains Road and East 228th Street and began to make his way home. CCTV footage shows he seemed unaware that police were scrambling behind him. A couple of minutes later, the same footage shows, police ran up to the apartment block into which Ramarley had walked. They banged on the back door until someone let them in. They raced to the second floor, up the narrow stairs.

Chinnor heard their shouts, their commands. Ramarley turned and walked toward the noise, just a few feet. The boys slight, petite grandmother followed shielding Ramarley even though he towered over her.

The officers slammed into the apartment. Between screams, a single shot rang out. Chinnor leaned away from the wall, peering toward the bathroom. He could see his brothers feet, splayed out into the hallway.

Ramarley Graham was dead.

Richard Haste, the officer who fired the shot, said he thought the teen might have had a gun. He did not. The only guns were in the hands of the officers.

Chinnor watched as officers took his grandmother down to the police station. They kept her there seven hours.

Removed from the apartment, the six-year-old stood in the cold dusk, wearing only a shirt and his underwear, his brother dead on the floor. Officers walked him downstairs, where a neighbor said he would watch him. Chinnor was in a first-floor apartment when his mother, Constance Malcolm, came home. The neighbor had called her and said there were police in the backyard, but stopped short of breaking the news. Constance found out at the station.

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In the months after Ramarleys death, Constance organized 18 marches, one for each year of her sons life. Chinnor, still in first grade, marched with her. They kept Ramarley in the public eye, his death in public discussion. In contrast, Constance says, in the months and years since, the boys grandmother has refused to discuss the few minutes that uprooted their lives. Nor have Chinnor and his mother talked at any length about what happens after a loved one is killed by police.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Constance says, she was not able to identify her son for four days. Somehow, his body had been misnamed. When she went to identify him, at the morgue, there was no Ramarley Graham. For four days, it was as if he didnt exist. The son who loved watching Animal Planet, who asked for a pet monkey to raise in the heart of the Bronx. The grandson who loved his grandmothers Jamaican stewed peas. The brother who showed Chinnor how to lift weights, even though he was six, the favorite video game partner, sometimes his after-school escort home. He was gone, but his body was nowhere to be found.

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The families left behind after police killings: ‘You never get over losing a child’ video

Even now, she says, Chinnor is too young to sit down for the talk. Hes only 13, just a year older than Tamir Rice was when he was killed in Cleveland in 2014. But she doesnt avoid the subject. Chinnor goes with her to hear experts speak about officer-involved shootings, about how to cope with grief, about how to survive in America as a black man. Such public talks are common. Once, she took Chinnor to a class that aimed to tell young black men what to do when stopped on the street or pulled over when driving a car.

She lets the experts talk because, she says, she is not only a mother. She is still a grieving woman and she is working two jobs, seeking to keep her mind off what happened seven years ago.

Maybe, she says, if the talk comes from somebody else he will understand. [Rather than] me telling him, as a woman, you know?

When she does speak about the police in front of Chinnor, shes careful. When Ramarley was shot, his older sister was training to become an officer.

At the end of the day, she says, nobody wants to go out and dont come back in. Even the police officers, they want to go out and go back home.

She wants her son to come home.

Constance and Chinnor are having the talk every single day, in other ways, often without saying a word.

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In a new home in a different neighborhood, on a quieter street in the Bronx, Constance shifts on her stool. Only a handful of pictures mostly of her children hang on the walls around her.

Constance Malcolm and her son, Chinnor Graham. Photograph: Khushbu Shah/The Guardian

Nearly two years ago, she moved Chinnor and her mother out of the old apartment. It had taken a few years to realize they were both traumatized. Both had walked through an apartment where memories stuck to the walls. After all, Constance thought, she herself is traumatized from thinking of her son being shot in his own home and she wasnt there to see it.

Because of the shooting, the move to a new home was possible. The New York police department (NYPD) claimed the officers who followed Ramarley thought he had a gun because they had watched him adjust his waistband as he left the bodega. But as the media reported and police investigated, it became clear the officer who shot Ramarley had not had the training required for the narcotics enforcement unit to which he was assigned.

Manslaughter charges were dropped, a judge saying the Bronx district attorneys office had failed to properly instruct members of a grand jury. A second grand jury failed to bring an indictment.

But on the first anniversary of Ramarleys death, the family sued, accusing the NYPD of improperly training its officers, disproportionately targeting minority youth through controversial stop-and-frisk practices and a cover-up surrounding the death. The city settled for $3.9m. Chinnor received $500,000.

In 2017, Haste faced disciplinary action, on NYPD charges including poor judgement. To avoid being fired, he resigned. Constance left the legal fight there.

She decided to give her son a chance to move on. In their new home, Chinnor has his own room in the back. She wants him to be comfortable, to have his own space and to start over fresh.

Chinnor doesnt really go anywhere except school, his mother says, because she doesnt allow him out on his own.

Hes still a kid, after all. In the hours after his brothers death, she says, when he finally saw her, Chinnor ran to her and told her all he had seen. How, she asks, could he grasp all that at six? Now, seven years on, leaning into the kitchen island, the 13-year-old freezes when, in his retelling, he reaches the moments after his brother fell to the ground. He cant get through it. He goes back to his room to play video games. He plays a lot on weekends, especially when his mom takes on extra shifts at the nursing home.

Sometimes, Chinnor says, he sneaks back to his old neighborhood to see friends, something his mom doesnt like him to do. He glances over at his mother, offering a mischievous half-smile. Ramarley used to defend him when Constance was angry, he says.

But most days after school he chooses to stay in his room. It is painted a shade of blue between royal and cornflower and the only thing on the wall is directly next to his bed: a collage about his brother.

Unlike most children his age, he has a silent confidence. He sits through the conversations his mother has about his older brother, rarely speaking, always listening.

Constance wants her son to enjoy being a child. But she does finally admit that soon it will be time to have the talk, to sit down and, once and for all, talk about the police and what to do when they stop him.

Shell tell him: You know, I dont want you to react a certain way. Just stay calm, keep your eye on that badge. You need that number. No matter, if you dont remember anything else, make sure you remember that badge number, because that is what is going to identify that person that did whatever they did to you.

She pauses.

Yeah. So thats just how we deal with it right now.

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The father

Joey and Leanna Crutcher. Photograph: Khushbu Shah/The Guardian

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tykiaha Crutcher points out dresses she would like to try on for her prom. The ones she likes sparkle.

Her grandparents, Joey and Leanna, are seated on the other side of a table set for seven, smiling at their four grandchildren. Joey, whose grandkids call him JoJo, pushes his rice and beans around his plate. Hes not interested in eating. For the 920 days before this one, he has felt the same.

If Tykiahas father, Terence, were still alive, he would have helped pick out her dress. Well, she says, he would have made sure he liked it and it wasnt showing too much. Instead, Terences twin sister, Tiffany, will take Tykiaha and her two sisters shopping.

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On the night of 16 September 2016, Terence Crutcher was meant to go to a music appreciation class at community college. When it was cancelled, he made his way to Friday night choir practice, where his father was waiting. After that, he was supposed to go to a birthday party for Tykiahas younger sister Tyjunae. He never made it.

Terence Jr, son of Terence Crutcher. Photograph: Khushbu Shah/The Guardian

Responding to a 911 call, officers were sent to a road in Tulsa on which Terence had stopped his car. He had left the vehicle, which witnesses said he said he thought was about to blow up. The officers approached him as a helicopter filmed from above.

One officer used a Taser. The other, Betty Shelby, shot Terence. She killed him. The helicopter footage zooms in, showing Terence on the ground.

Shelbys attorney later said the officer claimed that Terences behavior was erratic and he did not comply with commands. Local news outlets reported that police said a vial of PCP, a hallucinogen, was found in the vehicle. The Crutcher family and their supporters say that was used to deflect attention from the officers conduct.

That night, Tykiaha was celebrating an away win for the Central high football team when one of her aunts called, asking if her daddy was OK. What do you mean? she asked. Her aunt asked again. Yeah, she told her, hes going to Tyjunaes birthday party.

No, her aunt said.

He was shot by a police officer.

In shock, Tykiaha got on to the school bus, surrounded by classmates. Once she got back to campus, she called JoJo, then her grandmother, then her sisters. No one picked up. She cant remember who finally answered. Whoever it was said her father was dead.

Only after the funeral did Tykiaha go back to school. When she did, the football team dedicated a game and a pep rally to her. Classmates asked if she was OK. She told them she didnt know.

Her friends kept showing up to rallies, marches and galas, all in Terences name. On the biggest march, her aunt Tiffany says, some held a banner at the front of the crowd. When Imani, Tykiahas older half-sister, went back to school, some students organized a walkout, protesting her fathers death. One teacher let everyone skip class and talk through their concerns around policing and growing up black.

Years ago, JoJo took the same approach with his own son Terence. He wanted to make sure he and others in north Tulsa, a predominantly black neighborhood, understood what it was to be stopped by police.

We talked about this all of the time because black boys was always [being stopped], young black males, JoJo says, in front of his grandchildren, in his split-level living room. Terence Jr is lying upside down on the brown carpeted stairs, playing video games. He edges his way towards his grandfather, finding a spot under the coffee table.

African Americans was always the subject of police stops, JoJo says. We know what the disparity is, and I would say: Well one thing you do to protect yourself if they tell you to stop, do that. Well, Terence didnt do that. But anyway, Terence had bad hearing so he couldnt really hear

Tykiaha interrupts. Her father couldnt hear, she says. He also had one fake eye.

JoJo continues. But what Terence was doing, he was doing what I had taught him to do. He had his hands up in the air.

Video from the helicopter does indeed show Terence with his hands up. Police say he nonetheless did not follow directions.

Terence Jrs sister and half-sisters Imani, Tykiaha and Tyjunae are still teenagers.

Terence Jr with his sisters, Tykiaha Crutcher (left) and Tyjunae Crutcher. Photograph: Khushbu Shah/The Guardian

In the days after their fathers death, Imani says, the three girls sat together, discussing how they would keep the killing from their four-year-old brother. One day, tired after mornings of crying, their heads pounding, they were taking a rest when Terence came looking for Tykiaha.

Kaka, he said, some white lady killed my daddy.

Why, he asked.

Oh my God, she thought.

Tykiaha didnt know how to respond. The child had overheard relatives as they prepared for the funeral.

We dont know, Terence, she said. Shes a bad person.

She cried again that night.

Two and a half years later, Terence Jr is only seven. But the ones looking out for him, especially Aunt Tiffany, think it is time to have the talk.

Terence, Tiffany asks, what did I tell you the other day about the police if you didnt listen the first time?

Tykiaha repeats the question and asks: What did Tiffany tell you, Terence?

I dont remember, he answers, shifting to a baby voice.

Tiffany stresses the importance of repetition in teaching Terence Jr how to navigate an unjust world. The boy interrupts her.

Dont disobey, he says, suddenly.

His grandfather cheers.

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The morning after his son was shot, JoJo showed up at church. There was a young mens conference. He stayed, to be there for his community.

I wish I had a dad, Imani says, but JoJo, he steps in every time.

Shes speaking in a living room that serves mostly as a homage to her father. Terence smiles from one wall, surrounded by pictures of his children. Artwork by supporters and activists is framed in a reading nook.

Grandpa always tell me its OK to cry about it, says Tyjunae, 14, the youngest of the girls. He told her she may just need to draw about her fathers death, or pray about it.

Tiffany Crutcher at home. Photograph: Khushbu Shah/The Guardian

The elders in the family act as father, mother, an entire support system. When Tiffany is in town, between meetings with the family lawyer, doctors appointments and conversations with activists, she takes Terence Jr to a play center. The grandparents keep an eye on college applications and new boyfriends, describe dance classes and yearbook committees.

But each day since Terence was shot has been part of a conversation about injustice and race. No one shies away from the uncomfortable facts of living in Tulsa as one of the Crutchers.

It does become a full-time job, Tiffany admits. It just becomes your lifestyle, pursuing justice and wanting better for the community. It just becomes a part of your DNA.

What made her angry, she says, was that police, Tulsa residents and the media called her twin brother a suspect, a subject, a thug.

That was their daddy, she says, nodding over to the girls lined up on the sofa. That was their son, she says, looking at her parents.

He was a man, she says, her voice rising. His car stalled. Whatever was going on with him mentally, he needed help. He needed help and you killed him.

Terence Jr struggles to hold on to memories of his father. He likes to say his favorite color is blue, because his daddys favorite color was blue. This year, unprompted, he asked his school if he could profile his father for Black History Month. His teacher called Tiffany in for a chat, tried to convince Terence Jr to profile someone else. Maybe Barack Obama? But Terence Jr insisted.

Thats my dad, he says, pulling his project from his play area in the corner of the living room.

A picture falls off the board. Terence Jr, in his fathers lap.

He got shot, he says.

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The mother

Samaria Rice. Photograph: Khushbu Shah/The Guardian

When she had Tamir, on 25 June 2002, Samaria Rice was living in a shelter in Cleveland.

She had spent her life on the streets since she was 12, after her mother went to prison, when her father kicked her out. Sometimes, she was homeless. Other times, she lived with men she met. On rare occasions she lived with family or friends. She sold drugs. She spent time in jail.

I done been arrested so many times, she says. I mean, I aint trying brag about it, but Ive done been in jail so many times in Cleveland, growing up as a juvenile.

Her children would live different lives, she thought, as the four kids grew up. Before she had her oldest, Christmas and Thanksgiving were depressing, spent alone. But after Tasheona was born, in 1995, she tried to be right about it, giving her children holidays surrounded by her cousins, sometimes their grandfather, too.

The kids would all graduate high school, Samaria promised herself. Tasheona, Tavon and Tajai did. But Samaria will never know for certain if Tamir, her youngest, the 12-year-old she calls her baby, would have graduated, too.

She remembers a child who was months away from being a teenager but still let his mother kiss and hug him. His favorite foods were like any other childs: cheese pizza, ice cream, macaroni and cheese, fries. He was an all-American kid, you know?

Tamir was bright, helpful and caring. When younger children needed help tying their shoes or getting their backpacks on, the sixth grader would help.

Most days, she didnt let him past the porch. But on 22 November 2014, a Saturday afternoon, she let him walk down the street with Tajai, to the Mega Convenient Food Mart for chips and juice, then to the playground across the street. A friend had let Tamir borrow his pellet gun, from which the orange tip that signified it was a toy had been removed.

Tamir played with the gun outside the recreational center, two blocks away from his porch. Someone called 911, mentioning the gun was probably fake and the person holding it was probably a juvenile. That information was not relayed to Timothy Loehmann, a 26-year-old rookie police officer, and his partner, Frank Garmback.

Samaria has watched the surveillance video, of course. It shows that a police vehicle jumped a curb and went over a grassy hill, bypassing two driveways. Police say the car slid 40ft in the grass because the ground was wet. It pulled up near Tamir, who was sitting on a gazebo.

Why would you jump that curb, go over the hill, almost knock the swing set down, and across there like youre a cowboy, and murder my son? Samaria asks.

Two seconds after jumping out of the car, Loehmann shot Tamir.

Tajai ran towards her brother. He had been shot in the abdomen. A witness heard her scream: Thats my brother. An off-duty officer working security grabbed her, took her down, handcuffed her and put her in the backseat of the police car, because she would not calm down.

All the law enforcement officers at the scene agreed that Tamir was a black male who looked older and bigger than his age.

The neighbor who had been with Tamir ran over to find Samaria. She ran two blocks, saw her daughter handcuffed in the back of a police car. She saw her son. She demanded to get in the ambulance with him. Seventeen minutes later, the ambulance left the parking lot.

The next day, her son died.

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In October 2018, Tajai was working on a music video for Read more:

On 29 April 1992 riots erupted after four LAPD officers were acquitted in the savage beating of Rodney King. As the anniversary looms what did it all mean?

Lee Hudson leaned against the bus stop, waiting for the 111, and surveyed the intersection: some dudes lounging outside Toms liquor mart; a few cars fuelling at the Chevron gas station; the start of a lunch queue at Arts Chili Dog Stand; traffic criss-crossing Florence and Normandie avenues.

Not much to look at. But a quarter century ago this was it. The crucible that transfixed America. Hudson nodded at the memory. Yeah, I looted. Car parts, liquor, cigarettes. What else we get? We got some tyres. I saw it being done all over the place. It was amazing.

The explosion of rage and anarchy that became known as the Rodney King riots found its locus at this drab corner of south central Los Angeles. Television news helicopters captured scenes that mesmerised and horrified: buildings aflame, crowds looting, mobs beating.

It erupted on 29 April 1992 after a nearly all-white jury acquitted four LAPD officers of savagely assaulting King a year earlier, an atrocity caught on camera. It was scary because there was no justice, recalled Hudson, 50. You saw the man getting whupped. The whole world knew they were guilty.

And so, for this and other injustices, African Americans here and in other parts of the city lashed back, six days of fury which consumed 53 lives and a billion dollars worth of property and made LA, once a symbol of American optimism, appear apocalyptic.

As the anniversary approaches the city, and a slew of documentaries, feature films and books, are asking what it all meant. Was it an insurrection? A generational howl rooted in time and place? Or a warning, a portent of what can happen when race, poverty and policing collide?

Scholars and policymakers still debate the legacy but Hudson, for his part, reckons it was positive. Im an electrician. I got a lot of work. We were hired to fix stuff. More importantly, he added, society fixed itself. The community now wants to work things out, to get along.

Rioters overturn a parking attendant booth at an LAPD center in downtown Los Angeles during the 1992 riots. Photograph: Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images

This sprawling metropolis of 4 million souls with its Compton, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, Little Ethiopia, El Salvador Corridor and Mariachi Plaza has to a large extent done that got along.

Police tactics, racial tension and gang clashes still simmer shootings have killed or injured 319 people so far this year but no longer bubble and steam as before. Boyz N the Hood, John Singletons 1991 Oscar-nominated masterpiece, retains dramatic power but feels historical.

Here is LAs mayor, Eric Garcetti, fresh off a landslide re-election, giving his annual state of the city address earlier this week: When Washington seems broken this is a moment that calls for Los Angeles to lead, to be a model of moral leadership and of bold action. When others try to pull us apart, we try to pull together.

Easy to mock as political bromide, especially given the speechs accompaniment by a video showing glowing sunrises and iconography similar to La La Land. But LA really does stand in contrast to Donald Trumps immigration crackdown. It is home to a million undocumented residents, mostly Latinos. The LAPD has a policy of not enforcing federal immigration laws, making this a de facto sanctuary city. An imam, Jihad Saafir, preceded the mayors speech with a plea for empathy, love and humility.

Voters recently approved tax increases to improve transport links and tackle homelessness, allowing Garcetti, a rising Democratic star, to claim a progressive mantle. While others are obsessed with the most powerful person in this country, we are empowering the most vulnerable in our backyard.

Throw in a construction boom that is transforming downtowns skyline, an artistic renaissance boasting new museums and galleries plus a bid for the 2024 Olympics and LA has a pretty good comeback story.

LA mayor Eric Garcetti, a rising Democratic star, has offered an optimistic vision of the city as a model of moral leadership. Photograph: Jae C. Hong/AP

The titles of the new documentaries evoke just how low the city sank. Burn Motherf*cker, Burn!, directed by Sacha Jenkins, traces a link between the 1965 and 1992 riots. John Ridleys Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, shows how a decade of racial tension preceded the LAPD acquittals. Singleton has returned to the era with LA Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later. National Geographics LA 92 cites a telling statistic: around the time of Kings beating the ACLU was receiving 55 claims of excessive police violence every week.

These and other documentaries tell wrenching stories from multiple perspectives, offering reflection and in some cases regret but little solace or absolution. Feature films will give additional perspectives.

Kings, reportedly a romantic drama set against the mayhem, stars Daniel Craig and Halle Berry. Gook depicts a friendship between a Korean American store owner and a young black girl.

The collective memory of those days cast a long shadow. Poverty and marginalisation endure. And the Black Lives Matter movement and ubiquity of camera phones have shined a fresh, harsh light on policing.

Back at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, where gang members bludgeoned trucker Reginald Denny, every acknowledgement that things have improved carry a caveat.

Looters in the parking lot of the ABC Market in south central Los Angeles on 30 April1992. Photograph: Paul Sakuma/AP

It was bad. People running around tearing up the whole town. It was frightening. Its better now, said Charlie Brown, 60, who runs a towing company. But some parts of the city were never rebuilt. Its still ghetto.

A few blocks away you saw what he meant: abandoned lots of weeds and rubble, apparently untouched since 1992, except for fresh graffiti where gang monikers such as SE 18, BMS and SC battle for primacy. In addition to the main gangs, the Bloods and Crips, there are sub-groups and spin-offs such as the Bounty Hunters, Hoovers, Q102, Bebop, Main Street and Grape Street.

After 12 years of consecutive decline violent crime has ticked up again in the past three years. It remains well below 1990s levels but that was scant comfort, said Joan Williams, 33, as she waited for a mechanic to fix her childs bicycle. Im trying to get out of this area because of the gangs.

New police chiefs, civilian oversight, better training and other reforms have changed the LAPD, which used to be viewed like an occupying army.

Even so, officers shot and killed 19 people last year. Nearly a third of those the police shot were black a huge disproportion given that African Americans comprise just 9% of the citys population.

I do trust them. But I see the negative side on the news, said Williams. Others at the intersection were adamant the police were more thuggish. Theres more police brutality now, said Kim Greer, 52, a home carer.

Carole Telfer, a public defender in Compton, said greater scrutiny of race relations and police practices made a new riot unlikely. Trumps threat to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, however, could roil the citys relative tranquility. That might change when frustration sets in if all of the community programs are defunded and stopped.

Rodney King poses for a portrait after a book signing for The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption in New York in 2012. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS

In a Guardian interview shortly before his death in 2012, King, the motorist whose televised beating lit the fuse, was still haunted by the memory 56 baton blows and six kicks, according to frame-by-frame analysis. It was like being raped, stripped of everything, being beaten near to death there on the concrete, on the asphalt. Still, he said, he had learned to forgive. I tell myself time heals. It really does.

King helped start that process with a tearful plea to a forest of microphones at the height of the rioting: Can we all get along? Words repeated, consciously or not, a quarter century later by Hudson, the electrician.

Some African Americans grumble that a Latino influx has pushed them of the city to cheaper neighbourhoods. But the communities do get along, said Gloria Salinas, 50 who sells Mexican-style juices and ice creams. Were neighbours. This is all our home.

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Police are pleading for end to evil clowns, a Clown Lives Matter march was called off, and schools are banning clown costumes while some stores are sold out

Send in the clowns. Dont bother, theyre here, goes the Stephen Sondheim song.

And now hysteria over creepy clown sightings has been rising to fever pitch in America since August and is spreading internationally.

But the situation is so absurd that police departments are pleading with the attention-seekers to stop dressing up as evil clowns to scare people, while a woman organized a peace march that had been scheduled for Saturday night in support of clowns.

However it turned out that she herself wears some pretty scary clown make-up and had decided to call the event Clown Lives Matter.

When that crass echo of the protest movement over police killing unarmed black men triggered an avalanche of protest on social media and personal attacks against the organizer, who identifies herself on Facebook as Nikki Sinn, abruptly canceled the event. Sinn had at first declared herself amused.

Lol, literally being called homophobic and racist for using lives matter.Haha wooow, she posted on the social network, beneath a picture of herself grotesquely smiling with green hair and smudged eye make-up, seemingly as a version of Batmans lethal nemesis, Joker.

That was followed by a further post on Thursday after she had canceled the event, reportedly because of threats, saying: Kiss my ass…Ill march alone.

The Cirque du Soleil with their show Alegria in Cologne, Germany. Photograph: Ullstein Bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Professional clowns are decidedly unamused.

Its not appropriate, said Dick Milhollan, the last director of the former Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, which was based in Florida and closed in 1997, and half of the veteran clown duo Slappy and Monday.

My livelihood could be affected by the latest bout of clown impersonators scaring people but thats nothing on the scale of the painful struggles being protested by Black Lives Matter, someone being shot or disliked because of the color of their skin, he told the Guardian.

Meanwhile, every amateur Bozo is going to come out and thats going to be what America sees, reinforcing the stereotype that being a clown is just about a big wig and face paint.

The term has been trending on social media and overall clown hysteria is refusing to go away.

Clown Lives Matter? Oh my God. I really dont know thats a good idea, said Lorenzo Pisoni, a dramatic actor who originally began performing as a clown when he was two years old , and has just completed a documentary, Circus Kid, about growing up in the ring.

The controversy even reached Ronald McDonald when McDonalds announced it was giving the clown mascot a break until the wave of hysteria passes.

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The Grammy winner sang directly to the Democratic presidential nominee as they talked police killings and implicit bias on her new Apple Music show

If its an unnerving experience to have nine-time Grammy winner Mary J Blige close her eyes and sing directly to you about police violence from just a few feet away, Hillary Clinton didnt show it.

Clinton is the first guest to appear on the hip-hop soul singers new show The 411 with Mary J Blige a reference to her 1992 debut album now streaming on Apple Music, and its definitely a little different from a typical presidential nominee interview.

May I call you Hillary, asked Blige, who had been calling her Secretary Clinton earlier in the interview.

Yes, you may, replied Clinton.

OK Hillary, I want to share something with you I havent shared with anyone, declared Blige, announcing that she was going to sing her a song: Bruce Springsteens 41 Shots, written about Amadou Diallo in 1999, an unarmed black man who was killed by four NYPD officers.

It means a lot to me just because of everything thats taking place now, said Blige, a reference to the recent high-profile examples of unarmed black men and women who have been killed by police.

I just want to share it with you because believe that so many women, African American women, feel like this when theyre sending their children off to school in the morning, Blige said.

Blige closed her eyes, and started singing to Clinton, who initially had on her best poker face.

The lyrics are incredibly relevant after the deaths of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Alfred Olango in San Diego and 13-year-old Tyre King in Columbus, Ohio all unarmed black males shot and killed by police in the last two weeks.

If an officer stops you, always be polite / And youll never ever run away, promise mama youll keep your hands in sight / Is it a gun, is it a knife, is it a wallet, is it your life, sang Blige.

As Blige sang about black people getting killed by police, she reached out and held Clintons hand.

A preview published on social media made the singing look cringe-worthy, with viewers noting Clintons ability to remain diplomatic in uncomfortable situations.

Nyasha (@NyashaMC)

Anyone who can keep a straight face while Mary J. Blige is singing at them like that deserves to be president

September 27, 2016

But actually the moment felt heartfelt and potent (OK and still a touch awkward), with a black woman singing about black deaths by police to someone who could be the next leader of the free world. Clinton seemed genuinely emotional, sighing Oh Mary, oh Mary, at the end of the song.

Where do we go from here? What is the first thing you would do to begin the healing process with all this? Blige asked.

The pair continued to hold hands, all four hands entwined together almost like they were in prayer.

I have been so heartbroken over whats been going on because its fundamentally at odds and wrong that African American parents have to sit their children down and deliver the message you just sang, Clinton responded.

Clinton mentioned implicit bias during the debate, noting implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police. Although he didnt disagree at the time, Donald Trump brought it up at a rally this week, saying that asserting Clinton accuses the entire country including all of law enforcement of implicit bias, essentially suggesting that everyone, including our police, are basically racist and prejudiced.

I think weve got to be honest that there needs to be a greater opening of our hearts to one another, put ourselves in each others shoes, feel the pain that a mother and a father feel when their son and daughter can go out the door and they dont know whats going to happen to them, Clinton said. I particularly want white people to understand what thats like and to feel that they must be part of the solution.

Clinton spoke about needing to train police in better de-escalation techniques and to really address implicit bias so that a young black man walking down the street is not a threat, hes a young black man walking down the street, she said.

Seems that singing really touched a nerve. Ive been interviewed so many times, nobody has ever sung in the middle of the interview. That was so touching to me. Obviously the issue, the subject is so profound but just doing it was so moving to me, thank you, added Clinton, who looked like she might cry.

Blige asked if Clinton thought it was hard for a woman to be both tough and likable.

Yes, replied Clinton instantly. I think its really hard, to be honest with you, its really hard, she said, dissolving into laughter.

I dont know why its so hard. I think its rooted in tens of thousands of years of how peoples lives have been defined, what its meant to be a woman or a man and how society was organized. For women to be assuming leading roles in business or entertainment or politics or whatever it might be, its still not fully understood because theres no blueprint for doing it, Clinton added.

And it turns out its not so hard to get your hands on Hamilton tickets if youre famous, Clinton revealing she had seen the musical four times. She revealed the soundtrack was a regular on her playlist.

Its just a work of genius. Its obsessing me right now. Thats my number one go-to, she said.

The pair also chatted about the impact of Clintons mother on her life she named her and Nelson Mandela as her personal heroes and the role of religion in her life. Being a person of faith has sustained me over the course of my life, she said. They also talked about what its like to be famous and handling criticism.

The public eye has a way of magnifying things that arent important and dismissing things that are, Clinton said.

Wow, replied Blige, whos currently going through a high-profile divorce.

At the end of the interview, the pair hugged and thanked each other repeatedly. That was so emotional! Clinton quipped.

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No one tracks police brutality against the homeless so while some shootings make international headlines, the deaths of those living on the street barely cause a ripple

The man walked down the sidewalk, the blade of a kitchen knife glinting in his hand.

He had taken a break from playing soccer with an old basketball on the tree-lined street in San Franciscos Mission District.

Now he sat on the ground, his back against a building. Three pedestrians passed by, walking at a steady pace, apparently unperturbed.

Get on the ground! Get on the ground!

Two police cruisers had pulled to a stop, blocking the street.

Sergeant Nate Seger and officer Mike Mellone had stepped out of their cars, shouting as they walked toward the man.

Get on the ground! Put that down!

One of the officers carried a bean bag rifle. He cocked it and fired three times.

As the fourth and final beanbag round was dispelled, the second officer began firing with live ammunition. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Seven shots.

It was the shot to the head that killed the man. The bullet entered at the top of his skull, above his left eye, and exited at the base of his skull, behind his left ear.

The man known in the neighborhood as the homeless guy with the soccer ball was dead.

In San Francisco, one out of every 200 people sleeps on the streets each night.

They have lost their homes, and they have lost their names: to homeowners, to apartment dwellers, to politicians, and often to each other, they are only the homeless.

But the homeless man who was killed by police on the streets of San Francisco, on 7 April 2016, had a name, and he had a home.

His name was Luis Demetrio Gngora Pat, and his home was a modest, one-story house a few blocks from the central square of the tiny Mayan village of Teabo, in the Mexican province of Yucatn.

It was a house built slowly, room by room, over the course of seven years, with the remittances Luis Gngora sent home from San Francisco.

It was a home Luis Gngora never set foot in.

He left so he could build this house, said Fidelia del Carmen May Can, Gngoras widow, as she sat in her sun-filled living room with pictures of her children on the walls, a San Francisco Giants cap on the shelf, and a shrine of flowers, candles, icons, and a framed photograph of her husband on a small table.

I want people to know that we are without him. The hope of being with him no longer exists.

The life and death of Luis Gngora occurred at the intersection of twin crises: homelessness and police killings. Amid a tech-fueled economic boom, the major cities of the US west coast have become as notable for their sprawling homeless encampments as they are for their billion-dollar companies.

Seattle has Amazon, and the Jungle. Los Angeles boasts Snapchat, and Skid Row. Throughout the seven square miles of San Francisco, tent cities compete for space on the sidewalks with the hordes of employees of firms such as Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, and Airbnb.

The encampments can be magnets for crime and police.

No one tracks police brutality against the homeless, but a review of media reports reveals that at least thirteen of the 1,146 people killed by police in 2015 were homeless. Given a homeless population of about 565,000 in 2015, that means the homeless were 6.5 times more likely to be killed by police than the rest of the population.

The plot of sidewalk where Luis Gngora pitched his tent for the last few months of his life is about 3,000 miles away from where he grew up.

Teabo is a poor village, but even there, Luis Gngoras familys poverty stood out . His father, Demetrio, worked as an assistant for the local butcher, where he was paid in meat rather than cash. His mother, Estela, raised nine children in a one-room Mayan hut with a thatched palm roof and dirt floor. She rose at 5am each day to prepare the keyem (corn flour mash, diluted in water) for the family to drink for breakfast.

When the children were sick, there was no money for medicine, so Demetrio treated their ailments with traditional herbal medicines.

Perhaps because of this poverty, Luis Gngora would eat anything. He shot loros small green and yellow parrots with just a few ounces of meat on them, if that out of trees with a slingshot, and prepared them like poultry. If he came across a deer, he would try to shoot it and lug it home. The fat black iguanas that skulked among the rocks were good for a meal as well.

When Luis Gngora was just 12 years old, he left school and went to work. His younger brother, Jos, followed a few years later. The pair were the youngest of the Gngora siblings, and wherever Luis went, Jos followed. They did not like school, never learned to read, and were both more comfortable speaking Mayan than Spanish.

We dedicated ourselves to the fields, Jos Gngora said.

Gngora met his future wife, Fidelia del Carmen, when they were 14. They married at 20 and, as their family grew first two boys, then a girl Luis began to travel to Cancn to find work.

Luis Gngora and his wife Fidelia as young newlyweds. Photograph: Ivan Gabaldon for the Guardian

There are no jobs in Teabo, as in many of the other predominantly Mayan, rural towns that dot the jungle of Yucatn. The ejido communal farm land provides food to eat, but for clothes, shoes, and medicine, cash is required. Many men travel to Cancn, Mrida, or Chetumal six days a week or for an entire tourist season to earn money to support their families. But those who can put together the fee for a coyote a guide paid to smuggle migrants across the border usually go to San Francisco.

The migration corridor between Yucatn and San Francisco was established one border crossing at a time. As word of mouth and family connections grew, it turned into something of a migration highway in the early 2000s. There are estimated to be 50,000 Yucatecan migrants in the San Francisco Bay Area, 90% of them undocumented, 80% of them Mayan-speaking, and 70% of them male.

Thousands of Yucatecos work in the kitchens of San Franciscos thriving restaurant scene, and the wages earned there are visible in the landscape of Yucatecan towns, where construction workers and modern houses are a sure sign of a relative in San Francisco.

A few blocks from the central square of Oxkutzcab, a neighboring town to Teabo, a two-story structure featuring the iconic bay windows of San Franciscos Victorian townhouses rises above a dusty intersection. The Hotel Capitol was built over 14 years by a cook working at a restaurant in San Franciscos Ferry Building. Murals of the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars adorn the walls.

Down the street, the Restaurant iCafe offers sushi, crepes, hamburgers, and Italian, Chinese, and Mexican food, thanks to the two chefs experience working in San Francisco restaurants.

You can find everything in San Francisco, said Marcelino Burgos, a migrant who returned after several years working in San Franciscos Chinatown, as he sat in the shade outside his house in Oxkutzcab.

Now I dream of walking those streets.

The town market in Teabo, Yucatn, where Luis and Jos Gngora grew up. Photograph: Ivan Gabaldon for the Guardian

As Luis and Jos Gngora struggled to support their growing families on their efforts in the ejido, the brothers began to look northward, as so many others had done before them.

It was Jos Gngora who first accepted the invitation of one of his older brothers to join him somewhere north, in 2001. Their mother pawned her gold earrings to pay the fee for a coyote, and Jos arrived in San Francisco on September 11. The first thing he saw was news footage of the Twin Towers falling.

Assisted by a network of cousins already established in San Francisco, Jos Gngora soon found work as a dishwasher and began sending money home.

As Jos Gngoras wife, Julia, began to build her house, Luis Gngora, whose family still lived in a Mayan hut in the land behind his parents house, itched to join his brother. He sold a horse and a summers harvest and left for San Francisco in September 2002.

The 31-year-old migrant could be forgiven for having high expectations. Luis Gngoras cousin and childhood friend, Luis Armando Poot Pat, had been living in San Francisco for 12 years, and his experience hewed closely to the American dream. After arriving in the US, Poot had found work at a restaurant as a janitor.

Twenty-sixyears later, Poot is the manager at the same restaurant. His wife and children were able to join him in San Francisco. One of his sons is studying biochemical engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

When Poot ran across Luis Gngora at the main intersection of the Mission district, a historically Latino neighborhood where the Yucatecos often cross paths, he was able to quickly set his cousin up with a job as a prep cook at Mels Diner, a 1950s throwback restaurant where the milkshakes are thick and the staff wear white paper caps and bow ties.

After bouncing around different buildings in the Mission for a few years, Luis and Jos Gngora settled in an apartment at 1751 Market Street, where they roomed with another man from Teabo, who they called El Torero.

A non-descript apartment building upstairs from a popular piano bar, 1751 Market became known as San Franciscos most nightmarish, disgusting apartment building when a group of tenants sued the landlords for $10m in 2014. The lawsuit revealed the hellish conditions mold-encrusted walls, crumbling ceilings, busted plumbing in communal bathrooms, visible nests of bed bugs, rodents and cockroaches. It was there Luis and Jos Gngora spent some of their happiest years.

Jos Gngora photographed on the street in San Francisco where his brother, Luis Gngora, was killed by police. Photograph: Andrew Burton for the Guardian

Matthew Castro, a waiter at Mels who quickly became best friends with the brothers, recalled the time at 1751 Market fondly.

A close-knit group of five the Gngora brothers, Castro, El Torero and his brother they would hang out on the twin beds in the single room they rented, cooking food on the hot plate. The Gngora brothers would collect beer cans after a night drinking and return the recycling to Safeway for extra cash.

We would always be listening to music, watching soccer, eating, laughing, just bullshitting about life, Castro said. There wasnt a worry. We were all working.

And the work was paying dividends back in Teabo, where Luis Gngoras money was building the house for his family, and his children remained in school well past the age of 12.

But as the edifice rose in Teabo, cracks in the foundation were beginning to spread in San Francisco.

The life of a Yucatecan migrant in San Francisco can be lonely.

You start to drink to forget things, is how Marcelino Burgos, the migrant who returned to Oxkutzcab, described the experience of being far from his family and working night and day among people who rarely spoke his language.

Everyone cries, he said.

Luis Gngora lost his job at Mels Diner around 2010 or 2011. Most of the employees in the kitchen who spoke Mayan left, Poot explained, and without them to translate, Gngora was unable to do his job and got fired.

He found another job at another restaurant with Mayan speakers for about two years, but when they left, he was unemployed again.

He got really frustrated because he didnt have money to send to Mexico, Poot said. He found other work, but he had issues. No other people speaking Mayan he couldnt get a stable job. He was short of money.

El Torero, the roommate, left San Francisco and returned to Teabo to pursue his dream of being a bullfighter. (He died, gored by a bull, in 2013). Jos Gngora found a job in the suburbs, doing landscaping work, and returned to the apartment infrequently.

It was around this time, Castro said, that Luis Gngoras drinking and marijuana use transitioned into more serious drug abuse. Another Yucatecan in the building was dealing heroin, and Castro believes Luis Gngora got hooked.

Jos Gngora says that he never saw his brother using hard drugs, but he was not around much to see.

Luis Poot got his cousin Luis Gngora his first job as a prep cook in San Francisco, but they later lost touch. I didnt know how to help him. Photograph: Andrew Burton for the Guardian

It is unclear exactly how the brothers came to be evicted from 1751 Market. Jos Gngora says that he was still leaving money for rent, but he doesnt know if the money made its way to the landlord. Poot says that, once El Torero left town, the Gngora brothers struggled to manage the household since neither could read or speak English.

Either way, in the fall of 2013, Jos Gngora returned to the Market Street building to find his apartment locked and his belongings in the trash. He salvaged a bag with some photographs and personal items and was out on the street.

Homelessness was a harrowing experience for both of the brothers, and the crisis forced them in different directions. Jos Gngora stayed with friends for a few days, and then found a room in a residential hotel for a week.

First I lost my home, and then I lost my job, he said. I had this bag of stuff. How was I going to arrive at work with this bag of stuff?

The brothers lost track of each other.

When I was living on the street, I saw Sapo once, Jos Gngora said, using a family nickname for his brother. I said, Where are you living? On the street also? I said, Each one of us is on our own path.

Jos Gngora later slept in public transit stations or on buses. One day he went to the police station, hoping to turn himself in and get deported to Mexico. The police told him to go away, unless he wanted to be locked up.

After two weeks of sleeping in a park, Jos Gngora convinced his cousin Poot to take him in. It wasnt easy. Jos was skinny and unclean, but more than anything, Poot said, he was traumatized.

Poot took over, imposing strict rules and caring for Jos Gngora until he recovered. Poot found him a new job, stopped him from drinking, and took control of his finances, sending all of his wages back to his family.

Jos has always been well-behaved. When they were kids, Luis was like the boss, the dad. Jos was the one following orders, Poot explained.

Since 8 November 2013 the day Poot accepted him into his house Jos Gngora has not had a single beer or sip of alcohol.

No beer, no marijuana, only work, Jos Gngora jokes.

Poot tried to arrange a similar rescue for Luis Gngora, who was still on the streets, but with little success.

Luis always wanted to make his own decisions, Poot said. I dont know. If Luis had come knocking on my door instead of Jos, maybe I would have helped him instead, but fate put Jos in my path.

Poots brother, Wilberto, tried to take Luis Gngora in, but he didnt follow the rules of the house not going out at night and ringing the doorbell, staying out of sight of the landlord and it didnt work. Poot paid for Luis Gngoras documents to be sent to San Francisco so he could send his cousin back to Mexico, but Luis lost the papers. Another relative took Luis Gngora to live in San Jose, but again Luis returned to the streets.

I didnt know how to help him, Poot said. He had no house, no money, no job, no papers so many issues.

The longer he was homeless, the worse Luis Gngoras mental state seemed to get.

He would be confused when he was talking to you. Sometimes he would be fine, and sometimes he would just be talking to himself on the street, Poot said.

For a while, Luis slept on the sidewalk in front of the building where his brother and cousin lived in an apartment with Poots wife and children.

I was very sad, because I told him at some point, dont come knocking on the door because if the owner sees you, he might be given a reason to throw us out, Poot recalled.

Despite his downward spiral in San Francisco, Luis Gngora kept up appearances with his family in Teabo. He never told them that he was homeless. He didnt talk about himself.

The saddest part is that the family is learning now how he was living. Luiss mom asked me, Why didnt you tell me? Poot said. I never told them because I thought it would cause them sadness.

Luis Gngoras widow stands with their daughter, two sons and grandchildren at their home in Teabo. Photograph: Ivan Gabaldon for the Guardian

Jos Gngora was at the laundromat on 7 April when he heard police sirens. He didnt think of it again until the next day, when he was at work. He had a bad feeling. He told his manager that he needed to leave early, that he needed to go look for his brother.

When he arrived at the homeless encampment where Luis Gngora had been living for the past few months, Jos Gngora asked for his brothers whereabouts by miming kicking a soccer ball. A homeless outreach worker from a neighborhood non-profit grabbed his arm and said, Get your strength.

Its very important for us Mayans, once a person is dead, to honor them, Poot said. When youre alive, you can defend yourself, but once youre dead, you have to honor them. In the Mayan culture, a deceased one is sacred.

Luis is never going to die. As long as we remember him, he is going to live with us. Were always going to honor him.

The broad details of Gngoras death are made plain by security video provided to the Guardian by a neighbor who asked to remain anonymous because he feared police retaliation. The camera caught images of Gngora in his final hours, the arrival of the police, and audio of the beanbag and live ammunition being fired.

What is in dispute are the exact actions of the police and Gngora during the final 30 seconds that led up to the shooting.

Gngora was sitting just out of the frame of the video footage. The story of his killing can only be composed by the testimony of the police who killed him and the witnesses who saw it happen.

The fatal encounter was set in motion when two homeless outreach workers went to the homeless encampment where Luis Gngora lived, responding to a report that a baby was crying. The workers did not find a baby, but police say the outreach workers saw Gngora swinging [a knife] indiscriminately as he walked down the street, prompting them to call the police.

Former San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr told members of the public that Gngora was seated on the sidewalk with a large knife and the blade pointed up when police officers arrived on the scene. (Suhr was fired in May shortly after San Francisco police shot and killed an unarmed black woman in a car.)

They tried to shoot him in the arm to get him to drop the knife, Suhr told reporters when asked why police officers deployed beanbag rounds at a seated man.

The San Francisco police department alleged that, after being struck by the beanbag rounds, Gngora stood up and charged, lunged or ran at at the officers with the knife, prompting them to fire in self-defense.

The Guardian has interviewed six eyewitnesses to the shooting. They include three homeless residents of the encampment who were standing on the sidewalk about 20 yards from the shooting, two residents of apartments overlooking the street, and one pedestrian who was on the sidewalk opposite to the incident. All of them contest the police version of events.

I would by no stretch of the imagination say that he was charging them, said S Smith Patrick, a documentary film-maker who had an unobstructed view of the shooting from her second-story window across the street. His body was recoiling from bullets.

The incident is subject to three independent investigations, by the police department, the San Francisco office of citizen complaints, and the district attorney. A civil rights attorney representing Gngoras widow and children has filed a claim against the city of San Francisco, a precursor to a civil lawsuit for wrongful death and excessive force.

Based on multiple eyewitness accounts that are part of our preliminary investigation, Luis Gngora lunged at one of our officers with a large knife, a spokesman for the city attorney said in response to the lawsuit. Gngora posed an immediate and deadly threat, and our officers use of lethal force was necessary and legally justified.

The legal process is likely to take years, a fact that is difficult for Gngoras family in Teabo to accept.

Gngoras mother, Estala, cried as she sat in a hammock in her house in Teabo. As the 87-year-old woman broke into tears, no one reached out to touch her or comfort her. Instead, her daughter-in-law and granddaughter grabbed pillows and began to fan her with cool air from behind.

I want to know, she said, if before I die there will be justice for Luis.

In the living room of Luis Gngoras house, Maria Guadalupe Cruz sat in a chair before a shrine to her brother-in-law Luis, leading a roomful of women in el rezar the prayer.

It was 7 July, the morning after police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop and two days after police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, shot and killed Alton Sterling while he was selling CDs.

The deaths of those two men made international headlines, sent protesters into the streets across the US, and drew the attention of Barack Obama, but here in Teabo, 7 July was the three month anniversary of a tragedy that continues to play out on a smaller stage, in the living room of the house that the homeless man built.

Cuando te rezo, puedo comprender que una madre no se cansa de esperar, Cruz sang. When I pray to you, I understand that a mother does not get tired of waiting.

Teabo is a womans town, and a town where the women have grown accustomed to waiting.

Luis Gngoras mother, Estela, sits at the entrance to the traditional Mayan house where her son and his wife lived when they were first married. Photograph: Ivan Gabaldon for the Guardian

They wait for their husbands, fathers, and sons to come home from the places they go to find work: the ejido, the big cities of Yucatn, or San Francisco.

Luis Gngora left Teabo almost 14 years ago. He did not see his three children grow up, his wife mature into middle age, or his parents grow old. He never met his two grandchildren. He did not see his family move out of the Mayan hut with a palm-leaf roof and dirt floors and into the one-story house with two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a bathroom that was built with the money he sent home from San Francisco.

He never slept on a hammock slung between the hooks on the walls, or ate in the kitchen where his relatives gather around the table to honor his memory by eating his favorite dish.

Luis Gngoras presence is not missing from these rooms, because it never was here. But what is missing from the Gngora household, from his wife Fidelia de Carmen, from his children Luis Rudolfo, Angel, and Rosana, from his nieces and nephews and his mother and father what is missing is the presence of the hope that he might one day return.

He left a long time ago, said Demetrio, Luiss father. Even though I didnt see him, I knew he was alive.

Sometimes I dont accept that he is dead, because he used to say he would come back to meet his grandchildren, said Rosana, Luiss daughter, whose own daughter is two years old.

Sometimes I imagine that he is still alive.

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Sterling was selling CDs outside a Louisiana store when he was killed by two white officers responding to a call of a man threatening someone with a gun

A steady stream of mourners filed past the casket of Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old black man who was shot to death by two white police officers as he was pinned to the pavement outside a convenience store.

The grieving paused Friday in front of Sterlings open casket, which was adorned with music notes and a smiling photo of the man. Sterling was selling CDs outside the store, as he had done for years, when he was killed by police responding to a call of a man threatening someone with a gun.

One mourner wore a T-shirt that said No Justice, No Peace on the back of it. Another carried a poster board sign saying: Black America Im Sorry!!

Sterlings death was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely on the internet. His death, along with another fatal police shooting in Minnesota last week, sparked protests over the treatment of black people by police.

Sterlings death heightened tensions in Baton Rouge, where about 200 protesters were arrested over the weekend, and police said they had foiled a credible threat to attack officers. Authorities said they discovered the plot after a pawn shop burglary, and one of the suspects was to appear in court Friday.

Among the mourners was Darrell Jupiter, a landscaper and close friend of Sterlings who came to the visitation inside the basketball arena at Southern University, a historically black college in north Baton Rouge.

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Adam Foss, a former assistant district attorney in Boston, has joined up with Legend to find alternatives to incarceration, and recruit prosecutors to their cause

Adam Foss doesnt look like your average prosecutor. He wears his hair in long dreadlocks that flow down to his ankles, and beaded bracelets ornate his wrists. He spent eight years as an assistant district attorney in Boston, but rather than focusing on high conviction rates or projecting a tough on crime attitude, he has been far more interested in alternatives to incarceration, and on keeping juvenile offenders out of prison.

Fosss efforts might have ended there, making tweaks on the fringes of a flawed system, but in 2015, he met singer John Legend, who is no stranger to activism. Now the two want to change the way prosecutors nationwide think about their job, and to recruit them into the war against mass incarceration.

We are sending in droves our young men into a system that erases them from public view and public consideration, Legend told the Guardian. The only way we are going to slow that down is if we focus on holistic criminal justice reform and so much of that happens in the prosecutors office.

The singer and songwriter spent much of last year on a tour of prisons around the country, visiting nine of them and sometimes performing for inmates. Through his organization Free America, Legend has been trying to bring attention to the over two million Americans in prison in order to change what he calls the misguided criminal justice policies leading to America having the largest prison population in the world.

The biggest challenge Foss is likely to face is fear. Photograph: TED

Legend said he wasnt surprised by much of what he saw in the prisons, but was definitely disturbed.

You begin to realize how much trauma and pain and abuse [the inmates] have been victims of themselves before they got to prison, and since theyve been in prison. And you realize that its just a cycle that keeps repeating.

When Legends Free America hosted a gathering for progressive prosecutors in 2015, Foss was there, and it was there his vision for a new organization, now named Prosecutor Integrity was born. Foss wants to use the platform not just to apply political pressure, but to train the nations prosecutors, especially young ones, on how to rethink the application of justice.

Were always poking at the prisons and sentencing laws and police practices and all of those things are important and need to be addressed, but the one lever that hasnt really been addressed and will push everything over the edge is this one, Foss said.

Prosecutors in the US wieldunrivaled influence over the incarceration of alleged criminals. They alone choose what to charge, what deals to make and in all but a few jurisdictions, these decisions are not subject to any oversight or guidelines beyond the elections that put them into office.

And because plea bargains are carried out away from the public eye, voters often have very few insights into how those offices work at least until something goes wrong. In the words of Angela J Davis, a law professor at American University: The unchecked discretion of prosecutors is extraordinary, and the mechanisms of accountability we have dont work.

Foss, who was born in Colombia and adopted by a Boston law-enforcement family, left the Suffolk County DAs office in March to focus on his new PI organization full-time. But while he was there, Foss tried to address that accountability gap with his own creative solutions.

What I was trying to do is look at each individual defendant as a case study. My first inclination was: Can I keep you out of the criminal justice system all together? And if I couldnt do that, how could I make it work both for you and for the the victim, the community and me?

In most large jurisdictions like Suffolk County, which encompasses the city of Boston, district attorneys have dozens or even hundreds of assistant DAs (ADAs) who handle the day to day details and decisions around cases. The DA himself may set priorities and policies for their staff to follow, but ADAs often have some latitude to affect justice however they see fit. These are the people Foss, Legend and Prosecutor Integrity want to reach and train to think more creatively about justice and the impacts of their decisions.

In a TEDx talk Foss delivered in March, he describes a case from early in his career as an ADA involving an 18-year-old black man he calls Christopher, arrested for stealing 25 laptops from a Best Buy and selling them on the internet. Foss explained he decided not to charge the teenager because he didnt think branding him a felon for the rest of his life was the right answer.

With a criminal record and without a job, Christopher would be unable to find employment, education or stable housing. Without those protective factors in his life, Christopher would be more likely to commit further, more serious crime, Foss said. It is a terrible public safety outcome for the rest of us.

Instead, Foss helped him recover most the sold computers, and come up with a plan to pay for the ones they couldnt recover. He did community service and wrote about the impact of his actions. Six years later, Foss said, he encountered the young man again, and learned he had graduated from college and went on to become a manager at a Boston bank and making a lot more money than me, Foss quipped.

Foss doesnt think his approach is particularly novel, either. Im not this person thats come up with this crazy idea this is what were supposed to be doing, Foss said.

Largely thanks to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the wind is now at Fosss back. Enraged over prosecutor decisions in the police shooting deaths of Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice, a popular groundswell led by activists pushed district attorneys out of office in Chicago and Cleveland during elections in March.

These police killings of unarmed people is whats making people pay attention to prosecutors, but in reality what theyre doing on a day to day basis and for so long is prosecuting ordinary citizens in ways that produce all kinds of injustices, Davis said.

Davis wrote the book Arbitrary Justice about the under-appreciated unilateral power of prosecutors nearly a decade ago and she is encouraged to see public attention shifting, but worries that the big city changeovers earlier this year speak more to a reactiveness over police killings than a popular movement committed to changing the day to day behavior of DAs.

Every single one of those 1,000-plus deaths last year was a tragedy, Foss said, referring to those shot by police forces. But if you think about the number of lives that are ruined by prosecutors, its some exponent of the number of people killed by police and we dont get angry about that.

Foss: What Im trying to do is different. Photograph: Adam Foss

According to Fordham law professor and researcher John Pfaff, prosecutors represent a great untapped resource for slowing prison admissions, and its not just theory. Pfaff said it can be readily demonstrated at work in New York and New Jersey, two states that have been decarcerating steadily for more than 15 years.

Since 2000, the two states have each decreased their prison populations by nearly 25%, according to Department of Justice data. They are two of only three states, the other being California, to see double-digit drops in incarceration over that span. By comparison, 45 states have actually increased their prison rolls over that time.

The rise in incarceration started as the states were adopting tougher sentencing laws, Pfaff said. Lots of other states saw decreases in crime, and didnt stop incarcerating. Its clearly a decision on the part of DAs.

The biggest challenge Foss is likely to face, beyond the inertia of the status quo, is fear. Voters have for decades stocked their districts with tough-on-crime prosecutors mainly because of it: the fear that criminals are out to hurt them, and the belief that locking them in cages is the only way to keep their communities safe.

If new prosecutors come into office on a platform of compassion and diversion, how does the public react to what Foss calls the one-off scenario where a diverted defendant commits a crime, especially a heinous or high-profile one?

The truth is, the one-off happens every day in jail and yet no one says we should stop sending people to jail, Foss said. Indeed, 95% of all inmates will leave prison at some point, allegedly rehabilitated, and some percentage of them, as many as 75% according to figures from the National Institute of Justice, will be arrested again.

Ill give you this: what Im trying to do is different, Foss said. But is it any more dangerous than something we already know doesnt work?

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The racially charged demonstrations over Dylan Nobles death sparked outrage online but friends of the unarmed teen shot by police say they only want justice

Brandon Lindlahr laid down on the ground by a Chevron gas station in Fresno, California, and fell asleep on top of the bloodstained pavement where police fatally shot his unarmed friend.

It was Monday night, two days after the 18-year-olds friend, Dylan Noble, was killed by police during a traffic stop.

Since Nobles death on Saturday afternoon, Lindlahr and dozens of other friends have spent their nights hanging out by a Fast N Esy convenience store and gas station where theyve set up a memorial of candles, American flags, and empty Coors Light cans.

Lindlahr said they also poured beers on top of the blood-soaked ground in hopes of washing away the painful reminder of Nobles violent death. A dark blotch remains where the young man fell.

Well be here every night until we get our justice, he said.

Noble, 19, is one of more than 500 people who have been killed by US law enforcement in 2016. His is one of the few cases to receive international attention but not for the reasons that police killings of unarmed adolescents typically make headlines.

In a standoff with Fresno officers at an emotional vigil Sunday night, friends of Noble, who was white, and other critics of the police department took to the streets, some carrying a Confederate flag and others promoting a White Lives Matter sign.

The message was an appropriation of Black Lives Matter, the civil rights movement that emerged in response to the killings of African Americans, and the Fresno protest was swiftly mocked as racist and offensive on social media and in news reports.

But in the sweltering heat of this suburban city in the Central Valley of California, 200 miles south-east of San Francisco, Nobles friends say the mainstream media and others deriding their protests have deeply misunderstood their way of life and message.

I still dont believe it

The intense controversy over the White Lives Matter statement has distracted from the serious questions surrounding the circumstances of Nobles killing.

Fresno police say that at 3.20pm on Saturday, officers were investigating reports of a man walking in the area with a rifle when they spotted Nobles pickup truck speeding by. After Noble pulled over at the Chevron gas station, he refused to show his hands to the officers as he exited, police said in a statement.

The driver then turned towards officers with one hand concealed behind his back, and told officers he hated his life.

Brandon Lindlahr, left, and Keenan Passmore at a memorial for Dylan Noble. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

According to the polices version of the incident, the officers believed Noble was armed and fired four shots at him when he allegedly advanced toward them with his hand behind his back.

It turned out that Noble did not have a weapon on him or in his vehicle, police chief Jerry Dyer said in an interview. Dyer, however, insisted that the two officers, now on administrative leave, acted appropriately.

It was very apparent this individual did everything he could possibly do to cause the officers to believe he did, in fact, have a firearm.

The man with the riflehas not been found, Dyer added.

I was speechless, said David Merkord, 19, who got a call from a friend who passed by the scene and saw that both of the doors to Nobles truck were open and police were putting a sheet over his body. Why would this happen to such a good guy?

Nobles loved ones were infuriated that a deputy chief suggested that there was something else in his life going on that caused him to want to be shot. Even if Noble was behaving erratically or having a mental health crisis which his loved ones said would be out of character they couldnt understand why police would shoot to kill.

I still dont believe it. Hes always been so positive, and Ive never seen him upset, said Jessica Montag, Nobles 29-year-old cousin and a local teacher. Hes just a kid. The police have twisted this to make them seem as guiltless as possible.

He was a happy, happy guy, said Darren Noble, Dylans father.

Friends described Nobles infectious smile and said he stood out among his peers in the way that he was genuinely friendly to everyone he met. They said he was also in a great place in his life he had a construction job, a steady girlfriend, and a passion for music and DJing.

On Sunday evening, they organized a vigil for Noble at the gas station, some doing donuts and burnouts with their cars driving in circles and spinning their wheels to commemorate activities Noble loved. They said they wanted to make some noise, celebrate Nobles life, and pressure the department to release body-camera footage.

They had no idea quite how much of an impact their protest would have.

Candles at a memorial for Dylan Noble. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

All lives matter

Its unclear who put up a White Lives Matter sign, but Nobles friends said the message was simple.

Dylans life mattered, and yes, hes white, Lindlahr said. Everyone says black lives matter, and they do, but as soon as you say white lives matter, its racist?

Lindlahrsgirlfriend Allie Seibert, standing where Noble was killed, chimed in: The media took a life lost andturned it into a Black Lives Matter issue. This wasnt about white lives matter. Its that all lives matter.

Around the US, politicians, including some progressive figures, have been known to stumble when discussing the new civil rights movement.

Several have been condemned for clumsy references to all lives matter, which some say is a tone-deaf response to a movement shedding light on the disproportionate impact of police brutality on black Americans.

All lives matter has also been adopted by some pro-police demonstrators, in an attempt to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement.

But among Nobles friends in Fresno, the slogan has less to do with the semantics of identity politics. For them, white lives matter was a way to acknowledge that Nobles death deserves the same kind of outrage the public has shown in the wake of questionable police killings of young black men in major US cities.

I guarantee if an African American guy got shot, it wouldve blown up, Merkord said. There definitely wouldve been a bigger crowd.

The hundreds of deaths of black men at the hands of the police, many of which pass without protest, would suggest otherwise.

However, Nobles friends believe that their appropriation of the black lives matter slogan, however controversial, has brought attention to his death.

Justin Horton, 19, said the death would have gone unnoticed without their high-profile protest. It wouldve been another Fresno shooting that Jerry Dyer covered up, he said.

A vigil for Dylan Noble. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

They insisted the Confederate flag, which many in the US deem to be a racist symbol associated with slavery, is a nod to their cultural heritage and lifestyle.

The neighboring cities of Fresno and Clovis, where Nobles family and friends live, are predominantly white and Latino in a county where nearly half of the acreage is farmland. Clovis is home to a popular rodeo. Several of Nobles friends said they work in construction or are unemployed.

You have to be from Clovis to understand it, said Horton, as he and other friends gathered at nearby Millerton Lake on a scorching hot afternoon on Tuesday, cooling off from the 103-degree temperatures.

The Confederate flag at the Sunday protest had a cowboy on it, Horton pointed out.

Theres a lot of people who see it as the rebel flag. We just like to be outside and outdoors, Horton added. Were not trying to be white supremacists.

A history of excessive force

Since video of the protest spread online, commentators have pointed out that police exercised restraint in response toWhite Lives Matter activists a sharp contrast to those Black Lives Matter protests that have ended in teargas and arrests.

One Fresno officer even gave a protester his loudspeaker.

We do everything we can to deescalate the situation, Dyer said.

But in Fresno, young residents and friends of Noble said the police department does not deserve accolades for its day-to-day treatment of citizens. On the contrary, many hanging out by Nobles memorial shared stories of unwarranted harassment and unnecessarily aggressive treatment by officers similar complaints to those that emerged in the predominantly black city of Ferguson, Missouri, following the 2014 fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Lindlahr said he has had confrontations with police and was so enraged when they showed up at the vigil, that his friends had to hold him back.

Writing at a memorial for Dylan Noble. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

I wanted to charge them, he said.

Merkord, too, said he has had run-ins with police, and that the killing of Noble was part of a broader problem of brutality.

Whats the biggest gang? Its the police force.

The police department has seen a wave of excessive-force lawsuits in recent years, and disturbing footage of a 2015 shooting showed officers firing at an unarmed mentally ill man who they allegedly thought was reaching for a gun.

If they dont shoot somebody, theyre going to do something extremely violent that they dont need to do, said Gavin Paull, 20.

Asked about these criticisms, Dyer blamed anti-police views that he said have become pervasive across the country in recent years.

Ever since the incident in Ferguson, law enforcement has been viewed in a more negative way.

For his part, Lindlahr said he and his friends will continue to hang out at the gas station until they get answers.

He was such a good guy that we just have to be out here, he said.

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