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Unhoused, Un-alived, Unsolved: 46X more homeless homicide victims than 12 years ago

Despite 3 sworn officers per tent, the unhoused in L.A. end up investigating each others’ murders. ⚠️ Graphic illustrated descriptions of homicide and police violence

By Ruth, an unhoused anti-displacement activist living in public in the City of Los Angeles. She can sometimes be heard on L.A. Public Press’ podcast SMOGLAND RADIO. 🆓🇵🇸

“Too close to home”

When LAPD “knocked” on the door of my tiny home late in the morning on a weekday in August last year, I thought they were there to ask me about the incident that had occurred two nights’ prior.

My unhoused neighbor had been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance in unknown condition. I had just heard him say “Call 911!” and take off running.

I didn’t call, but someone did, thankfully, because I heard the brakes of an ambulance as it pulled in (no sirens) and walkee-talkees beeping and buzzing in the distance. A helicopter launched.

Eventually, I was ordered to come out of my tiny house with my hands up. Bright flashlights were shone on me. They asked if I knew that my neighbor had been attacked. He was being rushed to Cedars. They didn’t know if he was going to make it.

He had told me to call 911, but I hadn’t. My phone at the time was damaged, so the operator would not have been able to hear me. Plus, he had taken off running. I didn’t even know in which direction.

In the morning, red blood could be seen splattered on dead leaves and grass. Yellow CRIME SCENE tape was wrapped around his tent.

That was 24 hours before this knock.

On this morning, the cops weren’t here about yesterday’s stabbing or my injured neighbor, who they think pulled through. They were here about a murder that happened here overnight.

I had heard one single gunshot incredibly close, closer than I’ve ever heard one, around 1:30am. The sound had an unmistakable “CLAP” as it reverberated in the night.

I ask who got shot.

But this murder wasn’t a shooting. It was another stabbing, a fatal one this time.

“Overkill,” they oink and grimace, whispering gruesome details to each other.

Again, they want to know what I saw, but I still hadn’t left my tiny house. They kept giving me more reasons not to.

“Like I said last time, it’s been incredibly dark out here, ever since  —  ”

“Maybe the next victim will cooperate,” the cops said coldly.

“  —  the lights here went out in November 2019,” I continued. “We’ve asked the City to fix them, we tried 311…”

“It’s not safe out here!” the Senior Lead Officer says, handing us his card on his way out.

There has been no less than one recorded homicide per day, on average, in the City of Los Angeles for two consecutive years (2021 + 2022).

In 2022, there were 382 homicides in the City of L.A., according to LAPD, which was a slight drop from 2021, when there were just over 400 killings.

2020 marked the change from a steady rate of <1/day observed for at least eight consecutive years prior.

From 2012 to 2019, there were never more than 299 total homicides recorded by LAPD in a single year. In 2020, there were 355 homicides, or just under 1/day, on average.

1+ daily homicide in 2021 and 2022. 

What is even more alarming than L.A.’s “new normal” 1+/day homicide rate is that this City is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for the most vulnerable subpopulations among us, and safer for everyone else. Also, justice is becoming increasingly rare for marginalized crime victims and their families, who often perceived by LAPD as not being “taxpayers”, therefore not contributing to their overly-inflated paychecks, and not deserving of their protection.

Homicides of unhoused people in the City of Los Angeles have 4,600% since 2010, and more than doubled from 2019 to 2021.

From 2010  —  2014, there were never more than 5 unhoused homicide victims in a single year.

Unhoused people are disproportionately represented as victims in recent excess homicides —  and our homicides are significantly less likely to result in any consequence, such as the identification and arrest of a suspect. This is especially concerning when you consider that people experiencing homelessness outdoors, in shelters, and in vehicles “on any given night” are <1% of the population — and we typically have far more contacts with law enforcement than the housed majority

<1% of the population of L.A. is homeless “on any given night”. (LAHSA)

Since we are “known” to police officers due to our frequent contact, crimes against us should be easier to solve, and yet our cases typically go cold. More than half of the homicides with unhoused victims from 2022 were still open in January 2023, when I received an answer (below) to my November CPRA request to LAPD. At that same time, the overall homicide solve rate was only 58%, but it rose to 77% by March 2023 because more cases got closed.

UNSOLVED HOMICIDE AND MANSLAUGHTER COUNT WITH VICTIM/SUSPECT HOMELESS FOR DATES 01/01/2022 — 12/31/2022 • Crime: Criminal homicide • Count: 158 • Victim homeless: 48 • Suspect homeless: 5

Note: One additional homicide with an unhoused victim was discovered before the 2022 report, bringing the total to 92.

In 2022, 91 homicide victims were recorded as lacking housing, and 291 were presumed to be housed.

Recent research has pegged the danger of living without housing as being at least 3.5 times more dangerous than residing in housing.

The difference has been widening over the past decade, far outpacing increases in homelessness.

1 in 4 homicide victims is unhoused.

Living outdoors in L.A. has not always been this hazardous. 2022’s total of 91 homicides with homeless victims is a 535% increase from 2015, when there were 17 unhoused people killed by homicide.

It is easy to dismiss the increase in homicides with unhoused victims as the consequence of increased homelessness in L.A. in general, but it is not that simple.

In the time since 2015 that homicides with unhoused victims grew 535%, homelessness in the City of L.A. had increased, but only 63%, according to LAHSA’s point-in-time counts. The rate of deadly violence against unhoused people is increasing at more than five times the pace of displacement.

GRAPH L.A.”Point-in-time” Homeless Count 2010 (around 20k) to present. The PIT doubled to 40k between 2019 and 2020. 

Of the 382 total homicides that occurred in LAPD’s jurisdiction in 2022, over 150 were still not “solved” as of my CPRA request.

It is hard to know where to begin to attempt to make the streets safer without peeking into “solved” homicides with unhoused victims. In trying to do so, yet another alarming trend emerges: a dismal rate of “closing” homicide cases when the victim was homeless compared to the overall “solve” rate for all homicides. This is a reflection of the arrest disparity observed in police departments all around the country of homicide suspects in cases where the victim was not white

158 unsolved homicides from 2022 as of January 2023

“Closed” cases with no closure

For as much as the City of L.A. spends on its police department     —     over half of the general funds in the City budget, plus LAPD are granted additional funds by City Council motions every year     —     one would think their solve rate for a major crime like homicide would have been better than 48% (less than half) when the victim is a vulnerable unhoused person.

In January, LAPD’s solve rate for 2022 homicides was 58%, but 48% when the victim was unhoused, leaving over 50 “open” cases, and possibly over 50 murderers on the lose

Unhoused Homicide Victims in the City of L.A. 2010-2022 MO Code 1218

  • 2022 91

  • 2021 85

  • 2020 58

  • 2019 42

  • 2018 39

  • 2017 28

  • 2016 22

  • 2015 17

  • 2014 3

  • 2013 4

  • 2012 5

  • 2011 3

  • 2010 246X more unhoused homicide victims in 12 years

Aggravatingly, “closed” homicide cases sometimes offer little more than “open” ones in terms of closure or insights. Sometimes, the type of insight they provide is more telling of the flaws of the criminal justice system as a whole.

When a homicide is “solved”, usually it means a suspect has been identified, apprehended and an arrest has been made. The suspect may be in County jail still awaiting trial or out on bond, depending on the suspect’s financial situation, prior record, the integrity of the evidence gathered by police, and the District Attorney’s confidence in the charges.

There are other circumstances besides an arrest that can cause a case to be “closed” or “solved”, although these are unusual.

One example would be evidence of the simultaneous death of the prime suspect, such as in the case of an apparent murder-suicide. Obviously this scenario is very rare to encounter, but there are more common ones playing out regularly across the country in San Diego, San Francisco and New York City this year.

Banko Brown & Jordan Neely had their homicide cases closed despite witnesses, video evidence, and suspects in custody. 

Two recent examples of cases that closed without “justice” that have gained a lot of attention in the press are the murders of Banko Brown and Jordan Neely, both vulnerable Black unhoused people in places considered “public”, killed by privileged men who are paid to use guns  —  a Marine and a security guard. 

In April, Banko Brown, a young, Black unhoused trans man and organizer, was accused of shoplifting a small amount of food from a San Francisco Walgreens and subsequently shot in the back by a security guard outside the store.

In May, Jordan Neely, a young, Black unhoused subway performer, was tackled to the ground by a U.S. Marine while riding the New York City subway and held there until he stopped breathing.

Both of these awful cases resulted in arrests  —  the security guard and the Marine were taken into custody by SFPD and NYPD, respectively  —  but they were only held briefly for questioning before being released without facing any criminal charges.

Six weeks after choking Neely to death, Marine John Penny was finally indicted for second-degree manslaughter and, two weeks after that, also arraigned for criminally negligent homicide. But Banko Brown’s killer, armed Walgreen’s security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, was interrogated and released, and D.A. Brooke Jenkins is now under investigation by Attorney General Rob Bonta to see if she abused her discretion by not letting a jury decide. There have not been any updates since July, but the family of Brown have filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

For homicides with unhoused victims in the City of L.A. that did result in the apprehension of a suspect —  even in highly publicized cases where video evidence and eyewitnesses were available  —  it is possible that some or all of the suspects ended up walking free, after all

One of Granny Annie’s teenage killers got a slap on the wrist for “hobo hunting”.

On May 11, two teenagers shot a sleeping 68-year-old homeless woman outside of a San Diego coffee shop with pellet guns, rupturing her aorta. They weren’t arrested until August. On Friday, the 19-year-old who drove their car pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting assault with a deadly weapon, receiving a suspended three-year prison sentence, for which he will serve six months in County jail. The shooter has been charged with first-degree murder but has not yet been sentenced.

Some of the killers of unhoused people were on-duty LAPD officers. Those are some of the only cases that got solved.

How was the officer involved?

LAPD shot 37 people in 2022, including ten unhoused people and 15 “mentally ill”* people. They call these incidents“Officer-Involved Shootings” (OIS).

*Prior contact with LAPD’s dedicated Mental Evaluation Unit (“M.E.U.”), SMART was the criteria used by LAPD to declare these victims “mentally ill” (MI). LAPD’s classification has nothing to do with the victim ever actually receiving a mental health-related diagnosis from a doctor.

Since “MI” designation only has to do with prior contact and not diagnosis, unhoused people are more likely to receive the MI designation because we categorically have more interactions with police

LAPD shot 37 people in 2022.

In shootings of unhoused people that were not committed by on-duty LAPD officers, LAPD struggled to gather evidence, identify persons of interest and make arrests  —  resulting in over half of them remaining unsolved as of January 2023. By the time of the release of their 2022 Homicide Report, LAPD claims to have solved 64% of “homeless-related homicides”, but that’s a combination of cases with homeless victims and homeless suspects, because LAPD chooses not to differentiate. It also includes cases that were solved without arrest.

So, while 50% is objectively a terrible clearance rate, it’s not that much worse than LAPD’s overall homicide clearance rate at the time of my CPRA request, which was 58%, or their arrest rate for homicide suspects, which was 51% when calculated by Washington Post in 2018.

Thinking about the fact that in January of this year, there were potentially 158 murderers running around “scot-free” made me feel utterly failed by the over-resourced department’s lack of action over the violence we experienced the previous summer. I felt like I had put in more effort to solve the homicide of my unhoused neighbor than LAPD and LASD, who were also on the case, while also having several frivolous LAMC § 56.11 and 63.44 tickets keeping me deeply in debt to the city still hanging over my head.

3 sworn LAPD officers per tent

“Stay safe.”

Last month, the same LAPD Senior Lead Officer who questioned us back in August tried to get us to voluntarily move closer to the exact location where the brutal murder occurred last August, while admitting there had been no developments in the case.

Click here to hear the SLO promise to arrest us if we did not move from the lit public area where we had resided for six years, down into the dark corridor where the unsolved homicide and assaults took place in August 2022.

When I pointed out the contradiction in being criminalized for having “bulky” things like an umbrella in public space (It is actually legal to have up to a 10’ umbrella or canopy per person in public beaches and parks in the City of L.A per 63.44.) and now being told that I was not in public space after all, the SLO suddenly didn’t know anything about my multiple LAMC § 56.11 and 63.44 citations and warnings. If only LAPD’s homicide investigations were handled with the same level of enthusiasm as 41.18 ticket-writing.

It was not lost on me that the assaults occurred at the exact same time that LAPD was gaining thousands of additional opportunities to harass and fine us under the resurrected LAMC § 41.18, which was being expanded at City Hall on 8/9 in between the assaults and the murder. LAPD have fully embraced 41.18 by committing hundreds of arrests, which staff of City Controller Kenneth Mejia visualized in an interactive map.

Disproportionate penalties

It’s not just that it feels like napping is treated as a worse crime than the killing of a napping person in the City of Los Angeles. That feeling is supported by evidence showing a total lack of consequences for many murders, compared to the thousands of dollars in penalties and weeks or months spent behind bars incurred by people who dare to doze off outdoors. A single LAMC § 41.18 charge can result in up to $2,500 in fines and/or six months in jail—the same sentence the 19-year-old driver and accomplice of the “hobo hunter” who murdered Granny Annie in San Diego got handed on Friday.

Who is killing unhoused people in L.A., and why are they getting away with it more often than they’re not?

It figures that LAPD’s #1 most arrested person is Annie Moody, a Black unhoused grandmother who lives in a tent and has spent around 18 months in jail awaiting trials for 41.18.

Meanwhile, the suspects who killed these victims* in 2022 are still unknown or at large:

  • Nicky Chandler, a Black 47-year-old, died on 6/2 after his tent was lit on fire at Grand Ave & 83rd Street

  • Gayane Stevens, a white 43-year-old woman, was discovered dead after being shot in the head at a “transient encampment” on Colorado Street and the L.A. River

  • Alfie Serrano, a 54-year-old Latino, who died of gunshot wounds in a dumpster on Halloween

  • Christopher Schunemann, a white 35-year-old who was stabbed on 8/10 near his tent on Laurel Canyon & the L.A. RiverWay

  • Manuel Moreno Sagrero, found at 2:30am on 7/18 in a burned motorhome on the 3400 block of Marmion Way. “Video evidence shows an unknown male setting fire to the RV.”

  • David Ramos, a 48-year-old Latino was shot through the mouth and neck in the wash at the 3900 block of Chevy Chase Drive on 9/3/22

  • John Dorsey, a 35-year-old Black man was shot in the parking lot of a motel where he was staying on 11/6 at the 8400 block of Sepulveda

This is by no means a comprehensive list of unsolved homicides of unhoused people, and it’s possible not all of the victims named were actually unhoused. I selected them based on available details about the location and circumstances of their deaths gathered from news, LAPD data, reports and press releases, L.A. Coroner records, court records, council files and media. 

Keywords I looked for:  tent, encampment, transient, motorhome/R.V./camper/recreational vehicle/trailer, river, wash, etc.

For many people who died in vehicles or on roads, there was no way for me to know if they were possibly residing in their vehicles or unhoused. Please feel free to add or correct info in the comments below. I would like to review all cases where no arrest was made and the victim may have been unhoused to identify patterns that may have gotten overlooked.

At least 47 homicides with unhoused victims have occurred so far in 2023.

Click here for a list, compiled from open LAPD data (this list includes only 44 because it was made before serial killer Jerrid Joseph Powell murdered 4 people this week, with three of them unhoused. It was the housed victim that he was initially caught and charged for, of course)

© Ruth roofless⛺️🛒

Graphics made on Canva

Illustrations made with Dream AI 

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