Say His Name: Dijon Kizzee

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Ethan Bocchichio ('22) protests in LA. Photo by Ethan Bocchichio ('22).

On Monday, Aug. 31, two officers of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department shot and killed unarmed Dijon Kizzee. Police claim Kizzee was stopped for an alleged bicycle violation and that after an altercation, he dropped a bag of clothes with a gun in it and reached for the gun. The officers, who feared for their lives, opened fire, shooting Kizzee at least 18 times. However, surveillance video from a nearby home shows that after the bag with the alleged gun is dropped, Kizzee struggles with an officer, turns to run, and then is hit in the back with four bullets. After he falls to the ground, a second barrage of bullets hits the unarmed Kizzee, who lies, possibly already dead, on the ground.

“Dijon Kizzee did not deserve to be executed like this in cold blood as he was running away,” Kizzee family attorney Benjamin Crump said during a virtual news conference.

Opinion video by Ehtan Bocchichio (’22).

Not long after Kizzee was killed, a protest gathered on one side of the yellow tape on Budlong Avenue. A rumor circulated in the crowd as to the number of shots fired, possibly originating from a member of the family with inside information, that Kizzee had been shot 27 times. Police in riot gear with rubber bullet guns and rifles stood behind police vehicles shining bright lights at the crowd, obstructing the vision of onlookers. Protesters stood quietly for most of the night. At one moment as chanting broke out, Black Lives Matter LA activists requested that the crowd respect the wishes of the family, who had called for quiet, peaceful protests. For the most part, this quiet was sustained despite police escalating the situation, at one point by pushing back protesters who had not attempted to cross the yellow tape.

After Kizzee was slain, his killers stood with guns pointed at the body until more police showed up. A bystander posted a series of clips of the scene on Instagram Live. Judging by these videos, which do have time gaps in them, guns were pointed at Kizzee’s presumably dead body for at least one minute and 14 seconds before reinforcements arrived. It is not clear how long the gaps are in the footage.

“He’s already dead!” said the person filming, and saying that [the police] shot Kizzee, “Like 20 times.”

Crump corroborated this claim in his press conference when he stated, based on pre-autopsy investigation, that he and his team estimate that Kizzee was shot between 15 and 20 times. After reinforcements arrived, two police officers joined the officers who had fired the shots in walking slowly towards Kizzee’s bullet-riddled corpse to handcuff it.

Handcuffs are used to neutralize the physical threat that suspects may pose to police officers. The dead body of Dijon Kizzee, however, could not have posed such a threat. So, what was the purpose of handcuffing a dead man? The only threat Kizzee posed to the police in that moment was as a potential symbol of another unarmed black man killed unjustly. The handcuffs were used in an attempt to neutralize the threat of popular outrage. Kizzee’s death is one in a year characterized by police brutality and protests that respond to it. Handcuffing his lifeless body seemed to be a symbolic gesture, suggesting criminality and justification for violence against a posed threat. They were used as if to say, “No, no. Not this one. This one actually deserved it.”

Because of the lights obstructing the view of protesters, the status of Kizzee’s body was unknown to the people who gathered. At one point, around 8:45 PM, members of Kizzee’s family came from the other side of the yellow tape, vocalizing frustration that Kizzee’s body had not even been covered up yet. Kizzee was shot around 3:15 PM, meaning his body laid out uncovered for at least five hours and 30 minutes. How long he laid like that afterward remains unknown.

The numbers of slain unarmed individuals are not uniquely high in 2020, but the response from protesters has been uniquely fierce.

At 10:45 PM, a group of police in riot gear reinforced the line despite no significant change in the behavior of the crowd of protesters. As the night went on, numbers began to run thin. The fleeting nature of this protest seemed clear to everyone except police. A few minutes after the line of police was reinforced, word got out that a group of police in riot gear had begun to gather at 109th and Normandie, just around the corner. This was confirmed by one of my partners who investigated the matter personally. The protest was confined to a street that had only one way in and out, due to the yellow tape. Just a few nights earlier police had “kettled” a group of protesters in a tunnel downtown, a technique whereby police surround protesters and use crowd dispersal techniques such as tear gas, flash bangs, baton swinging, and pepper spray, despite there being nowhere for the group to go. If the intention was to kettle this protest, should anyone escape, one of the only two options to flee would have been on the side where Dijon Kizzee’s dead body possibly still lay.

At this point Kizzee’s family asked protesters to go the sheriff’s station. The rest of what happened that night was witnessed by my partner on the ground. By their account, there was some property damage from the protesters: vandalism, and graffiti, but no violence. Cops encircled the station. Armed deputies manned the rooftop. A helicopter circled the scene. The crowd was told that it was an unlawful assembly, police citing a fist fight as the justification. My partner claims no fight took place. Protesters were threatened with tear gas and “less than lethal” munitions but took to the streets instead of standing off with the police.

Every day since, protests have taken place in response to Kizzee’s killing. Since the killing of George Floyd, Los Angeles has seen consistent protests calling for justice for people killed by police. Demonstrations have taken place to honor Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and Jacob Blake. On August 16, police in Pasadena, a city in LA County, shot Anthony McLain in the back, killing him as he ran holding a firearm. Small protests across the county took place, and just two weeks later, the unarmed Dijon Kizzee was killed.

Due to social media, resistance against the State in response to Kizzee’s killing was immediate. Within an hour of his death, people showed up in solidarity with his family. Social media has also allowed for greater dispersal of information regarding the killing of black people in the United States at the hands of law enforcement. The numbers of slain unarmed individuals are not uniquely high in 2020, but the response from protesters has been uniquely fierce. Still, police seem to act as if they’re not under the microscope of social media. So long as this remains the case, the unrestful will take the streets.

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