SOUTH LOS ANGELES – The shooting of Dijon Kizzee by Sheriff’s deputies in August hit close to home for Arnold Armstrong of Westmont, who lives just five minutes from where the deadly confrontation happened.
Armstrong said growing up in South Central, he spent his childhood feeling afraid of both Sheriff’s deputies and the LAPD.
“We had it rough as a kid. We could be riding down the street to play ball and the sheriff, about three or four cars and police used to swoop on us and have us get off our bikes, turn them upside down looking for serial numbers to see if they’re stolen. And while they do that they make us put our hands on the hood of their car,” Armstrong said.
As he got older, the encounters made him feel angry. Armstong said he would be stopped, and has even had guns drawn on him, for looking like somebody authorities wanted.
“I never been pulled over or chased by them, anything, for committing a crime, never have. Mine is just they see you, racial profiling,” Armstrong said.
Despite his experiences, Armstrong said he doesn’t believe most cops or deputies are racist, but he feels there is a systemic problem, especially in areas like his community, that for years have been plagued with gun violence and gangs.
He also doesn’t believe Sheriff’s deputies tried to stop Kizzee riding on his bicycle for a vehicle code violation, as explained by the department.
Homicide bureau chief Kent Wagener said in a press conference Thursday that Kizzee was riding his bike on the wrong side of the street. He couldn’t name the exact vehicle code that action violated, but said Kizzee was splitting traffic.
The department also revealed videos from Kizzee’s cell phone showing him days before the shooting filming the 9mm handgun in his pocket that deputies claim he pointed at them.
“Come on, ain’t nobody stopped for a traffic violation on a bicycle. Come on. That’s not true. I bet they were looking for weapons,” Armstrong said.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said his deputies do not racially profile, but they do “criminally profile.”
At the press conference he showed statistics of violent crime for 2020 in the area of Westmont, which included 12 homicides in a 1-mile radius, 163 assaults with a deadly weapon, and 115 arrests of people with handguns. He said citizens there are living in a war zone.
“This should give you a very clear idea of what we do and why we do it. We’re trying to save lives. Plain and simple. We’re not out there terrorizing. We’re not out there racially profiling. We’re not engaged in systemic racism of any kind. We’re trying to keep people alive,” Sheriff Villanueva said.
Villanueva went on to say that most people, if encountered by deputies, stop and cooperate, and suggested that if Kizzee hadn’t run from deputies, the situation may not have escalated.
He said in an area as dangerous as Westmont, his deputies are always on alert, even for minor violations.
“If something looks like it’s out of place, or wrong, that’s what elevates deputies’ curiosity. They’re trained to be proactive, in the right way,” Sheriff Villanueva said.
As for Armstrong, he said his community is reeling not just in the wake of Kizzee’s death, but also the ambush attack of two Compton Sheriff’s deputies last weekend, an act Armstrong called appalling.
He feels the only way progress will be made in the relationship between law enforcement and residents is for both sides to come together and try to understand each other’s struggles and backgrounds.
“I always have hope that it’s realistic. Because one day it’s going to happen. It is,” Armstrong said. “We just have to start from the bottom and work back.”