LOS ANGELES – After three nights of violent protests, calm mainly prevailed over a gritty neighborhood where police fatally shot an illegal immigrant from Guatemala who was menacing officers with a knife.
About a hundred residents took to the streets for the fourth night in a row Thursday, but no violence erupted. Instead the crowd lit prayer candles in memory of Manuel Jaminez and dropped money in a collection box to help his family in Guatemala.
Some jeered at passing patrol cars, but there was no hurling of eggs, bottles and rocks that was seen earlier in the week.
For many in the poor immigrant community, the shooting of Jaminez was the last straw. Amid the poverty and chronic joblessness here, some residents say, officers mistreated them and were overly harsh in their enforcement of city ordinances.
"They are messing with people all the time," said Juan Lorenzo, a day laborer who knew Jaminez.
Lorenzo claimed that Officer Frank Hernandez, who the mayor hailed as a hero for shooting Jaminez, was disliked by many in the community because he would often ticket people for selling food on the street and would sometimes throw the food in the trash.
It wasn't immediately clear whether residents complained about police behavior to the LAPD.
Beyond complaints from several residents on Thursday about the police conduct, there were no easy answers to explain why the community reacted with such anger over the shooting.
The neighborhood just west of downtown is home to immigrants from Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America, where police corruption and violence leaves residents in fear and mistrustful of authority.
Chief Charlie Beck on Wednesday said a witness — a neighborhood resident who was not named — told three bicycle officers, including Hernandez, that a man with blood on his hands tried to stab her and a pregnant woman next to her.
As the woman ran away, she heard the officers telling the suspect to drop the knife, then she heard three or four shots, turned around and saw Jaminez on the sidewalk, Beck said. Police said Jaminez raised the knife above his head and lunged at Hernandez.
The 13-year veteran of the department shot Jaminez twice in the head, police said.
The crowd of 300 people exploded when they heard Beck recount the witness's account. Someone called out that the story sounded like it was made up in Hollywood.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday defended Hernandez's actions, saying he was a hero and it was "outrageous" that angry residents called Beck a "murderer" at the community meeting.
Beck and other officials say outside radical groups, including the Revolutionary Communist Party, are provoking the protests.
Tomas Gomez, the brother-in-law of Jaminez, said his relative came from a tiny hamlet in the rugged mountainous region of western Guatemala, the province of Solola, where he was married and had three young sons, the oldest of whom is eight.
Gomez said life was a struggle for Jaminez and his family, whose native language is Quiche, one of about 20 Mayan dialects spoken in Guatemala. He only spoke a little Spanish and no English.
"They didn't have enough to eat," Gomez said.
Gomez said Jaminez was not aggressive or violent. He had never seen him with a knife. He said he believes the police are inventing the story about the knife to justify killing him.
"That's a falsehood by the police," he said.
Associated Press Writer Christina Hoag in Los Angeles and Juan Carlos Llorca in Guatemala contributed to this report.