LA Sheriff to politicians: Emphasize trust in justice system

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This Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, still image taken from video released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, shows Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva taking questions at a late-night news conference about the condition of two Sheriff's deputies in Compton, Calif. Authorities searched Sunday for a gunman who shot and wounded two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies who were sitting in their squad car, an apparent ambush that drew an angry response from the president and sparked an anti-police protest outside the hospital where the deputies were being treated. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department via AP)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County sheriff on Monday criticized elected officials, sports figures and civic leaders for “fanning the flames of hatred” as America grapples with racism and police brutality, saying they instead should emphasize trust in the criminal justice system.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s comments to The Associated Press came after the weekend ambush of two deputies who were in their parked police vehicle when a man walked up to the passenger’s side and fired multiple rounds. The deputies were struck in the head and critically wounded but both are expected to recover, Villanueva said. The gunman hasn't been captured and a motive has not been determined.

The shooting occurred in Compton, one of the communities near South Los Angeles, an area with a large Black population that has long been a flashpoint for racial tension and mistrust of police. Hundreds marched Saturday to the Sheriff’s Department South LA station to protest the fatal shootings of a Black man on Aug. 31 and a Black teenager in 2018.

Both were killed by deputies from the station, which is about 6 miles (9.66 kilometers) from where the deputies were targeted Saturday. After that shooting, a handful of protesters gathered outside the hospital where the deputies were treated and tried to block the emergency room entrance. Videos from the scene recorded protesters shouting expletives at police and at least one yell “I hope they ... die.”

Villanueva said the angry rhetoric is making deputies' work more difficult.

“They’re out there doing their job and yet we have people fanning the flames of hatred and just turning up the volume when we don’t need it. We need to be turning it down,” Villanueva said. “Particularly our elected officials and civic leaders and sports figures, they need to start emphasizing trust in the system, due process.”

Villanueva did not specify any particular people but many politicians and athletes have harshly criticized police and called for defunding departments in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white officer pressed a knee to his neck, and shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The NBA playoffs were delayed last month when Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and other stars supported the Milwaukee Bucks' decision not to play following Blake's shooting. U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka of Japan wore masks with the names of Black victims of violence throughout the tennis tournament.