L.A. Meltdown: Councilman Mike Bonin turns his back on a mentally disturbed homeless man playing with fire (video below)

Bonin’s lack of leadership was on display last night on the streets of CD11

DEL REY (October 15, 2019) Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin and one of his staffers stand by as a mentally ill homeless man lights a fire. Photograph by Travis Binen.

What was billed as a community walking tour of Councilman Mike Bonin’s latest planned road diet, this one on Centinela Avenue, took a bizarre and ultimately tragic turn last night as the tour group encountered a homeless man playing with fire on a streed median. The man, who clearly was mentally disturbed, sat amidst dead grass and his own (flammable) belongings a few yards from the Culver Boulevard bike path.

He lit what appeared to be a ceremonial flame, coaxing it like Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar at Woodstock. Then, as the Councilman approached, the man poured accelerant on the fire, causing it to flare up. Mr. Bonin walked over to the scene and stood awkwardly for about 20 seconds, watching the flames as the man rambled incoherently while brandishing a whiskey bottle. Despite the fact that he had a half dozen staff with him on the tour, despite the presence of a police station just across the street, Mr. Bonin turned his back on the man and walked away without saying a word much less doing anything. One staffer lingered, obviously concerned, until Mr. Bonin summoned him to the other side of the street to continue the tour. The homeless man kept playing with the fire.

DEL REY (October 15, 2019) A close-up of the homeless man pouring accelerant on his fire as Councilman Bonin watches. Photograph by Travis Binen.

Mr. Bonin could have shown leadership or empathy. He could have attempted to engage the man. He could have showed basic human decency by pausing the walking tour and requesting help for someone obviously in deep distress.

Instead, he couldn’t even be bothered to pull out his phone and call one of the dozen city agencies that could have helped. He didn’t call 911, or walk over to the police station across the street. He did nothing.

Click below for a video of the encounter. Here’s a link to the video on YouTube.

Mr. Bonin – who once was homeless himself – claims that the issue is paramount to his council tenure. He has boasted, “I made a promise to voters that I would not be a seat warmer or an empty suit — that I would actually tackle the real chronic problems in Los Angeles, and delve into them even if they were going to be tough ones that people generally shy away from because they’re difficult.”

Big words, yet when presented with a chance to help an actual homeless person in obvious distress on the streets of his own district, he was the one who shied away. He literally turned his back on one of the most vulnerable members of society, who was endangering himself and countless others. Then he went on to preen in front of a friendly audience in a safe auditorium a couple blocks away. It’s difficult to imagine an emptier suit.

This is the kind of man Mike Bonin is. He is the kind of person who represents Los Angeles these days. Let that sink in for a long, long minute. To call his actions – or rather, lack thereof – disgraceful doesn’t begin to cover it.

It’s hard to tell which was more callous: Mr. Bonin’s disregard for a homeless individual in obvious distress, or his apparent obliviousness to the threat to public safety.

Mr. Bonin’s cowardice not only endangered the man himself, it put the entire neighborhood at risk. According to a July investigation by KNBC at least 2,300 fires in the City of Los Angeles were attributable to homeless activity in 2018. Of course, those were just the ones that were recorded. As previously reported in these pages, the vast majority of homeless fires are put out by the homeless themselves. If there were 2,300 reported the actual number likely was several times as many.

Homeless fires in L.A. in 2018. Image courtesty of KNBC.

Who is to say the man on the median didn’t start fires elsewhere last night, or any night? Who can say he isn’t a disturbed firebug who does this all the time? Mr. Bonin certainly can’t say as much. Not that he cares: The homeless man, clearly in desperate need of help, submerged his hand in the flames multiple times (watch the video). And Mr. Bonin walked away. He walked away and summoned his staff to follow. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

Again, this is an elected official whose own brushes with homelessness he says makes him particularly sensitive to the issue. Who has said that he has “a sense of how easy it is to go from being housed to un-housed, and a sense of how easy it is to go from sort of teetering on the edge to falling into the abyss.”

Yet when confronted with someone who has plummeted into that very abyss, he walked away with his staff. When given a chance to intervene, intercede, do something, he turned his back in less than thirty seconds. He turned his back on the homeless man, and turned his back on us.

This is an elected official who has previously said, “I can’t accept the idea that there is an inextricable link between crime and homelessness. It is wrong, it is not backed up by the data, and it leads to bad policy.” Apparently arson no longer counts as a crime in CD11, even in the height of fire season.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Mr. Bonin’s district at the same time:

All in all it was just another evening in Mike Bonin’s paradise.

(10/17/19 Update: The man was still on the street three days later, this time wielding an enormous hunting knife.)

Photograph by Demetrios Mavromichalis.

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