Woman in a Red Beret: 1988 Home Movie Shows Possible Police Shooting

police kill 1988

As a historical researcher constantly on the make for video and/or images that afford a rare non-commercial glimpse back at arcade games and the real “arcade scene” of the 70’s and 80s, I often use YouTube to peruse people’s vintage home videos. I’ve found a lot of fresh and never-before-seen images of the early days of the arcade craze that way; and since I have to muddle through watching a ton of things unrelated to what I’m actually looking for just to get one glimpse of an old arcade or a rare game, I also often stumble upon some strange things; i.e. drug use, creepy commentary, bad hair, really ugly prom dresses and the usual candid and/or stoned confessions someone made 30+ years ago on VHS, unaware it would resurface later for all to see.

But what I stumbled upon today wasn’t as “strange” and it was unnerving. I saw what looks like a possible police shooting of a citizen who had her hands on her head, seemingly in compliance with LAPD.  What I saw has haunted me all day as well as the Janet Jackson song added to the mix, making the tone of the footage surreal at best.

CUE: 4:12: Scene begins with three black males being detained by LAPD on a sidewalk, then at 4:20 the incident with the woman in the red beret unfolds:

The year is around 1988 judging by business names on the sides of buildings and entertainment billboards.

The location is Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox, Los Angeles, CA.

The victim appears to be a black female, approximately 30 years of age, wearing a denim skirt, white pullover shirt, dark colored flight jacket, sneakers and a red beret. Her hair is shoulder length and tied at the nape of her neck in a ponytail.

Sometime in the early months of 1988, a man with a VHS camcorder filmed this footage in and around Los Angeles for reasons unknown. The video was uploaded to YouTube in 2013. But what is captured here is curious in that we see police instruct the woman to comply, watch her place her hands on her head, then lower them as she speaks to the officer pointing his gun at her, reacts to something by cringing, and then the film has a curious edit (missing segment) where we see her laying on the ground, her hands loosely laying close to her side. A man emerges from the right, complies with police by getting on his knees and is taken into custody. The police never approach the woman in the clip as she lays motionless on the ground. Was she shot? If so, who shot her? I don’t know.

That this segment of video was filmed around late Winter/early Spring in 1988 struck me and elevated my interest for a very good reason.

In Los Angeles, on January 31, 1988, Karen Toshima, a 27-year old graphic artist, was killed by a stray bullet when rival gangs opened fire on each other in Westwood Village, in West Los Angeles. Her death caused a sensation in the city and police accelerated shakedowns of gangs or anyone who looked like they might be affiliated with one, beginning in February of that year. Thus emerged one of Los Angeles’ most notable periods of documented police brutality on black civilians, a period that culminated to a fever pitch with the taped beating of Rodney King in 1991.

To be be absolutely honest, I don’t know what I’m looking at here. I don’t know why a woman ended up laying in the street in what seems to be an unconscious state. I’ve watched this clip over 50 times today, slowing it down to a crawl, noting every detail, mapping the exact location of the event by researching the businesses names that appear in the video. I don’t believe this is a commercial film set although it may be. What keeps going through my mind, though, is that perhaps this is vintage footage of a shakedown by police that went terribly wrong.

I have so many questions about this clip, ones that won’t go away. But what I really want to know is:

Who is the woman in the red beret?
I’d really like to know what happened to her.

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