How the LAPD broke the law and you were denied the truth


An officer with no visible name tag jabs a protester being directed away from City Hall. After this photograph the officer swung his baton at my camera, hitting my hand instead. Photo Credit: Ken Scarboro / Editor in chief

Ken Scarboro

An officer with no visible name tag jabs a protester being directed away from City Hall. After this photograph the officer swung his baton at my camera, hitting my hand instead. Photo Credit: Ken Scarboro / Editor in chief

During the raid on Occupy LA the Los Angeles Police Department broke California law and Mayor Villaraigosa called it “perhaps one of the finest moments in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department.”

An initial standoff between protesters and police started the night of Nov. 27 and continued to just before rush hour the next morning. Villaraigosa’s announcement of the eviction Nov. 28 at 12:01 a.m. brought thousands of protesters and hundreds of journalists to the area around City Hall.  Protesters and police handled themselves extraordinarily well the night of the first standoff, which ended in a continued occupation of City Hall park. I witnessed only one incident of physical exchange between police and protesters.

On the night of Nov. 29, and into the morning of Nov. 30, LAPD evicted the 60-day-old Occupy L.A. tent city from the lawn around City Hall.

Before the real eviction took place, LAPD held a last minute conference with media to discuss the what media would be allowed in when police evicted the Occupy LA encampment.  LAPD  originally planned to let in one media outlet from each medium (print, radio, television) into the camp while police made arrests. They later decided on three outlets from the chosen media.  LAPD would block all other media, under threat of arrest, from City Hall when they evicted protesters.

How LAPD broke California Penal Code

California Penal Code Section 409.5 reads that any law enforcement or public safety agency may close down an area in the case of natural disaster, riot, civil disobedience and some other cases.  However, Subdivision (d) of Section 409.5 reads:

(d) Nothing in this section shall prevent a duly authorized representative of any news service, newspaper, or radio or television station or network from entering the areas closed pursuant to this section. (Emphasis added)

By limiting what media outlets would be allowed in during the eviction the LAPD blatantly ignored California law.  LAPD ensured that the story told about the night of the raid was the story they wanted people to hear.

Not surprisingly, after the the raid all mainstream media reports were of how peacefully and respectfully LAPD and protesters handled themselves. For the most part LAPD did show great restraint.

Not in numbers – 1,400 officers were used to evict hundreds of protesters – but they did refrain from using tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and other less-lethal methods. Bean-bags were used selectively to remove remaining occupiers from their tree house.

While LAPD held back on their technology, and many officers held themselves back physically, there were those who took the moments of chaos during the raid as a cue to let out some aggression.

Decreased access equals decreased accountability

I witnessed a different story while photographing the eviction of Occupy L.A.

When police rushed out of city hall into the park to begin circling around groups of protesters, I worked my way into the center of the park where a group of occupiers set up a tent and sat around it with linked arms. Moving toward the center I saw many officers kicking over trash cans, tearing down tents and pop-up shelters, and pushing and striking protesters with their batons.

After the initial scuffle of trying to get officers into place, there were no incidents and protesters, police and media braced for the next step.  LAPD began giving warnings to protesters that the gathering had been declared an unlawful assembly and they were instructed to leave the area or face arrest or “other police action.”

Police then issued the same warning to all media in the area.  As the last warning for media was given, I found an officer escorting media out of the area, and I followed them out of the park.  What happened as arrests were made I cannot say, and other reports are fuzzy because LAPD parked buses along First Street blocking the view of the media pen in front of police headquarters.

The area protesters, independent media and myself were directed to after exiting the park was a courtyard of the Information Technology Agency, well out of view of City Hall and elevated above Temple Street.  Police formed a line blocking us from City Hall, then began to march forward, forcing us farther away from the scene.

Police then directed us down a flight of stairs to street level. After most of the protesters and independent media made it down, police began pushing and shoving people down the stairs.  One woman fell and they just kept shoving her down the steps.

Some police, in a line to greet us on Temple Street, then began striking and jabbing protesters with their batons. One officer, with no visible name tag or badge number, swung for my camera with his baton, but hit my hand instead.  An L.A. Times editorial stated that, according to police, batons were brandished but not used to strike people.

A successful resolution

Villaraigosa successfully removed the occupation from his front lawn and LAPD successfully avoided another black mark on their long history of police brutality against demonstrators and press.

The Occupy movement in Los Angeles is already moving forward as well, much like the nationwide occupations that have been removed from their physical spaces but continue to demonstrate against corporate and political greed.

There are two great travesties that have come from the raid on the Occupy L.A. encampment, however.  First, the LAPD blockaded open media coverage of an event which we are granted access to by law, and thus successfully covered themselves from any real accountability.
The second comes up from one of our most frequent online commenters.

David the small-L libertarian writes, “Blame it on the ‘brutal’ police, as usual.  The city handled these people with kid gloves. When you defy lawful orders don’t be surprised if you get arrested.”

David the small-L makes many keen points and observations regularly, but what disturbs me the most is the normalizing of any violence, even with “kid gloves,” against U.S. citizens exercising their first amendment rights to peaceful assembly and a redress of grievances.

Allowing this lack of accountability to go unchallenged and raising the bar for acceptable violence against protesters will send us down a slippery path that people on both sides of the aisle will regret the outcome.