In anticipation of massive anti-abortion demonstrations later this month, the City Council on Wednesday grilled Los Angeles police officials over their low-key handling of disturbances at area women’s clinics last month and demanded that the department toughen its enforcement of trespassing laws during sit-ins by Operation Rescue.
Although hundreds of protesters with Operation Rescue effectively closed two clinics on Pico Boulevard in February, police made no arrests, and City Council members on Wednesday blasted LAPD Cmdr. John White for what they perceived as a double standard in enforcing trespassing laws.
“We’re talking about different standards here,” said Councilwoman Gloria Molina.
“Whether it’s Mexican day workers or abortion protesters, there cannot be any difference” in enforcing trespassing laws, said Molina. She referred to police arrests of day workers after complaints from area businesses.
As another example, when downtown business operators complained about homeless people blocking entrances to their stores, “the police came in and took care of it,” said Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.
Still, White told the council that there would be no automatic arrests of protesters blocking entrances to women’s clinics and harassing patients.
At last month’s protest, one patient was injured as she attempted to get through the crowd. Nationwide, more than 7,000 Operation Rescue protesters have been arrested at demonstrations similar to those in Los Angeles.
Operation Rescue officials have vowed to descend on Los Angeles area family planning clinics March 22 through 25.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter granted an American Civil Liberties Union request for a temporary restraining order to keep protesters from blocking entrances and demonstrating closer than 15 feet from clinic entrances and exits. Because the protesters have ignored similar orders in demonstrations in several other cities, ACLU attorney Carol Soble said when Hatter issued his order that its effectiveness would depend on police enforcement.
Ready for Trouble
White assured the council the police will be ready for trouble. “The Emergency Operations Center will be activated,” he said. “Metropolitan Division will have four platoons (160 officers) on standby. We’ll have our maximum uniform deployment.”
But White also told the council that clinic operators would have to specifically request that demonstrators be removed, or make citizens’ arrests on their own.
Under heated questioning by council members who wanted to know why the police had not done more to defend the clinics last month, White said officials at those clinics did not request assistance. But Planned Parenthood officials said police discouraged clinic operators from seeking their help.
Several City Council members are demanding a meeting with Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.
“This issue needs to be addressed and addressed from the top,” said Yaroslavsky, who has been joined by Councilmen Richard Alatorre and Michael Woo in requesting the meeting with Gates.
Although they were assured by White that the LAPD’s policy is uniform, the council voted 11-0 for a Molina motion directing the LAPD to use the same policy in all trespassing cases.