Los Angeles police converge on peaceful Black Lives Matter protest at mayor’s house
Los Angeles police on Sunday clashed with protesters outside Mayor Eric Garcetti’s official residence, leading to one arrest and a skirmish with baton-wielding officers that several elected officials later denounced as police brutality and a violation of demonstrators’ free speech rights.
Video footage on social media platforms showed at least one officer swinging a baton repeatedly at protesters, one of whom shielded himself with a cooking pan. A woman used a water bottle to stave off a blow.
Officers arrested Jamie Penn, the Sub-District 3 representative for the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council, on a charge of “lynching,” an outdated term for trying to remove someone from police custody that was officially dropped from the law. Penn was released later in the day.
The demonstrations, organized by Black Lives Matter, have been going on for 13 consecutive days at the Getty House, Garcetti’s Windsor Square residence, with the aim of dissuading the incoming Biden administration from appointing Garcetti to any federal post.
The LAPD said officers converged on the assembly because a protester with a bullhorn had violated an L.A. municipal code against producing sounds that carried more than 200 feet.
“After multiple warnings, four officers attempted to make an arrest for the above violation when the crowd moved in on the officers, punching, pushing and kicking,” Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman, said in a statement. “Officers used their baton to prevent the crowd from forcefully attempting to remove the suspect from police custody. However, the suspect ultimately got away.”
Spell said the crowd’s “physical response against the officers” resulted in an “officer needs help” call, and an unlawful assembly was declared. One officer sustained a possible concussion when his head struck the ground, Spell said.
Spell said in an interview Sunday evening that his statement was based on preliminary information and that officers for several days had been warning the group about using “amplified sound.”
Penn said she was serving as a street medic at the protest and helping with traffic control. She said she was surprised when she was arrested because at the time, she was attempting to keep an older protester from being trampled as people ran from officers.
“All I know is I was just trying to keep people safe,” Penn said.
Black Lives Matters organizers said the protesters were given no warning before several officers advanced on the group.
“They did not send four people,” said Akili, a 72-year-old Black Lives Matter L.A. organizer. “They lined up, blocked the street at 6th and Irving. There were two lines of police in an L shape — one on Irving, and the other on 6th Street — and they moved in a scrimmage formation against us ... anywhere between 20 to 25 officers.”
Akili said that since Nov. 23, the group has held “loud and peaceful” protests. On Saturday, they held a “youth day” protest, and children and teenagers from the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles Youth Vanguard team spoke. On another day, religious leaders prayed with the group, Akili said. Participants are required to wear face coverings and spread out, he added.
Akili said the LAPD’s response was “overkill” because the officers had been there for days and knew from past practice that the group would make speeches and be gone after a few hours.
“If it’s allowing us to express our 1st Amendment right, and you have a minor infraction, what’s more important — the exercising of the right or the minor infraction?” Akili said.
LAPD policy says batons can be used to push protesters in a crowd-control setting when they do not listen to oral commands. It says that batons also can be used as an “impact device,” but only if a crowd or an individual is “threatening or violent in nature.”
“They’re trained to swing in a way that’s going to back people away from them,” Spell said in an interview. “That’s been part of the crowd-control training provided for quite some time.”
Spell added that he’d seen only a short portion of the video but that it “doesn’t describe the whole picture, obviously.” The LAPD will review all video from the incident, he added.
The new video mirrored footage taken at protests this summer, when mass demonstrations devolved into chaos and police and protesters repeatedly clashed along skirmish lines.
LAPD officials have said they are reviewing the summer events and will be releasing a report on how officers handled them. The department also faces a lawsuit filed by the National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles and Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.
As news of the officers’ actions at the Sunday morning protest spread, public officials began speaking out.
Activists listed the phone numbers for L.A. City Councilman David Ryu, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) and state Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) on social media and asked the politicians to “denounce” the LAPD’s action.
Both Gomez and Santiago responded on Twitter.
“Peaceful protesters deserve the space and protections to make their voices heard. Anything short of that is NOT acceptable,” Gomez said. “No exceptions. No excuses.”
“LAPD’s brutal actions this morning are unacceptable and must be denounced by everyone,” Santiago wrote. “I stand w/ you in denouncing police brutality demanding the immediate release of Jamie!”
Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) also weighed in. “I urge LAPD to restrain from use of force, practice de-escalation tactics and ultimately, protect the public. Peaceful protests should not lead to police in riot gear making arrests amid COVID-19.”
Carrillo also questioned whether Penn, as a transgender woman, had been detained and transferred appropriately.
Later Sunday, more than 100 people gathered at the Getty House to protest the pandemic “lockdown” restrictions, including mask-wearing and the 10 p.m. curfew. The group Save California has organized multiple protests at the official mayoral residence and the home of L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
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