In L.A., anatomy of a protest in wake of Ferguson decision

In L.A., anatomy of a protest in wake of Ferguson decision
Protesters make their way up onto the 110 Freeway on Monday night after a Missouri grand jury refused to indict a police officer in the slaying of an unarmed man. (Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times)

The protests in Los Angeles on Monday night over the decision in Missouri not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown offered a window into the tactics of both demonstrators and police. Below is a review of the two biggest flashpoints of the night for protesters as they tried to bring attention to their cause and Los Angeles police officers as they tried to keep the peace. The moment for protesters came when they took their march onto a major Los Angeles freeway. For the LAPD, it was the decision to safely disperse a crowd that officers believed was getting unruly.



The moment: 11:20 p.m.

The location: 110 Freeway

The background: Hundreds of protesters marched from Leimert Park through the city toward downtown, chanting for justice. As protesters moved along Pico Boulevard about 11 p.m., some suggested climbing onto the freeway, but the crowd didn't follow. Earlier that night, another group of demonstrators had briefly gotten onto the 10 Freeway at La Brea Avenue before being pushed back by California Highway Patrol officers. In Oakland, demonstrators managed to close the 580 Freeway.

The CHP was guarding the entrances and exits to freeways near the protests.

The tactic: The demonstration kept moving along Pico Boulevard. As the crowd walked past LA Live Way, a group of protesters pushed down a chain-link fence, climbed a dirt hill and walked onto the 110 Freeway.

More than 100 men and women spilled onto the highway's northbound lanes, where they unfurled a sign using an expletive to express their feelings about police. With suddenly blinkered red tail lights, traffic came to a stop. "No justice, no peace. No racist police!" the crowd shouted. In front of them, traffic began to conga-line into the distance.

From the opposite side of the freeway, in the southbound lanes where other demonstrators gathered, police sirens wailed. Some of the protesters sat down, holding up their hands before a growing number of police cars. Others lay down on the northbound side — a freeway sign reading "All Downtown Exits" looming high behind them. More than 30 police officers in riot gear surrounded the protesters. A California Highway Patrol captain announced that the gathering had been declared an unlawful assembly. The rest of his words were drowned out by an angry chorus of profanity.

"Get off the freeway, please," an officer told the crowd.

"Don't let them box us in," a protester shouted in response.

Slowly, the line of police moved forward, forcing the protesters back on the hill they had used to climb up to the freeway. Someone threw a beer bottle at the officers. Many of the demonstrators made their way back onto Pico Boulevard and urged the crowd to walk to downtown L.A. Some stayed on top of the hill by the freeway, yelling at officers, before eventually leaving.


The moment: Midnight

The location: Pico Boulevard

The background: For hours Monday night, police watched as more than 200 demonstrators marched along city streets .


Officers on motorcycles blocked South L.A. roads so the crowd could march past traffic. The crowd was mostly peaceful, though aggression occasionally flared. Some protesters hurled insults at officers, yelling in their faces. Others threw water bottles and trash. "You are all Darren Wilsons," one person screamed at police. Officers did not react.

But shortly after midnight came a turning point. Dozens of demonstrators had just been moved from the 110 Freeway, where they had briefly blocked traffic, and had gathered underneath the highway on Pico Boulevard. Police declared the group an unlawful assembly. A police helicopter hovering overhead told protesters they had five minutes to clear the area as riot gear-wearing officers formed a line under a freeway overpass. Some protesters linked arms. Others put their hands up. Five minutes ticked by, but the crowd remained.

The tactic: At that point, an LAPD commander approved the use of non-lethal force to disperse the protesters. A specially trained officer fired a black foam bullet into the ground — per department protocol — and protesters ran.

Another round was fired. Then the crowd stopped, with some people moving back toward police. Four other rounds were fired as the protesters scattered. The noise sent protesters running. Jasmine Richards, of Pasadena, said one round ricocheted off the ground and struck her in the leg. She hiked up her pants to reveal a tennis ball-sized mark on her left thigh.

The technique of firing less-lethal rounds into the ground is "generally used when a crowd is not dispersing," said LAPD Det. Meghan Aguilar, a department spokeswoman. Officers are trained to skip the foam rounds off the ground, to avoid directly striking civilians.

"It is designed to gain some compliance," Aguilar said. "But the intention is not to create injury."

LAPD officers arrested three people as part of the demonstrations Monday night. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the arrests came in front of the department's downtown headquarters, where a smaller group of people scuffled with police. Overall, the chief said he was pleased by the generally peaceful nature of the protests and the discipline his officers showed.

"I am extremely proud of the people of Los Angeles and of my police officers, who showed great restraint and kept their cool under tough circumstances," he said.

Times staff writers Ruben Vives and Angel Jennings contributed to this report.