Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to rail against the Trump administration and its policies, but the march was nothing like the huge demonstrations held across the country after last year’s presidential election.
The group Refuse Fascism called for protests against Trump in several major cities on Saturday, including New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
Some were concerned Saturday’s rally and march — just days before the anniversary of Trump’s victory — would mirror the large, rowdy protests that followed Trump’s election and inauguration. But Los Angeles police recorded just two arrests Saturday as a crowd of roughly 400 demonstrators marched from Pershing Square, through the jewelry district and past Grand Central Market, said Asst. Chief Michel Moore. The group began dispersing around 4:30 p.m.
A few dozen supporters of President Trump arrived at Pershing Square about 12:30 p.m. to challenge the demonstrators, but LAPD officers on bicycles quickly formed lines to separate the groups, reducing any potential physical confrontation. The Trump supporters did not obtain a permit, but LAPD allowed them to march in the opposite direction of the Refuse Fascism protesters, Moore said.
One anti-Trump demonstrator who repeatedly tried to get around police lines and threatened violence against the president’s supporters was arrested shortly before 2 p.m., Moore said. The man “battered” one of Trump’s supporters, Moore said, but the victim did not want to press charges. A second person was arrested for refusing to stay within the designated march area, Moore said.
Perry Hoberman, an associate research professor at USC who helped organize the protest, said the date of the march was chosen in part to coincide with the anniversary of Trump’s Nov. 8, 2016, election victory. He hoped the event would energize others to stand up to what he sees as the administration’s racist and divisive policies.
“There’s clearly this process of fatigue and normalization,” he said. “On the one hand, you almost get used to what they are doing.”
About two dozen Trump supporters near 5th and Hill streets voiced support for the far-right media outlet InfoWars and opposition to communism while waving American flags.
“You’re on the side of evil,” yelled one Trump supporter holding a bullhorn. “We are on the side of good.”
After a few heated exchanges, most of the anti-Trump demonstrators began ignoring the crowd, which resorted to occasionally arguing with pedestrians who were annoyed by their presence. Moore estimated the size of the pro-Trump crowd at between 100 and 150, but there appeared to be less than 25 people standing outside of a Starbucks near Pershing Square.
Dressed in a costume resembling the Statue of Liberty, Alisa Davies said she would have felt “complicit” in what she sees as Trump’s incompetent and rash decision-making if she didn’t take part in the protest.
”You could literally reach into a bag of reasons he could be impeached,” said Davies, 47, of West Hills.
An increased police presence was visible throughout downtown on Saturday morning, with groups of officers on several streets adjacent to Pershing Square. Moore said there were several hundred officers downtown, and the department plans to remain vigilant throughout the night. Officers will also be deployed to keep tabs on the annual Million Mask March organized by the group Anonymous on Sunday, he said.
The event was promoted by the group Refuse Fascism using the hashtag #Nov4ItBegins, which Hoberman denied was a call for violence. He said figures on the extreme right had deliberately misinterpreted the hashtag to portray the protest as the beginning of a “civil war.”
“The right has used the fact that it’s not specific to fill in the blanks with whatever they want,” Hoberman said.
The event comes days before the one-year anniversary of Trump’s surprise election night victory, which sparked a week of demonstrations that spread across downtown, into Westlake and onto the 101 Freeway at times last year.
L.A. police arrested 462 people during five days of demonstrations that were disruptive, but largely nonviolent, drawing condemnation from civil liberties groups who said the department’s tactics were overly aggressive and could stifle free speech at future events.
The department’s arrest tally far outpaced those in other major cities that saw unrest, including Oakland and Portland, Ore.
Saturday’s demonstrations were also the first test for a controversial new ordinance approved by the City Council earlier in the week. The ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Mitchell Englander, prohibits a wide array of items from being carried at demonstrations, including some weapons that are already illegal to possess in public such as swords and martial arts devices.
Protesters were also banned from carrying pepper spray, baseball bats, glass bottles, stun guns and other potentially dangerous items in the wake of clashes in Berkeley, Charlottesville, Va., and other cities.
The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the ordinance, arguing that it criminalizes the possession of items that are otherwise legal to carry outside the context of political speech, and that it limits speech by restricting the kinds of sign-making materials that can be used during marches.