As protests continued in the days after a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, some of the hundreds of people arrested in Los Angeles said they had broken no laws and never heard an order for them to disperse.
Several said they had inadvertently marched into tight areas where they became easy marks for arrest.
Los Angeles police arrested more than 300 people over three days, most on suspicion of unlawful assembly. They made 145 arrests Wednesday night alone, according to Cmdr. Andrew Smith.
“We were a little surprised” at the number of arrests, he said, “and, frankly, a little disappointed. All our actions are predicated on the behavior of the crowd. My understanding is that they gave multiple dispersal orders.”
Nevertheless, he said, protesters simply moved down the street to “continue the behavior that we consider unlawful” such as “blocking streets, banging on cars.”
A freelance journalist among Wednesday night’s crowd of protesters had a different version of the night’s events. As for dispersal orders, Jasmyne Cannick said she heard “zip, zero.”
“For them to try to toe that line and say that the group knew there was a dispersal order, that’s BS,” she said. “There’s no way for everybody to know when the group is picking up people as they go.”
Cannick said she blended into a crowd of protesters Wednesday night as they reached 7th and Figueroa streets, the group swelling to several hundred. As the protesters moved forward, those in the front of the pack tried to outmaneuver police officers, slinking through the alleyways and side streets of downtown L.A.
But within an hour, the most feverish of the protesters on the front lines had scattered, leaving behind a gathering of mostly college students, a few reporters and one man seeking an easy route back to his hotel. They were boxed into a cul-de-sac near 6th and Hope streets.
“I was waiting for the dispersal warning, thinking, ‘OK, fine, I’m tired anyway,’” Cannick said. She never heard the order, she said, and she was arrested.
On Thursday, Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck ordered that all the protesters who had been jailed and had not yet posted bail be released in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
At the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown L.A., a gaggle of protesters, friends and family awaited the release of those still being held. A pair of bail bondsmen lingered, offering their cards and services. To their chagrin, protesters were released without bail, as per Beck’s orders.
Protesters who were interviewed repeated that they had not heard any orders to disperse and were taken by surprise when they were arrested. Some said they were guided into areas by police only to be surrounded, then arrested.
Charmaine Chua, 29, of Los Angeles spent the night in jail in Van Nuys and Thursday morning was in downtown L.A. to await the release of a friend also arrested the night before.
Chua said protesters had marched to sites including the federal courthouse, LAPD headquarters and the county jail before being stopped at Figueroa and 7th streets.
There, she said, police boxed the crowd in and began making arrests without having given an order to disperse. She said demonstrators were taken completely by surprise.
She was “penned in,” she said, and her hands zip-tied before demonstrators were loaded onto buses. Chua was taken to the detention center in Van Nuys with dozens of other women. She was booked for failure to disperse.
“We were made an example of,” Chua said. “The LAPD set out and intended to arrest us.”
Now, Chua said, she is “even more determined to keep organizing, and keep showing that the system that we live in is broken.”
Marcos Mata, 23, of Los Angeles, spent the night in a holding cell at the 77th Street regional jail. He called the arrests an overreaction. Protesters were marching and chanting and generally well behaved, he said.
“It was completely unnecessary. The only crime I saw was maybe jaywalking. Nobody was breaking windows, there was nothing serious going on.”