Mayor Eric Garcetti was forced to halt a speech Monday at USC after demonstrators began shouting at him and criticizing his approach to the city’s homelessness crisis, the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of force and other issues.
Garcetti was less than a minute into his address in front of an audience of about 350 people at USC’s Bovard Auditorium when he was interrupted by a series of protesters.
The mayor had planned to deliver the keynote speech at an event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The first man to speak accused Garcetti of trying to suppress the formation of a skid row neighborhood council, which the mayor denied. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” the protester shouted.
Moments later, another demonstrator stood up and accused the city of throwing away homeless people’s belongings, including medicine and personal documents, during tent sweeps.
As he spoke, protesters quietly started singing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” but with the verses, “You better watch out, you better not cry, Eric Garcetti is telling us lies, human rights violations happening now.”
The demonstration was organized by groups including the Los Angeles Community Action Network and the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, both of which regularly criticize Garcetti’s policies on homelessness and the LAPD.
Garcetti responded to each protester’s complaint and tried to move on, but each time, another person stood up and lobbed a new criticism at the mayor.
“Do you respect 1st Amendment rights, do you?” Garcetti said to a protester who talked over him, refusing to let the mayor reply.
At one point, many in the audience applauded in a show of support for the mayor.
As more protesters stood up, an announcement over a loudspeaker urged people to return to their seats so that Garcetti’s speech could continue.
But the demonstration went on. Los Angeles is a city “where real estate interests displace entire communities of color,” one man shouted at Garcetti. Another man criticized the LAPD for the number of people killed by officers.
After nearly 20 minutes, an event organizer walked to the stage and thanked the mayor, who left without delivering his speech. Some people gave Garcetti a standing ovation as he exited.
After the event, Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar called it “unfortunate” that a “very small group of people denied the audience an opportunity to hear [Garcetti’s] remarks — but he respects the 1st Amendment rights of all people who want to make their voices heard on issues that they care deeply about.”
Steve Diaz, an organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network, said his group wants homeless housing to be built faster and for the city to stop the police sweeps of homeless camps.
After the event, some USC students expressed support for both the protesters and how Garcetti handled the disruption.
“I’m new to L.A., just got here a few months ago, and I don’t know what’s going on in terms of [homelessness] policy, “ said Danielle Serota, 21. “But it definitely inspired me to look more into it.”