The Occupy Los Angeles encampment, which has been inhabiting the lawns of City Hall in Downtown Los Angeles for the past two months, was evicted in the early hours of November 30, when approximately 1,400 LAPD police officers stormed out of City Hall, surrounded the encampment and arrested the remaining occupants.
Mayor Villaraigosa had initially set the eviction deadline for 12:01 a.m. Monday, November 28, but an influx of nearly 2,000 supporters on that night caused city officials to hold off on enforcing the eviction orders in the hope that protesters would disperse on their own.
I was present for the November 28 standoff with the LAPD and for the eviction on November 30 and what struck me the most about the mainstream media accounts of the actual eviction were the differences between my own experience and those of the people I knew, who were there, and the accounts of the media.
In hindsight, I realized that the November 28 standoff was more of a “recon mission” than an actual threat of eviction. It was the perfect opportunity for the LAPD to pose a threat and observe the protesters’ reactions. All of us fell for it – hook, line and sinker. During the eviction I was able to witness what the LAPD had learned from the standoff the day before and the plans they put into action based on those observations.
The actual eviction began shortly after midnight on November 30. Up until then, the LAPD kept the visible police presence to a minimum with only a line of officers guarding the front of the police station on Main and First, across from the encampment.
Just before midnight, a line of officers, wearing black and white helmets and sporting batons, appeared on the south side of the First and Main intersection. A diversion. The LAPD had learned from the standoff, that if they presented a line of officers, in this case across the street from the encampment, that the protesters would rush to confront them (verbally), thus dividing the crowd between those remaining in the encampment and those in the streets. It worked.
A few minutes after the appearance of that line of officers, in a swift and surprise attack, approximately 1,400 officers rushed out of City Hall, kicking over tents and brandishing their batons, and surrounded the camp, thus locking out those who were in the streets and locking in those who remained in the camp.
The people who were in the street were immediately pushed back to the far sides of the intersections on either side of the camp, where lines of officers kept them at bay. Inside the encampment, the officers formed two inner circles – one surrounding the group of protesters who were in the center of the park, and another one around the outer perimeter of the park’s center. Officers lined all the walkways leading into the park and a final circle was formed at the outside perimeter of the park.
They came fast, hard and in full force. They greatly out numbered the protesters – there were approximately four officers for every one protester. The first wave came out of City Hall pushing over people and kicking over tents in their path with batons at the ready.
The first arrest I witnessed took place maybe 45 minutes after the onset of the raid. I was standing outside the inner circle, with a line of officers separating me from the protesters on the inside. A young man to my left was standing next to me with his girlfriend, holding up his cell phone (presumably collecting video) in one hand and a peace sign with his other hand. Without any provocation, two officers suddenly grabbed him and dragged him out of the crowd, pinning him down and cuffing him. Three officers then carried him away with his girlfriend (who was later arrested) crying and calling after him.
And so it began. Arrest after arrest was made. Approximately 300 protesters were arrested that night and loaded on to LAPD buses where that sat for as long as seven hours with their hands tightly bound, unable to move or go to the bathroom. After talking to some of the arrestees after the eviction, I learned that some of those arrested passed out or lost feeling in their arms and hands from the cuffs being too tight, others became ill and were vomiting from the pressure points used by the officers when they were removing the protesters, and several were forced to go to the bathroom, on the buses, where they sat.
All in all, in comparison to some of the other evictions which have taken place across the country, namely Oakland and New York, the OccupyLA eviction was executed with significantly less violence, but it wasn’t without brutality of one form or another. Realistically, the encampments were going to have to come to a close at some point, but I can’t say I am in total agreement with the way they came to a close.
As a journalist, my biggest concern or gripe with the OccupyLA eviction was the blatant muzzling of the press during the actual event. Journalists were restricted, not only in number, but in the access they were given and how they were allowed to transmit their information. Mayor Villaraigosa and the LAPD trampled the First Amendment that night without remorse and without justification. In doing so, their actions were absent of integrity or transparency and they succeeded in minimizing the accountability of, not only the officers, but of the protesters as well. It was a show of blatant disrespect for the truth and for the public’s right to know the truth, whatever it may be.