On the Edge of Occupy L.A.: The Raid, The Spin and Court

Outside the Occupy L.A. perimeter on Tuesday evening | Photo by Tom Andrews
Outside the Occupy L.A. perimeter on Tuesday evening | Photo by Tom Andrews

As the inevitable raid on Occupy L.A. approached, I struggled with the question of my proper role. Should I lock arms and refuse to be removed from the heart of our two month old peaceable assembly, and therefore be arrested on political principle -- again?

I went back and forth on the question, considering the costs. I was already awaiting trial for my participation in the occupation of Bank of America's front porch two weeks before. Could I afford to be arrested again? Wouldn't I be subject to a higher bail amount and harsher punishment? How many days of work would I miss? Last time, my lady friend spent all night bailing me out -- do I want to put her through that again?

Despite these concerns, I might have been ready to take another stand on Sunday night when the raid was initially expected. But setting the timetable for the eviction operation was one of the many advantages held by the Mayor and Police over the Occupiers and their supporters, and they weren't working on my schedule.

After participating in a committee meeting and GA the following Tuesday, there were rumors that the raid would happen that night. But I had had a long day and was hungry, so I decided to go to my place just west of the 2nd Street Tunnel to fill my belly and charge my batteries.

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Eating soup, I watched the local news on TV and the twitter feeds and live streams on my computer. Footage from a KCAL 9 Skycam revealed the massive police staging area outside of Dodger Stadium. It became clear that tonight was the night.

When KCAL announced the police were setting up a perimeter to block people from entering the area and that it would begin to self censor its own Skycam footage "to protect the integrity of the police action," I hopped back on my bike to stand with my brothers and sisters in the camp.

But I was too late -- 2nd Street was blocked at Hill. The north side of 3rd was blocked all the way to Alameda. As I rode the perimeter, I saw that each intersection was guarded by several police of various types -- some on bikes, some in squad cars, some in riot gear. Just behind them lurked the occasional white Homeland Security van.

People gathered outside the perimeter--mostly movement supporters and independent media trying, like me, to enter the scene. Also present were the merely curious, who avoided approaching the blockade.

Just east of Little Tokyo on Alameda a sizable crowd of young people chanted, counter-factually in this instance, "Whose streets? Our streets!" and challenged the looky-loos to join them.

On the northern perimeter along Aliso Street, smaller crowds gathered. Some individuals took this opportunity to express their frustration and hatred of the police by screaming obscenities at them. Others engaged the police in polite discourse about the nights events, thanking them for their professionalism. One man was there with his two sons playing their musical instruments as another man marched waving a cannabis flag.

Outside the Occupy L.A. eviction perimeter at 1st & Broadway | Photo by Tom Andrews
Outside the Occupy L.A. eviction perimeter at 1st & Broadway | Photo by Tom Andrews

The largest crowd was on the northern perimeter at 1st and Broadway, from which one could glimpse the South lawn in the distance. Here I encountered many people who had never visited Occupy L.A. before, but were drawn to witness the enormity of the police action.

Before long, the police declared this group also to be an "unlawful assembly". I explained what this meant to a French acquaintance I ran into, who would face deportation if arrested, so escorted her away from the area.

I was home in time to view the 3:30AM statement by Mayor Villaraigosa and Police Chief Beck on live stream.

According to their narrative, announced while the last remaining Occupiers were still being extracted from their perches in the trees of the south lawn, Tuesday night's raid of Occupy L.A.'s two-month old encampment was a story of exemplary "constitutional policing" employing an "absolutely minimal" use of force.

From what little I saw, and in contrast to the brutal crackdowns in other cities recently, I was tempted to agree. Sure, calling the forced eviction of a peaceable assembly from a public place an instance of "constitutional policing" sounded a bit too Orwellian to my ears, but I did appreciate the LAPD's relatively soft touch.

But that assessment was made in the absence of competing narratives that were invisible from the perimeter.

Over the next few days, as local and international attention shifted to other things, a darker narrative of the night's events emerged by way of eyewitness accounts both online and at the General Assemblies, especially by those who had been silenced though detention while the Mayor was crowing about "one of the finest moments in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department."

This other side of the story includes baton beatings, rubber bullets and bean bag shots during the raid, as well as brutal and humiliating conditions while in custody.

Much of these events escaped video documentation, through a combination of limited media access and a progressive brownout of independent media due to dead batteries as the night wore on.

The violent arrest of independent photojournalist Tyson Heder was captured by KCBS/KCAL, however, though that august institution has since tried (unsuccessfully) to suppress the footage.

The following Thursday, I went to bear witness to the arraignments. I ran into the musician family that I saw the night of the raid, but one of them was missing. After I left them, they said, one of the police grabbed and thew away the father's drumstick. As the father went to retrieve it and one brother was distracted, the police grabbed the other brother over the police tape and arrested him. For some reason, his bail was set at $10,000.

"They grabbed the wrong one," the kind-eyed father said. "He is the nicest one of us."

I also witnessed Tyson Heder's arraignment. His face was bruised and he was still wearing the t-shirt ripped during the takedown -- his back was totally exposed. Presiding was Judge Yolanda Orozco, who set bail at $20,000, despite the fact that Heder's lawyer personally vouched for him and indicated that Heder was "eager to appear in court."

From the perimeter of these proceedings, in the courtroom gallery filled with Occupiers and supporters, I was able to participate in a modest act of solidarity. When Judge Orozco explained the conditions of his bail--to "obey all laws" and "to stay away from city hall park"--she was met with "hard blocks," or a visual posture of disapproval by crossing one's arms into an "x," from three quarters of the gallery. Her ruling implied that Heder would not be permitted to attend General Assemblies, which are currently taking place on the west steps of City Hall. (Villaraigosa has graciously designated these steps as a "1st Amendment area".)

I have no way of knowing whether the judge was influenced in any way by this silent action, but she did immediately rephrase the condition, "Stay away from City Hall Park outside of normal operating hours."

With that, the hard blocks turned into jazz hands of approval called spirit fingers.

Jason Rosencrantz is a Downtown resident who has become an active participant in Occupy Los Angeles. Read his previous post here.

Photos used on this post are by Tom Andrews.

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