Echo Park Lake was closed Saturday morning, with the last of more than 200 homeless people removed, and a $500,000 cleanup, repair and restoration project underway after days of protests that included more than 180 arrests.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, 182 people were arrested for failure to disperse during Thursday night’s protests. Officers deployed three rounds of less-lethal 37 mm projectiles, one round of less-than-lethal 40mm projectile and six rounds of less-than-lethal bean bags, according to the agency.
The last two people remaining inside the park were arrested Friday morning.
The men were identified by Ground Game L.A. to the Los Angeles Times as Ayman Ahmed and David Busch-Lilly. Police said they were arrested for erecting a tent in a city park and using park areas or facilities for a purpose contrary or inconsistent to its specific or designated purpose.
Both men were later released.
Regarding the large police presence of hundreds of officers equipped with less-than-lethal projectile launchers, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday, “I think to make sure that folks wouldn’t surge in and prevent the housing operation that was happening and the ultimate closing to clean up the lake, that’s why the police were there.”
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the LAPD’s response Friday, which included detaining legal observers and journalists covering the protests.
“Taking militarized police action to displace people who are already displaced is cruel and does nothing to bolster public safety. Mass arrests of protesters, legal observers and journalists will not keep the city’s brutal, ill-conceived actions from being known. The city leaders who approved this approach should be held accountable,” the ACLU said.
“In this time of crises in both the economy and public health, the city should seek solutions in developing permanent, affordable housing and appropriate services for people who are unhoused.”
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the district and is spearheading the cleanup effort, defending the city’s efforts Saturday.
“This week showed us that we are capable of changing the status quo when it comes to our approach to homelessness in Los Angeles, which has been a failure in the past, both for our most vulnerable residents who seek shelter and services and Angelenos who demand safe and secure access to their public spaces,” O’Farrell said in a statement.
“With thoughtful and compassionate action, we can strike this balance, which is what we did at Echo Park Lake, where we have now placed 209 people experiencing homelessness into transitional shelter with supportive services, medical care, and other humane and necessary resources.
“…A small but vocal contingent of outside groups sought to escalate the situation, repeatedly issuing credible threats in an attempt to disrupt our efforts to place people into housing,” O’Farrell continued. “Everyone has the right to peacefully assemble but it is simply unacceptable for anyone to thwart our work to house people.
“I’m disappointed that some local elected officials, valuing politics over finding real housing solutions in their own districts, have sought to mischaracterize our successful work to house people. They have also wrongly conflated our efforts to house individuals with our larger conversations about police reform. In addition to misleading people, this rhetoric does a great disservice to Angelenos, both unhoused and housed, and it needs to stop.”
O’Farrell might have been referring to Councilman Mike Bonin, who called the police response “a disgrace.”
Bonin tweeted: “A neighborhood in lockdown. Hundreds of cops in riot gear. Reporters being zip-tied and detained. Protesters being kettled and arrested. This is a disgrace and it did not have to happen. It’s a shameful day for Los Angeles.”
According to the LAPD, officers on Wednesday and Thursday nights were supporting efforts by O’Farrell and Los Angeles Park Rangers “to conduct outreach to those experiencing homelessness at Echo Park and connect them with service providers.”
Police declared an unlawful assembly about 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Lemoyne Street and Park Avenue, in front of O’Farrell’s district office, after “several instigators in the crowd demonstrated a willful intent to disrupt the peaceful activity and began to use strobe lights against the officers, an activity that has the potential to cause significant injury to the eyes.”
The department said two officers sustained minor injuries during the protests, and O’Farrell’s office and an LAPD vehicle were damaged.
O’Farrell urged “calm and cooperation” at Echo Park Thursday night as “we continue our work to move the final few people experiencing homelessness from the park into transitional housing before the park space closes temporarily for repairs.”
“We made significant progress (Thursday) toward our goal of housing everyone at the park and moved an additional 32 unhoused individuals into transitional housing,” O’Farrell said in a statement issued at 10:34 p.m. “Almost 200 of the park’s unhoused population has accepted and been placed in shelter options through Project Roomkey, Project Homekey, A Bridge Home and winter shelter.”
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority told City News Service on Friday that 138 park residents were placed in Project Roomkey hotel rooms, 35 in Project Homekey sites and 11 in A Bridge Home shelters.
But advocates for the homeless blasted the city’s effort to remove the encampment, saying it had grown into a safe haven for people with no other options. They also questioned what would happen to the homeless once their stays at the temporary hotel rooms ended.
The two men who remained in the park said during an Instagram livestream just after midnight that they planned to remain in the park until they were arrested or forced to leave by late Friday morning.
O’Farrell told reporters Thursday that his office has been working with the Urban Alchemy outreach group since December to find housing for the homeless living in the park. He said he was committed to finding alternative housing for everyone before temporarily closing the park for repair work, which he estimated will cost about $500,000.
“Since the pandemic began and even before that, knowing the conditions at Echo Park Lake and the realities in the situation there, my team and I set out to make sure that even though the park needed repairs back then, that in order to do this, my non-negotiable was that we would find housing solutions for everyone at the lake no matter how they got there, and there are all sorts of stories about how people arrived,” he said.
Many residents have complained about the trash and public safety issues in the park, saying they no longer felt safe visiting the facility.
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