Criminal charges will not be filed against the 179 protesters, legal observers and journalists who were arrested for failure to disperse during demonstrations against the city’s clearing of a large homeless encampment that had developed at Echo Park Lake during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following the demonstration on March 25, the Los Angeles Police Department reported that 182 people were arrested. It was not immediately clear if charges were brought against the remaining three people, but the Rob Wilcox of the City Attorney’s Office told City News Service that all people arrested for failure to disperse will not face the charge.
“Free speech and peaceful protest are fundamental to our democracy,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement Friday afternoon. “These peaceful protesters did not threaten public safety and it would not be in the interest of justice to prosecute them.”
Word spread on March 22 that the park would be closed for repairs, but many in the community saw it as a veiled effort to remove the hundreds of unhoused Angelenos who took up residence in the park. The park underwent $600,0000 worth of cleaning and repairs before reopening to the public on May 26.
Protesters blasted the city for forcing the park’s homeless population out of an area that had grown into what they called a supportive community — including a vegetable garden, working showers and shared kitchen.
The Los Angeles Police Department came under fire from City Council members, the public and media representatives for detaining multiple journalists during the protests, including Los Angeles Times reporter James Queally, who had LAPD credentials, and Spectrum News 1’s Kate Cagle, who had Los Angeles County credentials. Knock L.A. journalists Jonathan Peltz and Kate Gallagher were also detained.
The Los Angeles City Council on May 5 requested a report from the LAPD on officers’ detention of journalists during the protests and the department’s broader conduct toward journalists.
“The right of a free press to cover demonstrations, political protest and police activity is essential to a functioning democracy and must be preserved,” stated the motion, which was introduced by Councilmen Mike Bonin and Kevin de Leon.
“In the days following (the detentions), reporters have complained that the Los Angeles Police Department tried to confine them to a `press pen’ far from the demonstrations they were assigned to cover, that the LAPD has slowed or ceased issuing press credentials and that LAPD has unclear policies or standards for how members of independent media can be credentialed,” the motion stated.
The city’s actions were praised by some in the neighborhood, as many neighbors had complained about increasing trash at the park, and said they no longer felt safe there. O’Farrell and Mayor Eric Garcetti said the site had become dangerous, with drug overdoses and four deaths taking place there.
“For over a year, my team worked tirelessly to provide resources, services and ultimately transitional housing to people experiencing homelessness at Echo Park Lake,” O’Farrell said earlier.
While O’Farrell and Garcetti declared the operation a success, opponents of the park’s clearing — including a coalition of faculty at USC, UCLA, UC Irvine and Occidental College — pointed out that most of the housing options were temporary and some were in congregate shelters amid a pandemic.
“First, placements into interim shelter must not be equated with housing people,” the faculty stated in a letter to the city on March 31. “Without a clear path to permanent housing, such temporary housing serves as yet one more stop in the endless cycle of displacement. Many of the Echo Park Lake placements were made to Project Roomkey hotels and motels, in locations as distant as Palmdale.”
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