Los Angeles Collegian Online

Despite resistance from neighbors, protesters, LAPD remove last unhoused people from Echo Park

Los Angeles Police Department buses transported protesters and journalists under arrest downtown for failure to disperse from an unlawful assembly on March. 25 in Echo Park, Calif. Photo by Lewis White.

Police arrest or detain 182 Thursday night, including 13 journalists. L.A. Collegian reporter charged with a misdemeanor for covering protest.

By James Duffy V

 

(Echo Park, California) – City sanitation workers were still cleaning camp sites Saturday afternoon in Echo Park. City sanitation workers were visible over a green fence enclosing all 33 acres of the park. City LAPD cruisers patrolled the taped-off sidewalk along the fence. Police turned away a video journalist as she walked around the fence the on March 26.

Los Angeles Police Department officers arrested Collegian Times reporter Keliyah Williams after police issued a dispersal order during the protest Thursday evening at Echo Park. She was one of more than a dozen freelance, student and established journalists arrested or detained while covering the second night of Echo Park protests.

Despite showing police her active enrollment in an LACC journalism course, police charged Williams with a misdemeanor for failure to disperse.

“They are so close to me, so I’ll be next for cuffs any moment,” Williams texted.

Over 180 people were detained or arrested for the same charge – failure to disperse, which is punished by $1,000-fine, six months in jail or both. However, California Penal Code section 409 permits journalism as a legal defense to prosecution.

For several days police warned Echo Park’s more than 200 unhoused residents they would be evicted in the early morning on Wednesday March 24. Protestors gathered that night and March 25. LAPD waited until night to disperse the crowds on both days. City workers fenced off the park overnight between March 24 and March 25.

Most of the people residing in tents left during protests Wednesday night, when police fired tear gas and marched at protesters. Two holdouts were arrested on March 26 and charged with misdemeanors for using the park for an unintended purpose.

“They are so close to me, so I’ll be next for cuffs any moment” — Keliyah Williams, L.A. COLLEGIAN rEPORTER.

People’s City Council Albert Corado came out to the protest around 7 a.m. March 27. He sipped coffee in front of the offices of his opponent, District 13 councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. Corado is running against O’Farrell in the 2022 city council race.

“If you aren’t given a humane kind solution, something that will help you get back on your feet, would you take that?” Corado said. 

Corado says the housing options offered to those facing eviction are temporary, inadequate and regulated like a jail.

An LAPD officer whose badge and name were not visible, and who would not identify himself, says he understood protesters frustration. But he says police officers’ “opinions don’t matter, because we follow orders.”

“Children shouldn’t have to step over syringes to play in the park,” the officer said.

“We’ve got to do better than that as a society. These people didn’t cause this problem.” — Ruth Beaglehole, Echo PARK RESIDENT 

Corado stood flanked by members of Urban Alchemy who stewarded homeless residents into temporary housing programs before the department of sanitation cleaned the park.

Near Corado, an employee of Masa of Echo Park Bakery & Café wiped down the windows of the deep-dish pizza shop. Next door, a city worker re-painted the corrugated doors of California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo’s office, which were covered in graffiti.

Protesters packed the corner of Sunset Boulevard and LeMoyne Street the night before. They demanded a stop to evictions in the park.  Hundreds of riot gear-clad police released tear gas, less-than-lethal rounds, and arrested protestors on Wednesday, March 24.  

Williams spent two and a half hours trapped between police lines Thursday night. She was caught in a protest-control measure called a kettle. Police advanced on the entrapped crowd after warning them to disperse. A police spokesperson says those who remained were arrested without issue. The arrested were zip-tied, loaded in LAPD buses, and booked downtown.

When police detained Los Angeles Times reporter James Queally, he showed his LAPD-issued press credentials. He reported an LAPD police sergeant say it was their policy that evening to detain everyone in the crowd, regardless of their credentials. Reporters were also told by police to stay in a designated area away from the crowd.

Zillow reports L.A. homeownership is the lowest of any major American city in 2018. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported 66,436 people in Los Angeles County experienced homelessness in 2020. 

The Collegian covered the city’s response to unhoused Echo Park residents from 6 a.m. until Willams’ arrest at 11 p.m. on March 25. 

L.A.-based photographer Steve Lucero captured two police officers padding around Echo Park Lake on Thursday, March 25. City workers fenced off the park to the public the night before. Screen capture courtesy of SteveLucero.LA Instagram.

An Angelus Temple security guard strode on a Segway-style scooter, dancing to praise music while protesters shouted profanities at police. 

LAPD riot coverings concealed police badges. Reporters without LAPD-issued credentials were barred from a press conference with councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. 

O’Farrell praised city workers who moved out the homeless on Thursday afternoon. Mayor Eric Garcetti later echoed his praise. 

The unhoused will stay in temporary facilities before they are moved into larger shelters, park resident David Busch-Lilly told Sophie Flay at on ABC 7. 

“These hotel rooms last three to six months, and then they tell you you’re gonna go to a congregate shelter where you’re gonna be separated from your partner, your pets, your possessions,” Busch-Lilly said.

Echo Park neighbors jogging, walking dogs and watering their gardens say they thought the police presence was unnecessary. Echo Parks homeless did not bother them. Neighbor Ruth Beaglehole says gentrifiers who wanted the homeless out “essentially won.”

Encampment leader David Busch-Lilly consults with LAPD officers outside of the park fence on March 25, in Echo Park, Calif. Busch-Lilly was one of two unhoused people arrested the next day for remaining in the park. Photo by Frank Martinez.

“I think it’s disgusting,” she said. “We’ve got to do better than that as a society. These people didn’t cause this problem. We shouldn’t be blaming them.”

Despite cries from the unhoused, protesters, Echo Park residents and fellow city councilmembers, O’Farrell says the housing operation that began in January was “very successful.”  Urban Alchemy found shelter for 166 people from Echo Park by the time O’Farrell gave his press conference Thursday afternoon.

“My non-negotiable was that we would find housing solutions for everyone at the Lake no matter how they got there,” O’Farrell said. 

Most of the people removed from the park were housed in city funded hotels through Project RoomKey. O’Farrell also says the city erected the fence to allow city workers to perform park renovation in safety.

City councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman criticized the move by police to remove protesters and evict the unhoused. Bonin told Cagle on Spectrum News 1 the move could mark a turning point in policing.

“If we repeat over the city, what we just did over the past week in Echo Park, using LAPD to close off every park, it would be the equivalent of martial law in the city of Los Angeles,” says Councilmember Mike Bonin.

On Sunday, local photographer Steve Lucero documented two police officers over the Echo Park fence. They paddled in one of the lake’s iconic swan boats.

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