Allegations of police abuse surface after OLA eviction
After the police raid on Occupy LA, there came a steady chorus of praise for the Los Angeles Police Department’s handling of the eviction.
Using City Hall as their brick-and-mortar Trojan horse, police poured out of the building, divided the park into sections and isolated protesters. Nearly 300 were arrested, each initially facing a $5,000 bail. The Los Angeles Times described the action as occurring “swiftly and with the shock of an overwhelming force.”
Many were happy that LA did not repeat the mistakes of other cities where police often demonstrated cruel behavior towards occupy protesters. Civil rights attorney Connie Rice praised the police.
“You have to agree that this is not your grandfather’s LAPD,” she said.
But now that the dust is beginning to settle and protesters are being released from jail, a different story is beginning to emerge. It is a story, say occupiers, of media control, violence, intimidation and a disrespect for basic human rights that was designed to squelch dissent in an alleged democracy.
Protesters describe scenes of demonstrators being beaten with batons, pushed down the steps of City Hall, shot with rubber bullets, treated indifferently while in detention and harassed following the raid.
“We are not aware any rubber bullets were used,” said LAPD spokesman Richard French to LA Activist on Dec. 1. “The whole thing was very non-violent.”
Joshua Grande couldn’t disagree more. With his arm in a sling and wrist swollen, he said he and others were hit with rubber bullets.
When police were rushing into the park, officers behind Grande told him to turn around. He did, but not sure if they were addressing him or someone else, he pointed to himself expecting clarification and began walking toward police. But when he dropped his arm, said Grande, police shot him, hitting him in his left wrist.
“They picked me up, told me there was nothing basically wrong with me, forcibly picked me up by my right hand and arm,” he said. “I was pushed into riot patrol, laying on the ground, holding my arm.”
An ambulance was called and Grande was sent to White Memorial Hospital. He said he was fading in and out of consciousness from being shot. X-rays determined that his badly swollen wrist was sprained.
After getting a sling for his arm, and because he was not arrested, he was quickly released and walked back to City Hall. Once there, he said he witnessed “people being chased, taunted and harassed by the police.”
“They were pulling one of my friends out of the camp and beating him with batons,” he said. “I witnessed a lot. I still have horrific nightmares.”
Ray Ramirez of Occupy Santa Ana said he witnessed a man being shot with a rubber bullet while attempting to leave City Hall. The man fell unconscious, but police did not attend to him.
“The cops left, they just walked back into the park,” he said. “About a half block up, there was another police officer. He walked up to the man who was obviously unconscious and kicked something away from him. He walked away and they just left this guy there on the sidewalk. We were all afraid to go up to him, thinking the cops were going to come out of nowhere like they did and shoot us.”
Ramirez said eventually three occupiers approached the man and began bandaging his leg. He said he heard no warning from police that they were going to shoot.
“There was nothing said. I was right there. They didn’t say anything to the guy,” he said. “I just saw the two cops crouching in the corner. They shot him with a handgun and then they took off.”
Grande corroborates Ramirez’s story.
“He fell to the ground instantly. It was horrible,” said Grande. “[The police] didn’t care. There were police out there who were laughing at us.”
Doug Kaufman of the ANSWER Coalition was arrested during the raid. He gives a bone-chilling report of violence towards demonstrators that continued within the jails.
“Several protesters were beaten while we were in there if they so much as looked away when told to look forward or talked when screamed at not to talk,” he said. “They were either dragged away [and beaten] or thrown into cold showers.
“One [arrestee] had his wrist broken by some of the cops who ratcheted up his cuffs really tight and just started bending back his hand and arm. He was crying out in pain as they dragged him into the inner part of the jail away from the holding bay where we were all seated on the cement.”
Kaufman said arrestees were also denied medical treatment for the 24-hour period they were held. One man, he said, was left handcuffed even though his shoulder ligaments had been torn.
Other protesters tell stories of arrestees being held for long periods of time without access to toilets. They tell of protesters who had to urinate on themselves while being held on MTA buses for eight to nine hours before being transported to jail.
Not all the violence was contained to City Hall or the jails. According to occupier Kwazi Nkrumah, fellow-occupiers Bilal Ali and Joseph Thomas were attacked by police near Pershing Square after they were separated from other protesters. Ali suffered three broken ribs, according to a statement by long-time activist John Imani.
As of publication, the LAPD would not comment on any specifics related to abuses during the Occupy LA eviction.
“I’m not aware of any rubber bullets being used,” said LAPD spokesman Cleon Joseph to LA Activist. “People can make complaints and we do review them.”
Yesterday, occupiers marched onto the Men’s County Jail demanding the release of their fellow protesters. Leaving from Pershing Square, demonstrators also stopped at LAPD headquarters and City Hall.
Along the way, one protester was arrested for allegedly stepping off the sidewalk and entering the street. In the process of the arrest, protesters said officer Cardenas displayed a penchant for violence. Standing in front of the police headquarters, demonstrators shouted at Cardenas, demanding his badge number.
“As a few officers grabbed one of our protesters, Anthony, they grabbed his right arm and tried to pull him down. He was just protesting, holding up a sign.” said occupier Michael Grace. “Two of us grabbed Anthony and tried to bring him back and officer Cardenas, in his great decision-making-ability, came in with his baton, swung it to break us up and hit me in the arm and jabbed me in the chest.”
The arrest is an example of a sudden shift in the LAPD’s attitude toward protesters following the raid. Before, the non-violent movement experienced minimal police presence at marches and demonstrations. Yesterday, the roughly 200 demonstrators were closely followed by police in riot gear, patrol cars, bicycles, motorcycles and a helicopter.
Richard Florence said he experienced police harassment after eating diner at a restaurant near City Hall. While walking down the street with friends, a patrol car passed, made an abrupt u-turn and halted the group. Florence said he was singled out by the officer.
The officer accused him of flipping him off and threatened to take him to jail, said Florence. Only after convincing the cop that he didn’t have a problem with police, they left.
Florence said protesters near City Hall have been getting jaywalking tickets and people who stop their automobiles to pick others up have been getting tickets.
“Somebody drove by and honked and they got a ticket,” he said. “There has been a kind of increase in overall harassment, or like an intimidation to try and prevent people from being in that area or from protesting.”
Another disturbing aspect of the Nov. 30 raid, say protesters, is the LAPD’s control over the media. According to the LA Weekly, 11 hand-selected corporate media outlets were allowed in the encampment on the night of the raid.
“Police did manage to force out all indie reporters/photogs from the park with threats of arrest,” reported the Weekly. Dakota Smith of the LA Daily News posted on Twitter that the “LAPD didn’t want us interviewing protesters. … handful times we could talk to people.”
Michael Prysner of the ANSWER Coalition said that while he was in jail after the raid, he met an independent photojournalist who had suffered police abuse.
“They threw him down the stairs and started beating him when he was on the ground,” he said. “He had this huge bleeding welt on his head. He wasn’t even a protester; he was just someone covering it as a journalist.”
“And they actually charged him with assaulting an officer,” he added.
Grace called the use of hand-selected media a “PR stunt” to strictly control information to the public.
“They saved the brutality for out in the streets, not in there where the media pool was,” he said.
If the eviction was a “PR stunt,” as Grace calls it, the mayor certainly played his part. The Los Angeles Times reported that the mayor “decided to order the park closed after he learned there were children staying there.”
Protesters say this is disingenuous as there had been children at the encampment since the occupation’s first day. It was no secret. A “Kids Village” was even established with baby sitters, complete with arts and crafts projects for the children to work on.
“There were toddlers here, babies,” said Grace. “The whole reason why it was happening was because the mayor saw that the kids were living with us. He said, ‘God knows what they are doing.’ What they were doing was having a great time. We were taking care of them and looking out for them.”
The Los Angeles Times editorial staff, who had been urging city officials to evict the protesters less than a month into their occupation, praised police and City Hall the day after the raid, calling the eviction a “peaceful conclusion.”
“The Occupy L.A. eviction was the best possible outcome, a tribute to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Chief Charlie Beck and a disciplined, creative Los Angeles Police Department,” wrote the Times.
The First Amendment is supposed to provide the “right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” However, City Hall and certain media outlets portrayed the eviction as a battle won, rather than a battle lost.
It is surmised by occupiers that the eviction, the arrests, the initial exorbitant bail, violence and harassment are all geared to silence a social and economic movement. Or, as Prysner said, “to make people not want to exercise their constitutional rights.”
But if the intention was to intimidate and silence protesters, it didn’t work on Kandist Mallett. She was one of the demonstrators caught in the fray with officer Cardenas. She had stood on the sidewalk, facing him, demanding his badge his number.
“What have we done? Seriously, what have we done?” she said to LA Activist. “They are scared of us, because they are scared of people waking up, of the awareness we are bringing and the fact that this is going on around the world.”