Closure of Echo Park brings week of protests

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Wave Wire Services

ECHO PARK — Former inhabitants of Echo Park and advocates for the city’s homeless population held rallies outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters and City Hall March 30, several days after the city removed more than 200 unhoused residents of the park and arrested more than 180 protesters.

These people came in and raided a community,” said Ayman Ahmed a former resident of the park who was one of the last holdouts before being arrested March 26. “We built a kitchen when they wouldn’t provide food. We built a shower when they defunded the shower.

“We were just trying to get along as a community that loved each other without race, gender, border or labels and they came in with an armada, a small army. … Are we OK with this?”

The rally outside City Hall was organized by Echo Park Rise Up, an organized group of the park’s former residents. The rally outside police headquarters was held by members of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, Los Angeles Community Action Network and White People for Black Lives.

The LAPD recently shot 6 people in 7 days. We also saw them unleash their violence last week in Echo Park against the unhoused community and allies, then call it a ‘service to the community,’” the groups said ahead of the rally.

The LAPD’s so-called ‘oversight’ body, the Mayor Garcetti-appointed L.A. Police Commission, has responded to this important moment by suppressing public comment and then canceling this week’s … meeting,” the group added.

The City Council did not meet March 30 because of Passover. The Police Commission Board secretary didn’t know why the Police Commission meeting was canceled.

Echo Park was closed March 24 so work could begin on a $500,000 repair and restoration project. More than 200 homeless people were removed from the park and it was fenced off for the renovation project.

A sign at the fenced-off park was critical of Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell and read “This park is the people’s! NOT Mitch’s!” Another sign read “Resign Mitch.”

Marchers placed candles outside O’Farrell’s district office in the 1700 block of Sunset Boulevard, near Lemoyne Street during demonstrations throughout the weekend.

Advocates for the homeless criticized O’Farrell and the city’s efforts to remove the park’s homeless 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 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority told City News Service March 26 that 138 park residents were placed in Project Roomkey hotel rooms, 35 in Project Homekey sites and 11 in A Bridge Home shelters.

Many residents have complained about the trash and public safety issues in the park, saying they no longer felt safe visiting it.

O’Farrell claimed the initial effort to clean up the park was a success, despite days of protests that included more than 180 arrests.

Most of the arrests came March 25, when 182 people were arrested for failure to disperse during 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 Los Angeles Police Department.

The last two people remaining inside the park were arrested the following morning. They were identified as Ahmed and David Busch-Lilly. Both were later released.

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,” said O’Farrell, who represents Echo Park in his 13th Council District and led the cleanup effort.

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.

O’Farrell blamed the protests on a “vocal contingent of outside groups” attempting to disrupt our efforts to place people into housing.”

“Everyone has the right to peacefully assemble but it is simply unacceptable for anyone to thwart our work to house people.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti said that police were at the park “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.”

The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the LAPD’s response, 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,” the ACLU said. “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.

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,” the ACLU statement added.

O’Farrell said he was “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.”