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Mayor, police chief respond to ArtWalk Occupy LA arrests

Eric Zassenhaus/KPCC

Los Angeles police officers and Occupy LA protesters clashed at ArtWalk, leading to 17 arrests and four injuries.

Los Angeles police arrested 17 last night after violence broke out between Occupy L.A. protesters and officers at Thursday night's Art Walk near 5th and Spring Streets in Downtown Los Angeles. Police Chief Charlie Beck said the department has been cracking down on vandalism by Occupy L.A. members who chalk sidewalks and businesses downtown — and this was a protest by members of the group angered by that policy. Beck said police approached chalkers and told them to stop, but they didn't. Someone threw a bottle at police, prompting officers to call in backup to disperse the crowd with less lethal weapons like rubber bullets. 

Four officers were injured in the scuffle, one, hit in the head with a bottle, suffered a mild concussion. Meawhile, reports indicate a number of protesters were also hurt. 

"Occupy L.A. folks, all the folks who were there last night were warned repeatedly that their actions were illegal, and were given ample opportunity to stop what they were doing," Beck said Friday. "When they refuse to do that, we make arrests. I want to make sure people understand that if you throw rocks and bottles at police officers, if you fail to disperse when police officers tell you to do so, if you deface private or public property, you will be arrested."

When asked what makes sidewalk chalk illegal, since kids in the city often draw on sidewalks, Beck said the comparison didn't hold.

"Well, if people complain about kids writing with chalk on the sidewalk, we'll go over and warn them not to do that, that's defacing public property," Beck said. "And kids writing, playing hopscotch, will probably stop doing that, and their parents will probably come right out and clean it up. It's not the same thing. And to draw a connection between it, it doesn't make any sense. Any more than throwing a rock or a bottle in your back yard is the same as throwing it over a skirmish line of police officers."

Meanwhile, when questioned about the chalking crackdown, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said "vandalism has always been illegal" and defended the city's approach to Occupy L.A. "Throwing rocks and bottles at police officers, unprovoked, in the way they did, is unacceptable. We're not looking for confrontation, but we will enforce the law."

Which means the city's strategy towards Occupy L.A. going forward will likely not change.

"I don't think any law enforcement agency in the nation is better at working with people so that we can make arrangements for them to get their message out in the least destructive or intrusive fashion," Beck said. "But when people don't want that, what they want is a confrontation with the media, we need to be able to protect the city and we will do that."

Protesters were arrested on charges spanning from vandalism, to failure to disperse, to assault on a police officer. The district attorney and city attorney have not yet filed charges in court.

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