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Art Walk drama-free, police stand by while Occupy LA hosts ChalkWalk

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As of about 11pm, at least, ArtWalk was a drama-free event Thursday evening, despite predictions of clashes between police and visiting Occupy Oakland activists. The crowd was also smaller than usual for an August night.

At July's event, members of Occupy L.A., protesting an LAPD crackdown on chalking, migrated into ArtWalk, spurring a melee that involved 17 arrests, bottles being thrown at police, and the LAPD's use of rubber bullets and other less lethal crowd control weapons.

August's event was a sharp contrast.

At an event last week, ChalkWalk organizer Richard Florence told Downtown community members that future events would steer clear of ArtWalk, to the best of their ability. Thursday's ChalkWalk was planned for Pershing Square, and largely stayed there.

Police stood by Thursday morning, as Oakland's Fresh Juice Party chalked a large mural in the northeast corner of Pershing Square. When security guards called police, they detained three people who were drawing and released two. A third, Dexter Williams of Oakland, was arrested on outstanding misdemeanor vandalism warrants and remained in custody as of press time. Later in the day, an Occupy L.A. member, Deandre Washington, allegedly punched a member of Occupy Oakland in the face and was arrested.

Police continued to turn a blind eye towards chalking as members of Occupy L.A. and visitors from Occupy Oakland and other Occupy groups around the country trickled into Pershing Square for an event billed as a potluck, community gathering, and space for artistic expression. Some handed out chalk and drew pictures and slogans on the park's sidewalk and a concrete wall.

“We’re trying to look at the bigger picture," explained LAPD Commander Andy Smith. "We’re trying to keep everything peaceful. The chalk will be cleaned up. Pershing Square will be back to normal. So rather than let people instigate a big fight or a big confrontation with us, we’ll let it go. We’ll clean it up and it’ll be back to the way it was.” 

Other ChalkWalk attendees danced, sang, chatted, bickered, and ate. At 10:30pm, the park's closing time, police asked revelers to clear the park and stick to the sidewalk, which they noisily did.

Meanwhile, at ArtWalk, the police presence was heavy. To start the evening, there were at least four officers on every street corner. Smith said there were hundreds of officers deployed at the event, and others at the ready if needed. The crowd, meanwhile, appeared lighter than usual for an August ArtWalk night. 

Brian Murphy, the owner of Two Bits Market, noted the difference, but said he appreciated the calm atmosphere.

"Make some money, pay the rent and yeah, hopefully many, many more awesome ArtWalks to come in the future," Murphy said.

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