LA police brace for pro-Palestinian rally in Westwood

Stock image shows the federal building in Westwood. During a protest last week, a Federal Protective Service officer fired his weapon at protesters. No one was hit. The officer has been placed on administrative leave.
Stock image shows the federal building in Westwood. During a protest last week, a Federal Protective Service officer fired his weapon at protesters. No one was hit. The officer has been placed on administrative leave. Grey Barklay/Flickr Creative Commons

Los Angeles Police Department met with organizers of a pro-Palestinian rally scheduled for Sunday in an effort to avoid a repeat of last week’s clashes at a pro-Israel rally.

LAPD Deputy Chief Mike Downing said he respects free-speech rights, “but along with that right comes the responsibility to do it peacefully and in a non-violent manner,” he said. Downing heads the department’s Counter-Terrorism/Special Operations Bureau.  He said he’s delivered the same message to Jewish leaders.

Four pro-Palestinian counter-protesters were arrested last week for allegedly assaulting a pro-Israel demonstrator.  No one was hospitalized.

One pro-Palestinian activist who met with police Thursday said authorities unfairly targeted the men for arrest during chaotic demonstrations that involved hundreds of activists on both sides. “I think that they singled us out a bit too much as opposed to the Israeli side,” said Kash Nikazmrad of Students for Justice in Palestine.

“Our intent is not to give any favor to one group over the other,” said Omar Ricci, an American Muslim who is also an LAPD reserve officer.  He helped organize the Thursday meeting.

Ricci noted police have a longer history working with the Jewish community in Los Angeles. “Its important that the LAPD reach out to the different communities here.”

Four law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction in and around the federal building in Westwood, including the LAPD, LA Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol and Federal Protective Service. During last week’s protest, a Federal Protective Service officer fired his weapon at protesters. No one was hit. The officer has been placed on administrative leave.

“We stressed that it is their responsibility to keep things civil and disciplined,” Hedab Tarifi said of law enforcement. She is a Palestinian American activist who was among those who met with the LAPD.

"I think you'll see an improvement," Downing said of law enforcement's response to Sunday's protest and inevitable counter-protest. "There is more planning this time." 

As tensions rise in the Middle East, police and activists on both sides of the issue worry passions could boil over during Sunday’s protest. 

“Yes there are some worries,” said Nasser Thabet of the Palestinian American Congress, which is co-sponsoring Sunday's rally.  “Of course we worry about the safety of everybody.”

Despite the media’s focus on the confrontations, Roz Rothstein of Stand With Us, one of the event’s co-sponsors, said last week’s rally was largely peaceful.  But she too has concerns about rising passions as the violence intensifies overseas.

“Ya know some of these kids, or even grown men, get overzealous,” said Rothstein. She echoed the same sentiment as pro-Palestinian activists: people have family and friends in the conflict zone.    “They feel connected,” she said. “People are worried.”

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