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Occupy LA asks for an investigation into ArtWalk arrests

Members of Occupy L.A. gather outside the Police Administration Building in Downtown L.A. after addressing the Police Commission.
Members of Occupy L.A. gather outside the Police Administration Building in Downtown L.A. after addressing the Police Commission.
Rina Palta / KPCC

A core group of Occupy L.A. members visited the Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday to express discontent with police actions at last Thurday's ArtWalk, where 17 were arrested on charges ranging from vandalism to assault on a police officer.

Accounts of what exactly happened that night vary: police say members of Occupy L.A., protesting the recent crackdown on chalking private property at Hope St. and Wilshire Blvd, refused to clear a busy sidewalk at ArtWalk, forcing pedestrians into the street. When chalkers repeatedly refused to clear the area after numerous warnings, police say, they moved in to make arrests and were pelted with bottles and rocks. Police called for backup, including less lethal crowd dispersal weapons like rubber bullets, and officers and ArtWalkers alike were wounded in the melee. 

Members of Occupy L.A. tell a different story, saying artists, not Occupiers had been arrested early in the evening for making sidewalk art with chalk, provoking a protest. They say police, not Occupiers, shut down the street, and say angry members of the crowd, not Occupiers, were the ones to throw projectiles at police. On Tuesday, they asked the police commission to investigate what they said was unneccesary force used to disperse people who were engaged in what they said was an inocuous activity, writing with chalk on the sidewalk.

James Hill told the police commission he recently passed Pepsi advertisements written in chalk on the Venice Boardwalk. "I don't think anyone's arresting people from Pepsi Co," Hill said. "This is one of the most agregious abuses of police power, is to selectively enforce a law. especially when the apparent intention of selectively enforcing that law is to supress people's first amendment rights."

Police meanwhile, say that's not really the point — that they can't ignore complaints by business owners who're upset about their property being covered in chalk, and they can't allow people to block sidewalks, forcing pedestrians into a street where a two-month-old boy was killed in traffic just a year ago. 

What exactly did happen on July 12 will be reviewed by the Police Commission. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told the commission that he will submit a report — standard, following any incident like this where a "tactical alert" is called — to the commission within the next 60 days. Commissioner Richard Drooyan said he'll ask the Inspector General to review the report as well. Meanwhile, members of Occupy L.A. are asking the California Attorny General to get involved.