Police and protesters face off over temporary closing of L.A. park with large homeless encampment
Demonstrators gathered Wednesday night to protest the planned temporary closure of a Los Angeles park that would displace one of the city’s largest homeless encampments, one that’s grown throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
People living at the encampment are upset over the city’s plan to close the park for repairs without finding permanent housing for them.
About 200 people, including demonstrators and some homeless people gathered as more than a dozen police cars and some sanitation trucks showed up at Echo Park Lake.
People faced a line of police in helmets on a street near the park, some shouting, “Where do you want us to go?” Some officers appeared to be carrying batons and projectile weapons.
Shortly after 10 p.m., police began herding demonstrators away from one end of the park.
CBS Los Angeles reports police declared an unlawful assembly several times and issued several dispersal orders. They also issued a citywide tactical alert.
At least three smoke bombs were seen directed at officers, the station says, but police didn’t use force.
Police insisted in a tweet that social media reports that they’d deployed tear gas were “completely inaccurate,” adding that, “There is NO tear gas being used.”
Police tweeted that they’d “received projectiles and refusals from individuals blocking streets in the area.”
L.A. Police Chief Michel Moore tweeted that, “Our people remain in the area around Echo Park tonight as fencing is installed. Those already inside the park in tents will be allowed to remain overnight. No one else may enter. 24 hr notice for those in the park to leave. Housing resources are being provided to everyone.”
Officers later set up a designated protest zone.
Repairs to the park are expected to cost about $1 million, CBS L.A. says.
Antonia Ramirez, 60, was wrapped in an American flag blanket and vowed to stay.
Ramirez, who has been homeless for 20 years and has lived in parks in L.A. and neighboring Orange County, said she moved into Echo Park Lake the previous night.
“They are now closing the park but there was no notice given … it’s like a dictatorial, fascist regime,” she said. “I’m not leaving. I will be arrested and I will spend my time in jail.”
There were no initial reports of arrests.
City Council member Mitch O’Farrell, whose district includes the neighborhood just north of downtown, said in a statement that police were asked to support “community safety efforts” while fencing was installed.
“Our homeless service providers will return tomorrow morning to continue their work with the park’s unhoused residents to offer shelter and services to anyone who wants and needs the assistance,” the councilman said.
A few hundred protestors first gathered at the lake just after sunrise Wednesday carrying signs that said “dignity not displacement” and “we need long term solutions.” They argued that the encampment with dozens of tents provides a makeshift community for people with nowhere else to go.
“They want these people out of here, out of the park, yeah, they’re going to get involved just to go to a hotel,” community activist Carlos Marroquin told CBS L.A. Wednesday. “But what happens after that? Those vouchers are not permanent, they’re temporary.”
Part of the crowd marched to peacefully rally outside O’Farrell’s nearby office.
The office said in an earlier statement that more than 120 homeless residents had been moved from encampments into transitional housing to prepare for closing the popular park, which has the large lake as its centerpiece. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said at least 44 people were moved into shelters this week alone.
No timeline was provided for the closure, which O’Farrell’s statement said was necessary to make “extensive repairs” to lighting and plumbing and for general “public safety improvements.”
Homeless residents have slept in the park near downtown for years, but tents have proliferated in recent months.
The group Echo Park Tent Community said in a statement that the growing encampment has provided a secure place for homeless people during the public health crisis.
“The biggest pandemic in years actually turned out to be a blessing for us,” the statement said. “Without the constant LAPD and city harassment uprooting our lives we’ve been able to grow … to come together as a community, not just unhoused but housed as well and work together for the mutual aid and benefit of each other.”