As the world saw, the Los Angeles Police Department marched 1,400 of its finest to the Occupy LA City Hall encampment just after midnight Tuesday night and spent the rest of the night rather decorously dismantling the camp, arresting 300 Occupy volunteers and restoring order by dawn.
As a military maneuver, the “Occupy LA Eviction” will doubtless become a much-read chapter for policing civic disorder. As a primer on how political leaders engage civil unrest? Sorry. Birdcage lining so far.
True, there were a few reports of police violence, but just a few — and no pepper-spray, no rubber bullets, no clubbings and kickings that disgraced New York’s, UC Davis’s, and Oakland’s police departments and political leaders.
From the start two month’s ago, Chief Charlie Beck‘s men and women in blue took a different tack than police forces elsewhere. On my first visit to Occupy LA, a young officer gave me a nod and a wave and said, “How’s it going, Bro?”
And on subsequent visits — even on the night of the eviction — you could go up to most any officer and get a civil response to a civil question.
Certainly, those responses were orchestrated, but they seemed sincere, as if the officers understood that the Occupiers’ battle was with the 1%, not the police.
Here’s how one respondent to last week’s survey put it:
“I am really really impressed. Chief Beck Deserves a great deal of credit. I have been at the site many times (we live on 1st Street) and always the police that I witnessed were fair and cordial, even when walking among some crazies.”
We may hate that Occupy LA is at least temporarily dismantled, but clearly Chief Beck and the LAPD did a stand-up job for their work on the eviction.
(Now, though, we hear reports that jail guards are taking their vengeance out on the arrestees still in jail two days later, denying them food and water, beating them, sending a message out of sight, while the city attorney jacks up their bail unreasonably. If true, that would quickly undo any good will the police built up with in the public spotlight.)
City Leaders Pass on Opportunity So Far
Early on, LA’s City Council passed a resolution in support of Occupy LA goals, a sentiment Mayor Villaraigosa echoed from time to time. And in the week before the eviction, the Mayor’s office reportedly made an offer of office space and camping permission on the land that used to house the South LA Farm, if the Occupiers would strike their camp.
But the offer was as quickly withdrawn as it was rejected by Occupy LA — and some wondered whether it was ever real — and we have yet to see a proactive response from City Hall to address the deeply felt grievances expressed by the hundreds of Occupy LA campers and the thousands, perhaps tens or even hundreds of thousands, of Angelenos who support them.
From the start, Occupy LA wanted to tell the world that our society is broken, that the cards are stacked so firmly and unfairly in favor of the very wealthiest among us that the lives of many Americans are greatly diminished, a message Occupy camps all across the country have delivered in spades. So, mission accomplished, message delivered.
Beyond that, as people always seem to point to the Occupy Movement for answers, the ball is also in City Hall’s court.
What could City Hall do?
Well, how about solving LA’s decades-long homeless problem — not managing the problem and keeping our tens of thousands of homeless out of sight, but solving it, vowing that in some set number of years, LA will drastically reduce the number of people eating out of garbage cans and living homeless on our streets, doing so in a humane and lasting fashion?
Taxpayer money targeted for a new football stadium could be redirected to pay for removing this persistent public relations black eye and humanitarian disgrace. Building a new stadium — and selling it on the temporary construction jobs and long-term peanut vendor gigs it would create — is a solution for the 1%. Solving LA’s homeless problem is a solution for the 99%.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl offered to set up an Occupy discussion. Maybe this would be a place to start.
What Should Occupy LA Do?
Although events have eclipsed last week’s survey, most respondents (55%) felt the Occupiers should have taken the office space offer, with 34% thinking they should have dug in and turned down the offer.
Summing up the case for resisting:
“The Occupy movement if it works at all does so because it is an eyesore like 400,000 people in Tahrir Square in Egypt. With a mainstream media that blacks out most coverage of the Occupy movement, being out of sight in an office building or marginalized at the South Central farm land would allow those in power to ignore anything the Occupy Movement does or proposes. City Hall is the seat of government. Jefferson said that citizens need to periodically go into the Virginia House of Burgesses and ask, “What the hell are you guys (no women allowed at the time) doing in here? While kicking open the doors of City Hall might not be advisable, as the crow flies it is a shorter distance from the areas presently occupied around City Hall, then it is from South Central. It presently is the closest approximation of a Commons where citizens can freely associate as part of a democratic process. It is also a starting point for actions taken like last week against the corruption of the out of control Federal Reserve.”
Arguing for moving to the next phase:
“The Occupiers should give up their tents. This is no time to snooze. From what I’ve gleaned, most of them have buildings to sleep in. They have benefited the original downtown denizens, the truly homeless, by providing a safe outdoor community, but unless the Occupiers are willing to be arrested because some of those bedding down with them around City Hall have no place else to go — unless they are willing to protest poverty itself — they need to move to the next level. The Occupy movement would gain more attention and momentum by standing, forming picket lines or even sitting on the brown lawn or in camp chairs on the sidewalks around the clock. Organize a little, as our ad hoc Montrose Peace Vigil has for six years, and keep the ground covered in shifts. Occupy, yes, but make a stand. Don’t retreat into your pod at night. Show your conviction 24/7. Bring light into the darkness.”
Clearly, the two-month-long Occupy LA has captured the nation’s attention. In delivering the message about our city’s great discontent with the country’s economic disparity, the encampment was a great success.
Now, it’s time to leverage that initial success by following up with Occupy 2.0. For one idea, I particularly like Mark Naison’s idea of Occupy Clubs built on the SNCC clubs of the Civil Rights movement.
For the City’s part, it has shown it can refashion its police department — remember the McArthur Park debacle just a few short years ago — and now has an opportunity to write its own chapter on how to channel citizen unrest in meaningful directions. The jury’s out on that.
See the next page for all responses.
Dick Price, Editor
Photo of Commander Smith: Ted Fisher