Last Friday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced that City Hall Park will be closed on Monday at 12:01am, thus evicting the Occupy LA protesters. The last big city encampment started on Oct. 1 and has grown to roughly 485 tents that now engulf the 1.2 acre park. Free Speech forums can continue on the City Hall Spring Street steps during park hours.
Artist Shepard Fairey's modified Obama "Hope" poster supporting the Occupy Movement (From Fairey's website http://obeygiant.com)
"Occupy LA has brought needed attention to the growing disparities in our country and I look forward to its ongoing efforts to build an economy that works for everyone," Villaraigosa said at the news conference (see video below). "As we continue to respect the exercise of everyone's First Amendment rights in our civic center and throughout Los Angeles, City Hall Park is temporarily closing out of concern for the public safety implications of a long-term encampment."
“The movement is now at a crossroads," Villaraigosa in a letter to the protesters. "The movement faces the question of how it can build on its initial success. It is a question of whether energy will be consumed to defend a particular patch of earth or whether that energy will be channeled to spreading the message of economic equality and signing more people up for the push to restore the balance to American society.”
“Today is merely the realization that the encampment is no longer sustainable and must end,” Beck said, who said that police will not physically remove protesters starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday - but will enforce the park's 10 p.m. curfew.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck at the Chief's LGBT Forum on Nov. 17 at The Village (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Before the LAPD Chief's LGBT Forum on Thursday, Nov. 17 at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center's Village, I spoke with Chief Beck about the Occupy LA demonstration that day in downtown LA and why it was so different from the way the police handled the Occupy movement protesters in Oakland and New York.
Occupy LA protest in downtown LA on Nov. 17, 2011 (Photo screenshot from KTLA)
My people are very disciplined. They deal with crowds all the time. We've established a good relationship with our Occupy LA folks, which I hope to continue. That's why we haven't had issues. I can't speak to why the other cities have. I'm not there. All I can say is those are the reasons we feel we've been successful here.
Now, police work is very dependent upon the actions of those you're dealing with and there are certainly some actions our folks could have taken but haven't that would cause violent confrontation. I'm hoping that doesn't happen.
I asked Chief Beck if he got an order from the mayor and the city council to clear out Occupy LA, the encampment - what is he going to do? Beck said:
Well, that's not the way it works. I enforce the law based on my interpretation of the law. Obviously, the mayor and the council don't have to keep me as chief of police but that's not how it works. They don't order me to clear out an encampment. We work with the organizers, work with the mayor's office, work together to come to a solution that works as best it can for everybody.
I also mentioned that the encampment is right across the street from LAPD headquarters - including a safe space for people who need medical marijuana. Beck said: “I have smelled marijuana, I haven't seen anybody do it directly in front of me. But that's not one of my primary concerns.”
Villaraigosa announced that 50 shelter beds will be made available on Monday for homeless members of the Occupy LA encampment - four days in advance of when the City's Winter shelter program begins on Dec. 1 where 870 beds are made available on a first come, first served basis.
In what is probably a bit of unintended humor - the LAPD has a text-message system for Occupiers. "They simply have to text or key the word OLA999 to triple 8, triple 7. Then they can receive messages from the LAPD," said Lt. Andy Neiman.
Wonder if the LAPD is subtly trying to promote or satirize GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain's "fix" for the bad economy with his "9-9-9" solution.