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ArtWalk clashes: Some blame police response, others support it

July 13, 2012 | 11:18 am

Artwalk clash
Residents and business owners in downtown Los Angeles expressed mixed reactions Friday to the confrontation between police and protesters at an art walk that ended with 17 arrests.

"The force used by police was ridiculous,” said Aliyah Lopez, a photographer who lives in an apartment looking out on Spring and 6th streets, where some of the confrontation that closed parts of downtown took place.

Lopez said that as she watched from her apartment, it appeared that a relatively small group of protesters representing the Occupy L.A. movement were quickly overtaken by Los Angeles Police Department officers in riot gear.

“I understand for safety reasons there has to be a police presence here, but the way they did it, the cops completely instigated things by being here the way they were,” said Lopez as she walked her dogs downtown Friday morning.

Jessica Burton also saw much of the confrontation from her apartment, which she said started around 9 p.m. when a large group of officers responding to a group of protesters gathered at the intersection of Spring and 5th streets.

“They weren’t in riot gear right away,” she said. “They ran back to their cars and got helmets.”

As police began dispersing the crowd, moving down the street in rows, Burton said chaos began. Her view was obscured by trees, so she listened in.

“I could hear lots of shouting, I heard the sound of police firing bullets -– must have been rubber bullets -- I could hear bottles smashing,” she said, adding she decided not to venture out because the scene was too unnerving.

“I was surprised,” she said. “It seemed like the police being there the way they were escalated what happened. No, I’m sure it did.”

Officials said nine of those arrested were booked on vandalism charges, two for failure to disperse, two for assault with a deadly weapon, two for resisting arrest, one for receiving stolen property and one for assaulting a police officer.

The melee appeared to have stemmed from a demonstration meant to use sidewalk chalk drawing as its means of expression. Some who live in the area said they weren’t bothered by the chalk drawing.

“I like the chalk,” said Buzz Ross as he walked his dog near Spring Street. “The Occupy people have been coming down here all summer. They use some chalk. I don’t have any problem with it.”

Added another dog walker, Geri Bryan: “Chalk? If I liked sterile I’d move to the suburbs. … It seems like last night was an overreaction.”

Offering a decidedly differing opinion was Matt Berman, owner of Bolt Barbers, located near the corner of 5th and Spring streets. Having watched much of the melee unfold from his storefront, he was adamant that the police performed flawlessly and blamed a large group of protesters for disrupting an otherwise smooth-running art walk.

“What I saw was that the quote-unquote 99% had planned an unproductive instigation, destroying the evening for people who were enjoying coming down to see great art and have great food,” he said.

Berman referred to the chalk used by protesters as “a prop, an excuse to be there, so they could basically claim that all they were doing was chalking the sidewalk. … Chalk comes off. In fact what they were doing was they were creating massive street and sidewalk disruption.”

Other than a vacant building on Broadway heavily scribbled on by colored chalk, on Friday morning there was little sign in downtown Los Angeles that any trouble had taken place the night before.

ALSO:

LAPD, Occupy protesters clash over chalk-drawing demonstration

Downtown L.A. melee: 2 police officers hurt, at least 14 arrested

17 arrested during ArtWalk clashes in downtown L.A., police now say

-- Kurt Streeter

Photo: Police approach a man who was down on the street during an altercation Thursday night in downtown L.A. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.

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