Chalk protesters accuse LAPD of intimidation, overreaction
Occupy L.A. activists and their supporters accused Los Angeles police of overreacting Thursday to chalk protesters during downtown's monthly ArtWalk, which set the stage for the violent run-in that resulted in 17 arrests.
Cheryl Aichele, 34, an informal leader of Occupy L.A., said police were aggressive early and made their first arrest shortly after 7 p.m. "within 10 minutes of getting where we wanted to be."
"Police were pushing us — I got pushed into a garbage can — then we were being pushed into the street," Aichele said. "They would do all these intimidation tactics — all before 9. They would come in and snatch somebody and pull them away. Or they'd push us. Or yell at us."
One of the guys she saw got arrested "was just walking by, took some chalk and drew a heart and wrote 'police' in it."
"We were being peaceful," she said. "In our meeting beforehand, we said our goals were: Have fun. Stay safe. Speak out. Stand up. Reach out. Make friends. Chalk."
Peter White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network said he was present at 5th and Spring streets as a legal observer and believed the heavy police presence played a role in the conflict.
"I firmly believe it was an over-saturation of the police earlier in the evening, the sort of aggressive behavior earlier, that bled into things that happened later in the night," White said.
But Los Angeles Police Capt. Horace Frank said protesters were tossing bottles and cans at officers.
"They decided they were going to turn ArtWalk into a protest," Frank said. "After about nine arrests for vandalism on the sidewalk and buildings, I decided we should pull back because it was getting dangerous for the officers."
Frank said the department set up a skirmish line across Spring and 5th streets. Dozens of officers then donned riot helmets and systematically moved the crowd away block by block.
He said that there were a small number of protesters but that the crowd grew to 300 as word of the conflict spread. "Our officers then started taking rocks and bottles from the crowd. At that point we fired some less lethal weapons and eventually gave the order to disperse," he said.
Frank said four officers were hurt and treated for minor injuries. One officer suffered a minor concussion after being hit in the head by an object thrown from the crowd.
-- Rosanna Xia and Richard Winton
VIdeo of police facing off with chalk protesters. Credit: Paul Pringle / Los Angeles Times