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LAPD reviewing its handling of Art Walk melee, Chief Beck says

Juan Garcia with Graffiti Control Systems spray-paints over a wall on 5th Street near Broadway in downtown Los Angeles after it was covered with chalk scrawlings Thursday night by Occupy L.A. members.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that after an initial review of last week’s skirmish between officers and protesters during downtown’s monthly Art Walk event  he believes the department “overall responded appropriately.”

He added that department officials are in the midst of conducting a more thorough review of the night’s events, in which they will look into whether the “hard line enforcement” approach that police took was necessary. “I would much prefer to resolve these things through negotiation and cooperation, rather than hard line enforcement," he said.

"We will look to see if there were opportunities we missed,” he said.  “At this point, I don’t know if this incident could have been handled any better or differently.”

PHOTOS: Confrontation at downtown L.A. ArtWalk

Beck laid much of the blame for Thursday night’s dust-up at the feet of protesters, saying, “Often the other side’s goal is not to engage in discussion but to engage in confrontation.” In recent months as police have arrested protesters for chalking, Beck said, “there have been a number of times we have explained the law to people involved — laws about vandalism, about blocking traffic. We certainly should not have to explain the laws about throwing objects at police officers.”

Despite widespread discussion among protesters on Facebook and other social media sites about plans to disrupt Art Walk with the chalk protests, Beck said he does not believe the commanders in charge of policing the typically peaceful event anticipated a confrontation of any sort.

Although the swift show of force Thursday night was a departure from the restraint and patience police showed when protesters spent weeks encamped on the City Hall lawn, Beck said the department has not changed its overall approach to dealing with the Occupy movement.

The LAPD and some protesters differ about what happened last Thursday night.

"They decided they were going to turn Art Walk into a protest," LAPD Capt. Horace Frank told The Times on Friday. There were a small number of demonstrators, he said, but the crowd grew to 300 as word of the conflict spread. The department set up a skirmish line, and dozens of officers then donned riot helmets and systematically moved the crowd away block by block.

"Our officers then started taking rocks and bottles from the crowd," he said. "At that point, we fired some less-lethal weapons and eventually gave the order to disperse."

Occupy supporters dispute this, adding that the "over-deployment" and "saturation" of police earlier in the evening set the tone for the rest of the confrontations.

"Within 10 minutes of getting to where we wanted to be, there was an arrest," said Cheryl Aichele of Occupy L.A. "It wasn't even 7:30 yet, and police were using intimidation tactics and pushing us — I got pushed into a garbage can."

She stressed in an inteview Friday that the group wanted to be peaceful. "In our meeting beforehand, we said our goals were: Have fun. Stay safe. Speak out. Stand up. Reach out. Make friends. Chalk."

Two officers were hurt and 17 people were arrested in the incident.


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-- Joel Rubin

Photo: Juan Garcia with Graffiti Control Systems spray-paints over a wall on 5th Street near Broadway in downtown Los Angeles after it was covered with chalk scrawlings Thursday night by Occupy L.A. members. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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