Festive mood at Art Walk amid heavy LAPD presence
A party atmoshpere prevailed Thursday night at downtown Los Angeles’ Art Walk as scores of police officers patrolled the streets to prevent the type of violence that erupted last month at the popular festival.
Art Walk, which began in local art crawl in 2004, has evolved into a showcase for a revitalized downtown, attracing thousands of people who crowd sidewalks, visit clubs, eat at restaurants and food trucks and turn the the historic core into a lively festival on the second Thursday of each month.
But at the July event, Occupy L.A. activists armed with chalk scrawled slogans and drawings on the sidewalks to to protest downtown gentrification, which has pushed out some of the area’s poorer residents. Hudreds of Los Angeles Police Department officers clashed with the protesters and fired less-than-lethal projectiles into the crowd. Four officers were hurt, and 15 people were arrested.
Early Thursday evening, police began taking up positions along Spring and Main streets as local merchants watched warily and wondered whether violence would again mar the showcase event. Art Walk patrons seemed undeterred, arriving dressed for a party. Some were pushing children in strollers or leading dogs on leashes.
Rachel Elisheva, who manages Archa clothing store on 5th Street, said the increased police presence was an unfortunate necessity because of the violence that wracked the July event.
“Protesters don't bother us, but when they start throwing bottles and stealing shirts because they think everything is free, that's different,” Elisheva said as two LAPD officers on horseback passed by. “It's a shame to have so much police here, but what can you do?”
Inside of Coba Gallery, as a handful of patron roamed the space, manager Jacky Herrera had a different view of the police. She complained that all the officers in the area had sucked the energy from the typically jovial event. She said fewer people were at the gallery than during previous Art Walks.
“I think it hinders a lot of folks from coming out,” she said of the police precense. “It definitely slows the traffic down.”
At Pershing Square, about 150 people had gathered in the park Thursday evening. Chalk drawing and slogans were all over the place -- on the sidewalk, on walls, on a large spherical sculpture.
Protesters were keeping a wary eye on the movements of police, texting each other about where they saw police gathering.
Police, who earlier had arrested two people at the park, said they had decided to allow a certain amount of chalking.
-- Frank Shyong, Kate Linthicum and Angel Jennings in downtown Los Angeles
Photo: A man who called himself "Toxic", an Occupy L.A. member, sits on a wall with chalk art as protesters make statements and political slogans at Pershing Square. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times