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LAPD defends chalk protest arrests at Artwalk

September 18, 2012 |  4:20 pm

PHOTOS: Confrontation at downtown L.A. ArtWalk

Los Angeles police officials Tuesday said they could have handled a skirmish with protesters at a downtown ArtWalk earlier this summer more smoothly and quickly but made no apologies for arresting people for using chalk to draw on sidewalks.

Following the July incident, for which the LAPD was criticized by protesters for overreacting, the department launched an internal review of its response. With that review now complete, the L.A. Police Commission, which oversees the department, were briefed on the findings at their weekly public meeting.

Cmdr. John Sherman acknowledged the department should have done a better job coordinating the arrival and deployment of scores of officers who were sent to help when the crowd became unruly. Sherman added that officials from the LAPD, the Fire Department and other city agencies failed to set up a unified command post for the ArtWalk, which made coordinating a response to the protesters more difficult.

PHOTOS: Confrontation at downtown L.A. ArtWalk

Sherman and Capt. Horrace Frank, who was in charge the night of the protests, stood by the decision to arrest seven people for using chalk handed out by protest organizers to draw on the sidewalks.  The drawings, Frank said, amounted to vandalism. He added that the congestion on the sidewalk created a safety issue as people were forced to walk in the streets amid traffic.

Frank recounted for the commission how the melee unfolded. After being ousted from their encampment at City Hall, many members of the Occupy LA movement relocated to the skid row area in downtown. In the weeks leading up to the monthly ArtWalk event, when upwards of 30,000 people come downtown to wander among galleries, bars and restaurants, police had arrested several protesters for chalking buildings and streets in the area.

On the ArtWalk night, as protesters handed out chalk and police began to make arrests, a small crowd grew increasingly confrontational. Eventually, protesters squared off against police at Spring and 5th Streets, and some threw bottles at officers. Frank said he called in additional officers and declared an unlawful assembly, which gave him the authority to order people to disperse.

PHOTOS: Chalk protest at Pershing Square

Under questioning from Commissioner John Mack about allegations that some officers had been unnecessarily aggressive and physical with protesters, Sherman said the department was investigating three claims of excessive force.


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Photo: A protester does push-ups as Los Angeles police in riot gear pause while pushing the crowd back during the ArtWalk melee in July. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times