Tuesday, April 15, 2008

LA: Ground Zero in War on Poor

I received an alert yesterday from one of our sister organizations in the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a coalition of west coast groups that organize from the bottom-up on issues of poverty and homelessness. While each of our organizations is dealing with the effects of rapid gentrification and increased repression of the visible poor, LA has always been ahead of the pack.

Long-time readers of this blog may recall the LAPD's uniquely sci-fi approach to data collection on homeless people, where officers would descend on the downtown tent city in the pre-dawn hours to wake people for a bi-weekly count, and then feed the GIS coordinates of the homeless into a GPS system in order to produce lovely color-coded maps of the homeless problem. You can follow this link to see LA's Cartifact Project for yourself. The animation of homeless migratory patterns under conditions of intense police harassment should set any thinking person's hair on end. The practice was halted last August when a judge ruled that people could not be prevented from sleeping downtown when no suitable alternatives are available.

Yet the harassment of the mostly Black downtown street population has continued. Organizers from LA Community Action Network were recently cuffed and beaten after documenting an illegal search by LAPD. The photo above is one of their organizers, surrounded by LAPD plainclothes. Here's the full press release.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Pete White, (213) 434-1594 or (213) 228-0024

Community Organizers Opposed to Downtown Gentrification Arrested for the 2nd Time in Two Months

Just minutes after intervening in an unlawful search of an African American woman, three African American organizers are detained at gunpoint; Two are assaulted and injured; One is incarcerated

On Thursday April 10, 2008 at approximately 9:30 PM, community organizers responding to a report of police abuse in downtown Los Angeles find themselves victims of police brutality and illegal arrest.

LA CAN community organizers received a call Thursday evening reporting that an unidentified African-American woman was handcuffed and being searched on 5th and Los Angeles streets. LA CAN operates a CommunityWatch program that monitors police abuse and compliance with court injunctions against LAPD in downtown Los Angeles. Joe Thomas and Steve Richardson took cameras to the scene and Herman Jones arrived in his vehicle. The woman was released and she explained that LAPD had just jacked her up for nothing, saying they were looking for drugs.

Thomas, Richardson and Jones then left the scene by car to investigate and monitor police activities because historically poor, Black residents have been mistreated by police in an attempt to keep them away from Downtown’s trendy ArtWalk, which was happening that evening. LAPD officers followed them and conducted a "felony stop" while the car was simply stopped at a red light - meaning guns were drawn and all three were cuffed and searched, although no crime had been committed.

After the three were handcuffed, Thomas was dragged down the street and hit by officers and Richardson was brutally choked and held down by multiple officers. When witnesses with cameras arrived on the scene, the officers stopped the illegal behavior and uncuffed Jones and Thomas, instructing them that they were free to go. Richardson was arrested on the charge of "resisting arrest" and was incarcerated. The arresting officer stated that he grabbed two fingers of one of the officers while he was being held down in handcuffs and that was the basis of their charge. Both Richardson and Thomas sustained injuries to their fingers, wrists and necks and received medical treatment for these injuries.

There were 10 to 15 officers on the scene when additional witnesses arrived, the majority in plain clothes without badge identification. Officers were asked for their names, badge and serial numbers, which they are obligated to provide pursuant to Federal Consent Decree, on multiple occasions and all but two officers refused to give witnesses their information. The ranking officer was asked to provide information for identification purposes later at Central Division Headquarters and he again refused. This refusal was recorded via camera phone.

This incident underscores an alarming and ongoing trend of police officers illegally arresting LA CAN organizers performing perfectly legal police monitoring duties. Just two months ago, Pete White of LA CAN was also arrested by Central Division officers while documenting a raid in a Skid Row residential hotel. The charges against him were later dismissed in the "interest of justice" and a federal civil rights lawsuit was subsequently filed. Community organizers have not been exempt from the widespread abuses under the Mayor’s Safer City Initiative, but the impacts reach much further to the thousands of poor and mostly Black residents targeted by the Initiative. The Inspector General has assigned a special team of investigators to monitor the large number of complaints.

Victims, witnesses, photos, and relevant video footage are available upon request.

LA organizers have asked supporters to let their Mayor's Office and Police Chief know that these events are being watched and followed outside of LA. I encourage you to email them with brief statements of concern. Here's the letter I sent yesterday.
As a leader of a Seattle community organization that works with homeless people in a similar context to that of LA-CAN, I am gravely concerned with recent reports of police harassment and abuse aimed at this organization. The tactics I have heard described remind me of those employed by the likes of Bull Connor during Freedom Summer.

As you recall, these tactics were not successful, and only succeeded in mobilizing vast numbers of allies who were appalled by what they saw.

Increased repression against the visible poor is one of today's key civil rights issues, and police brutality that is strategically directed toward those who act and speak in solidarity with homeless people is an extremely serious matter that will not be tolerated in any manner.

I am writing to let you know that we in Seattle are following events in LA closely, and are prepared to do all that we can to support LA-CAN and others who dare to stand up for the poor.
Please direct your emails to:
Mayor’s office staff that received LA-CAN's original letters and met with them after Pete’s arrest:

Police Commissioners Anthony Pacheco, John Mack, Andrea Ordin, Robert Saltzman, and Alan Skobin:

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