On Thursday evening, around 200 hundred people arrived at the corner of Sunset and Lemoyne in Los Angeles’ Echo Park. Under a cool, cloudy sky, they raised signs that read “Services Not Sweeps” and “Housing is a human right.” For years the neighborhood has been at the center of citywide conversations around gentrification and housing insecurity. This week, all that discourse came vividly to life.
The protesters were there for a vigil in support of the more than 100 unhoused people who—until that night—had called Echo Park their home. That evening advocates for the unhoused directed their anger not only at the LAPD but at city council member Mitch O’Farrell, who oversees District 13 and who tried to clear the park last year only to be thwarted in his efforts. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times had broken news of O’Farrell’s quiet plans to close the park for minor renovations like painting the bathrooms. To activists and park residents, this was coded language that could mean only one thing: sweeping the tent community that, since taking root in the park in November 2019, had become a sort of city unto itself.
As the sky darkened, protesters formed a line in front of cops in riot gear who were blocking the entrance to the park; earlier that morning, the city had erected a metal fence around the park and begun relocating park residents. I saw two officers step onto the lawn of Angelus Temple church with cameras. Protesters booed as the police filmed them; some flashed strobe lights at the police in dissent. Around 8 p.m., police declared an “unlawful assembly”—at least I think they did. Barely anything was audible over the beat of the protesters’ drums.
Cops then began to push protesters away from the park, and it was clear to me that they were trying to kettle us in. Within minutes a second fleet of police ran out from a neighboring alleyway and surrounded protesters. I managed to escape, fearing perhaps selfishly what might happen to me, a young Black trans reporter with a flimsy makeshift press pass. From the stoop of a house down the street, I saw officers pointing green beanbag shotguns at people and shouting at them for refusing to disperse in time.
Later, the final tally would show that LAPD had arrested over 180 people—including four of my friends—and at least 13 journalists from the Los Angeles Times, LA Taco, Knock LA, and others. A few National Lawyers Guild observers were also detained. Los Angeles authorities have grown increasingly hostile toward journalists in the past year. In September, while covering a protest crackdown, KPCC reporter Josie Huang was slammed to ground by county sheriff’s deputies despite repeatedly announcing she was a member of the media.
This latest confrontation had been brewing for days. Earlier this week police and park rangers announced that everyone who lived in the park would have to vacate by 10:30 Thursday night. At a press conference Thursday morning, O’Farrell touted his office’s success in securing housing for 166 park residents through the city’s COVID housing initiative, Project Room Key.
But many residents and activists have accused O’Farrell of falling short on his promises. Responding to the council member’s statement that all of the park residents had received housing, one former resident named Gustavo told tenants’ rights organization Street Watch LA, “They’re lying.” He said: “They convinced me that they have rooms available but once you come out, they don’t. They have hotels all the way in Downey”—a city about 15 miles south of Echo Park—”but not around here. They said I have to wait. I’m on the waiting list. Right now I’m going to sleep on the streets. I have nowhere to go.”
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