The streets were covered in color. Pregnant with people, full of Angelen@s that were standing up for their freedom of expression, art, and speech. The police response was predictable and unconscionable. Those in power are trying (and failing) to apply the insane broken windows theory on the 1st Amendment! The gall of this system is shocking. They will do anything to stop dissent, and people are waking up. Kids shot and tackled and beaten and gassed for using sidewalk chalk on a sidewalk.
It’s not really about the chalk, and you and I both know it. It’s about what’s being written.
One of the components to this movement in my opinion is the recognition of the power of the people united. On Thursday night, it felt like Los Angeles was the People’s Town. For an evening, public space became one of meaningful expression. Messages to lovers were written on street corners. Inspiring quotes from social justice figures were drawn on bleak emtpy walls. And smiles were everywhere as people were empowered to be heard through chalk.
The #LAPD, just like the police forces in New York, Oakland, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, UC-Davis, Miami, Seattle, DC, and Philadelphia, reacted how they always do. It is systemic fascism. Lest we forget, the day before the Brooklyn Bridge saw 700 arrests last fall, JP Morgan Chase donated $4.5 million to the NYPD. If you’ll remember, the Oakland Police Department received “counter-insurgency” training from Bahraini military police and Israeli Defense Forces. Training for what? How to deal with some tents and signs? For peaceful assembly?
The connection to that type of money in politics & policing in LA? The lobbyists for the 1% in corporations like the Central City Association, the Central City East Association, and other business improvement district firms throughout the city. The free speech crackdown began when activists laid their heads on the sidewalks at #626Wilshire, the offices of the CCA. These groups give money to every single City Council seat and are “helping shape policy” in City Hall nearly every day.
Who is lobbying for Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, Verizon, Walmart, Ralph’s, Chevron, AEG [property developers]? The Central City Association. Who is pushing for further criminalization of the homeless, rent hikes on the long-term community residents, “intelligence-based graffiti”, a Walmart in Chinatown (and 211 other locations in LA County)? The Central City Association.
So the police fired gas, flashbangs, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, and beat people with batons. Who are they protecting and serving? The 1%… and a system that values profits over people, property over community, stifling dissent, imprisoning people, and keeping the status quo. On Thursday Night in DTLA, chalk became a catalyst for the people to take the power back.
– Ryan Rice –]]>
Los Ageles, CA–On Thursday at the Downtown Los Angeles monthly Art Walk, a police escalation erupted into an uprising of the people. All because Occupy Los Angeles activists organized an action around our right to free speech through chalking. The action started at 7pm, and immediately the police made aggressive arrests for using chalk on the sidewalk. By 9pm, hundreds of cops had amassed on 5th street, some in riot gear because the people of Los Angeles had taken it upon themselves to create their own art at Artwalk. Energy and anger buzzed around the crowd as people spilled into the streets from the filled sidewalks, furious and frightened at the amount of police. A woman of small stature was slammed to the ground, face first, and then arrested for using chalk on the streets. Her face was contorted in pain as three officers twisted her arms back to zip tie her wrists. People in the streets, yell “Shame.” Chants of “Whose Streets? Our Streets” and “Fuck the police” spread through the crowd.
But really, what did the police expect? They showed up in large numbers, with weapons and riot gear. A line of motorcycle cops formed, lights flashing, engines ready. As they moved forward, the crowd ran in a dizzying, angry and frightened manner. Riot cop lines formed on all sides of the intersection, pushing people in two directions – to Pershing Square and North on Spring. Guns with rubber bullets fired at the dispersing crowd. On Spring Street, I watched a man get shot at close range, stumble from the sidewalk into the street and collapse. I ran up to him to see if he was okay; as soon as I touched his shoulder, the police surged forward towards the man. One male officer pulled back his foot and kicked the man on the side. I saw him flinch, but ran back as an officer reaches for my arm. The man was grabbed and dragged behind police lines. His limp body was cuffed and taken away. The police continued to move forward, in what the media would call the next day clearing the area block by block. Every five feet, the police line stopped, and their commanding officer yes, “Maintain the line. Whatever you do, keep the line!” Otherwise, what? The several hundred frightened people on the street, who were at least thirty feet away, would rush the line? Was this a police who are supposed to protect and serve or a militaristic group attacking civilians?
Each time they advanced, both men on either side of the line would point their guns at the crowd threateningly aiming, occasionally firing in the crowd. I later heard that the Pershing Square contingent was tear gassed. Helicopters buzzed overhead, their lights shined on the streets. The crowd continued to mill around the streets, as the police continued to move forward. Tourists and groups of young people approached the riot line and take pictures. It was a spectacle now. Riot cops in downtown Los Angeles because of chalking. The city was shut down – streets are blocked off, freeways are jammed, the train stops are closed. Clearly this is bigger than just chalk.
When we started to organize around the Central City Association after May 1st, we knew it was a good target. After all the CCA is money in politics, it is corruption, it is a pretty big gear in the system we are trying to fight. Since our siege on CCA began, we have continually faced state repression vis-a-vis the police. It has not stopped. Captain Frank is always there lurking in the background, at least when he’s not dressed in his suit and lunching with the CCA members (as he did last month!) We have a hit nerve. Several nerves. CCA. And then the idea of private property and free speech. Free speech is not really free – we are limited to where, when and how we can exercise our right to free speech. The state makes laws in order to repress the people. Our founding fathers had no qualms about admitting that – we cannot have a true democracy, because the mass of the people must be controlled. That is the basis of our principle of democracy, that only certain people have the authority to do what they want, the rest of us must obey their laws. The masses of the people are stupid, illiterate gremlins. We cannot allow the masses to rule. It is the marginalized masses who are criminalized by most laws. This is why you cannot sit, you cannot lie, you cannot have your belongings with you on the streets of Los Angeles. Laws are made to criminalize the bodies and the existence of those who do not fit into our society.
So this is not really about chalk. It is about repression. It is about who has the authority. It is about who has the control. It is not us, it is them. And they are trying to turn the rest of the us against us. But we have to see through the media fog and their justification of their action. We must stand together as humans and realize that there are bigger problems in our society: poverty, inequality and corruption – in a word, capitalism. Capitalism is the systemic problem. This movement, which is sometimes called Occupy, for better or worse, and may never admit it, is anti-capitalist. Somewhere in its decentralized core, Occupy is about abolishing the system and restructuring our society in a completely different way. Occupy dares to shake the status quo. What happened at Art Walk is what happens to us, activists, and us, houseless, poor, and of color, all the time. We are brutally arrested, we are kicked, we are harassed by the police. Welcome, Art Walkers, to our life; welcome to the new phase of this movement: state repression.
– Karo S –
Following the general assembly, about seventy occupiers took to the streets to march to the ongoing occupation of the Central City Association. We had a lot more people than the previous night, and the energy felt euphoric and tactile, much like the tribes around City Hall in last year. Young and old helping set up tents, an artist painting on canvas, and cardboard codes of conduct taped to trees. Pots, pans, guitars, boom boxes, and voices… all doing their part in clanging, strumming, thumping, and singing about solidarity and the revolution. Check out the photos here by Erik Herrera.
Some delicious vegan food showed up around 10:15 p.m. or so (Thank you, M.T.!) and we sat down with some hot tea and got to chalk-uppying the sidewalk. This was a new element, and along with the boost in occupiers, tents, and activities, made it feel like Solidarity Park last fall.
The camp groggily started to stir at about 5:45 a.m., when the 6 a.m. warning calls were being issued. (The rule throughout the city is tents can stay up from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.) The LAPD had waited until about 7 a.m. on Day One to mobilize, but this morning they were only two minutes late. The same cops as yesterday strutted up and repeated their dance for the 1%. We didn’t.
The discipline and militancy of the first day was echoed for Day Two. The tents were immediately in the air. No one talked to the pigs. Yet still, one man was arrested for chalking on the sidewalk. Chalk is not graffiti… it has been deemed Constitutionally-protected free speech. He was chalking the names of Black Panthers who were killed by the police. They waited until he was finished, approached him and told him he was under arrest. No warning was given even though others had been chalking.
We spent the rest of the morning protesting the CCA on the corners and handing out flyers to the community. I noticed a markedly more positive response to outreach efforts. Some said they had seen us yesterday and were wondering what we were about. Others couldn’t help but grin as they said, “Good morning AGAIN!” to the adamant stalwarts lining the sidewalk. In this suffocating urban rat race, music and laughter and courtesy and compassion are becoming contagious as we occupiers remain vigilant.
– Ryan Rice –]]>