In another installment of what may be an ongoing rift between law enforcement and downtown homeless activists, community organizers from the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), Community Watch Program, engaged in an altercation with LAPD officers during the late evening on Thursday, April 10, 2008.
Responding to reports that a black woman had been detained and handcuffed near the intersection of Fifth and Los Angeles Streets, LA CAN members Herman Jones, Joe Thomas, and Steve Richardson, cameras in hand, arrived at the crossroads. There they found the woman who informed them that she had been harassed by the police, accused of drug possession, and released. The three men then proceeded to the “Art Walk” district, a gallery area catering to an upscale clientele and reputed to be a hotbed for police harassment of the homeless who frequent the neighborhood.
As the car with the trio was waiting at a traffic light, they were surrounded by a contingent of over a dozen policemen with their weapons drawn. The three were handcuffed, and Richardson was reportedly choked and dragged along the pavement for resisting arrest in what was said to be a narcotics raid. As a crowd of witnesses gathered, Richardson was apprehended as his companions were released. During this time, officers resisted giving out their names and badge numbers (with two exceptions), while the whole scenario was captured on camera phone.
As a response to what they claimed was abuse against minority and poor people by various private security guards employed by businesses making inroads into the downtown area, LA CAN launched its Community Watch program. In the interim, friction has increased between the police department and homeless activists because of what the activists say is pressure placed on law enforcement to lower the crime rate in the Downtown/Central City East area, a section currently undergoing gentrification, i.e., being transformed from an aging neighborhood into one of new businesses, buildings and private dwellings.
Concurrently, community organizers have accused authorities of forcing out of the district the traditional inhabitants of the area, the majority of whom are homeless and African American. They specifically take issue with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Skid Row Safer City Initiative (SCI) and the “quality of life” proposals it espouses. In the Art Walk area specifically, they point to art patrons allowed to wander between galleries holding wine and other alcoholic beverages while the less fortunate citizenry remain subject to the city’s rigorous open container laws.
In an exclusive interview with Our Weekly, Executive Director Pete White of LA CAN, expressed disdain with Safer Cities, and downtown policing as a whole, declaring that police procedures continue to indiscriminately identify criminal offenders. He says that several notables (outside the city proper), have come out against LAPD tactics, including film director and activist Stephen Gyllenhaal (possibly better known as the father of actors Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal) and representatives from the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a consortium of seven separate west coast homeless strategy support groups.
Reached by phone and commenting on the above incident involving Jones, Thomas, and Richardson, Central Division Commander Captain Jodi Wakefield told Our Weekly that her personnel observed movement consistent with drug activity inside the car in which LA CAN members were driving. And in the process of detaining Richardson, an officer suffered abrasions to his hands. She acknowledges, with two exceptions, that the LAPD and LA CAN members have had periodic interactions over the past two years without the necessity of arrest. In this particular instance, she explained, the field supervisor made a judgment call against giving out badge numbers during a potentially volatile situation.
In an earlier incident on Feb. 1. (see Our Weekly’s Feb. 28 issue), White himself was arrested on the charge of standing in a roadway while documenting alleged police misconduct. White reports that his civil case has made its way up to the federal level after the city tried (unsuccessfully) to have it dismissed. Along the way, the original citation was thrown out, while his suit against the city still stands.