Occupiers “standing tall” – sitting down
The deadline has passed, and pro bono lawyers have gotten a TRO; now it’s in the hands of the federal court.
Omari Gooden, 24, of Los Angeles, was one of more than an estimated thousand people who showed up Monday morning at the Occupy LA encampment, to join occupiers in defiance of the city’s eviction deadline set at 12:01 a.m.
“I’ve been coming here on and off when I have had time to show support for the 99%,” he said. “I’m new to the whole activism thing, but it’s now or never. There’s so much inequality in this country, and this movement has given me a chance to be heard.”
Gooden and other occupiers witnessed a phalanx of members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Monday morning, seemingly poised to evict members of the encampment.
However, despite four arrests and repeated warnings by the LAPD forbidding occupiers from blocking off streets around City Hall, the two-month-old Los Angeles camp, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, went on relatively peacefully.
But occupiers and their supporters know the encampment, which regularly hosted more than 500 tents, could be raided by the LAPD at any moment.
On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Occupy LA was still intact.
“I’m definitely aware of the fact that this will eventually be shut down,” said Gooden. “I won’t practice civil disobedience like some of the others will and get arrested, but I’ll be here to bear witness and help if people want to continue the movement.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck held a press conference last week announcing the eviction. Since then, occupiers and legal monitors in the encampment having been making preparations.
Jim Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, who has been a part of the liaison team between the City and the occupiers, has been hosting workshops in civil disobedience tactics, and providing a phone number for arrestees.
Bryan Holden, an American Civil Liberties attorney said, “Legally, there’s not much the occupiers can do to continue occupying these parks and plazas. That’s why so many municipalities have been successful in evicting them.”
Holden added that the situation in L.A. was unique because of the cooperation between the City and Occupy LA.
“I think one of the reasons the LAPD has taken a lighter approach towards Occupy LA is because everyone still remembers May Day 2007 and the last Democratic Convention held in the city,” he said.
“There are still lawsuits pending after the overwhelming display of force exercised by the LAPD,” he continued. “I think Villaraigosa and Beck watched heavy-handed police tactics in New York, Oakland and UC Davis and said, ‘We don’t want that kind of publicity'”.
The tense atmosphere around the nation’s largest remaining occupy camp has led many to pack up their tents and belongings.
In a last minute effort to stave off an LAPD forced eviction, a temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued on Monday by the U.S. District Court on behalf of plaintiffs at Occupy LA, against the mayor and police chief.
The injunction, filed by attorney Carol Sobel, alleged that the City is in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments rights of the occupiers.
“I think it’s worth a shot … the lawsuit” said Marvin Neal, who began occupying the south lawn at City Hall several days after Occupy LA began.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Sentinel by telephone Tuesday, Neal said the camp was more tense than usual.
“There’s a million rumors flying around, but everybody has pledged to remain peaceful and calm,” he said. “I’ve been living in L.A. my whole life, so I know how dirty the LAPD can get.”
“But we can’t let that get us down. We’re just staying vigilant and hoping that thousands of other citizens will come down here and help protect the camp,” he said. “A critical mass of people will keep the cops away.”
Overtures to several city officials by the Sentinel were not returned or declined at press time.
Mayor Villaraigosa, who made the media rounds Monday morning, speaking with both national and local outlets, and issued the following statement on Wednesday: “At approximately 12:30 a.m., the LAPD began enforcing the closure of City Hall Park after giving those in the park a final opportunity to leave without facing arrest.
“We have taken a measured approach to enforcing the park closure because we have wanted to give people every opportunity to leave peacefully. I ask that anyone who remains in the park to please leave voluntarily.
“Our approach also recognized the human need in the encampment. Since the park closure was announced on Friday, outreach workers with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority have walked through the park, assessing needs and connecting interested individuals in need with an alternative place to spend the night.
“During the park closure, a First Amendment area will remain open on the Spring Street City Hall steps. Once the park is cleared, it will be repaired and returned to all Angelenos to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Support for the occupiers came from L.A. labor leader Maria Elena Durazo who stated, “We are grateful to the Occupy movement for refocusing the country to the issue of income inequality,” she said. “We call for nonviolence in all acts of civil disobedience by Occupy LA and in professional procedures by the LAPD. We are committed to a long term movement for the 99% to hold Wall Street and the banks accountable for devastating our economy.”
A media representative for councilman Bernard Parks said via email:
“Councilmember Parks does not want to comment on Occupy LA until the situation has been resolved.”
Council members Herb Wesson and Jan Perry were also unavailable for comment.