story + video+ photos / Ericka Clevenger
It’s a lot like the 60s.
If you have been anywhere near downtown Los Angeles over the last few weeks, you might have noticed similar imagery to that of the ’60’s Civil Rights Movement’. Over 400 protesters have pitched tents and began living around City Hall–demanding their voices to be heard. This has been supported by many outside forces who have brought porta potties, food, clothes, water, etc. for those exercising First Amendment Rights. Many of my friends and people in my community have been a part of this movement and I find the large numbers of young people involved to be very refreshing. This is the passion that we haven’t seen in American youth in quite some time, and it is a shame that the real issues are being overlooked. After two months of occupying, and no real leader to speak on behalf of the people, occupants have been deemed a problem for Sanitation and Safety in downtown Los Angeles. “Hey Government! Look at Skid Row!”. A large community merely blocks away, visually protesting government injustice for years now.
On Tuesday evening my roommate and I turned on the television to find footage of the police preparing for the removal and raid of Occupy LA. Many Streets were blocked off and news reporters were only allowed visual access to the perimeter and aerial of the area occupied. I wonder why they didn’t want the world to see their “peaceful removal”? Driven by an emotional force out of fear and respect, I grabbed my camera, jumped into my car and drove downtown to join the march. We arrived downtown at midnight, just as the “Storm Trooper” mob of police officers in riot helmets charged the area in all directions, surrounding and arresting the protesters. I can honestly say, I have NEVER seen anything like this in my life. The fact that our government can use such force against it’s people is truly terrifying. They surrounded the camp areas, ripping apart tents, destroying signs, and threatening to tear gas everyone if they did not ‘Leave the area”. One man was slammed down right in front of me, after his dog was hit with a club. It only takes one person to get hurt to cause the mob to turn angry. The streets turned into a full fledged riot between the police and people. Some ran from the scene, while others linked arms and continued to chant “We are the 99 %”. Many people had brought sand-bags and rocks to fill the tents, hoping to make it more difficult for the police to remove them. One woman began chanting our unalienable rights while holding a candle. She stood on the sidewalk and did not touch the officers as she stood inches from their faces screaming loud. She held a candle in her hands as the people chanted behind her. In a matter of minutes she had the candle blown out on her face with a fire extinguisher.
The violent chaos continued, as buses of Riot officers poured out of all directions physically removing people. Their tactics were that of sheep herders, and those who take candy from babies. Using weapons to remove signs, people, cameras and statements from unarmed peaceful civilians. Some alleged those arrested were also forced swabs in their mouth for DNA testing. Helicopters circled and shined lights down on us, causing confusion as endless masked men continued to swarm around. Cruisers, Fire trucks, and Semi’s endlessly sped down Alameda with their lights and sirens bouncing off the buildings. A deadly mix of armed officers, bright flashing lights, and loud noise brought a blanket of detached confusion over the marchers, making them easy targets for the 200 arrests. Everything happened so quickly you didn’t really know what was going on. One moment it would be peaceful and the next thing you knew everyone was being put in hand cuffs and covered in blood. I saw one women get her megaphone ripped from her hand, knocking it into her mouth causing it to bleed. One man was forced to the ground and arrested after jumping in front of a Sheriff Bus screaming “Fascist Pigs!” There were many other angry things shouted and the scarily robotic faces of the human fence. “Take off your Badge and Join us”. His bike was then ran over by the Sheriffs bus as they continued to herd us away from city hall.
I do admit, some of the protesters did get a bit out of hand, but it was the initial force of the police that caused the violent uproar. To them it was complete injustice and that’s why they were having a difficult time of backing down. I could hear my breath and heartbeat inside my head as I ran to the outskirts of the block. I WAS SCARED. Here I was a simple witness and I was beginning to question what all this meant? People care so much about making a statement, that they almost want to be arrested. 1400 officers, made 200 arrests on what they are calling “A Praised Peaceful Removal”. It has not been said when those arrested will be let out of jail, but its sad that the government can violently remove and imprison people without any real cause. Its a joke if you think that was a peaceful removal.
After the main area was blocked off and removed, hundreds of additional people began to show up and start another peaceful march around the entire area that was blocked. They stood together carrying, candles, signs and pictures. One woman jumped on a ledge with a megaphone and screamed “We must stay together! We must Keep marching. We are the 99 %”. People screamed and chanted, cried and held hands. One man skateboarded down the middle of the street holding the American flag high in the air. “These are out streets. We are the people.” The fact that they were walking down the middle of the streets was enough for the officers to continue to arrest and remove until around 5:00 am.
Its safe to say that this fight is definitely not over, as many vow to return with greater and larger numbers. Many complaints are being filed against the city and the LAPD officers who were involved in the evacuation. Lets just hope someone stands up and becomes a leader in the voice for this massive movement. I would hate to see anything so scary happen so close to my home again.