- Los Angeles Police officers faced off with hundreds of demonstrators Thursday evening amid protests over the city’s efforts to clear a homeless camp in Echo Park Lake and erect a fence around it for $600,000 restorations.
- Several people were arrested and dozens more were detained, including at least three journalists, who were later released.
- Supporters of the city’s decision argue it is necessary to revive the park, which they say has become inhospitable to residents.
- Activists, unhoused people, and members of the City Council have condemned the way the move is being implemented as police continue to guard the perimeter of the park.
Demonstrations in Echo Park
Protestors in Los Angeles clashed with police Thursday in the second night of demonstrations against the removal of a homeless encampment in Echo Park Lake.
Hundreds of people faced off with police in riot gear as they marched closer to the park. Shortly after 8 A.M, police declared the demonstrations an unlawful assembly and issued a dispersal order in the surrounding areas after officials claimed the crowd used “high-intensity lights” in “an attempt to blind officers.”
Law enforcement officials detained dozens of people, zip-tied their hands, and placed them on jail busses. According to reports, police detained at least three journalists, though they were later released. Several people were arrested, and it is unclear if any others were hurt.
The demonstrations come after crews began clearing the encampment, which has grown significantly during the pandemic. At its peak, the area had over 200 tents, some of which housed more than one person.
City officials and homeless service providers rushed to clear the area earlier this week ahead of an expected sweep to remove the unhoused individuals in order to erect a fence and close down the park for repairs that will cost an estimated $600,000.
Planned Park Sweep
The plan had been shrouded in secrecy, with officials declining to provide almost any information to reporters ahead of the scheduled sweep, including when it would take place.
Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the Echo Park neighborhood, told The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that he planned to close the park, but did not provide a timeline.
On Wednesday, City Park rangers and Los Angeles Police Department officers put notices of closure near the encampment staying the park would close Thursday and that all personal belongings must be removed, “including, but not limited to, tents, chairs, tables, backpacks, bags, and personal items.”
City contractors began installing fencing around the perimeter of the park the same day, and police, who have been patrolling the area ever since, later closed down the area to pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
Officials offered the homeless people living in the park services, including housing in a room of several hotels in downtown LA that are part of Project Roomkey, an effort to shelter those experiencing homelessness in hotels during the pandemic.
While most people accepted the offer, some refused to leave. According to reports, as of Thursday evening, about a dozen people remained, though police said they only counted five by the end of the night.
Proponents of Restoration
O’Farrell has argued that the park has become dangerous and inhospitable to residents of the neighborhood.
“The Echo Park facility has devolved into a very dangerous place for everyone there: drug overdoses, sexual and physical assaults, self-styled leaders taxing homeless individuals and vendors, animal abuse, families without shelter in the colder weather, and last fall shootings where one homeless individual was shot in the leg by gang members while children stood nearby,” he said in a statement Thursday. “There have been four deaths in the park over the last year.”
Other residents of the neighborhood echoed his claims, like Echo Park resident Riley Montgomery, who started a petition demanding the park be restored, and cheered the cleanup in remarks to The Times.
“Even if there’s a fence, that’s preferable to having to walk through a massive encampment where they have to worry about being assaulted or walking over needles or having hate speech said to them as has happened multiple times,” he said.
Many activists have said the reports of crime are exaggerated.
Echo Park Tent Community, a local advocacy group, told the Los Angeles Daily News that the park’s residents have set up kitchens, showers, a community garden, and clean-up efforts.
Their community, the group said, has created “a sense of security, safety, stability, and healing for drug addiction and mental illness with our own pioneering forms of therapy in the absence of any help from the city government.”
Numerous homeless people who have lived in the park also expressed similar sentiments about the community formed there.
“They have deemed people like this a lower dredge of society, even when a majority of people are a paycheck away from the same thing,” Jerome Noll, a 32-year-old man who had moved from skid row to the in the park, told The Times. “We’re not crisis actors. This a really painful moment. You’re watching my things being ripped from me. Watching my friends go through the struggle — that part bothers me a lot.”
Others also condemned O’Farrell for how he has handled the situation, including several of his own City Council colleagues.
“We can get people housed and we can do that in a way that works for everybody,” Councilmember Nithya Raman said during a meeting Thursday night, adding that other districts have been able to do this and adding that she was “really disappointed that what should have been a success story in Echo Park was not read that way because of the entry of police.”
That sentiment was echoed by Councilmember Mike Bonin, who also called for the cost of the police operation at the park to be made public and an accounting on effects on police services in other areas of the city. Several councilmembers reported police being pulled from service their districts to guard the park.
“A neighborhood in lockdown. Hundreds of cops in riot gear. Reporters being zip-tied and detained. Protesters being kettled and arrested. This is a disgrace and it did not have to happen,” he tweeted. “It’s a shameful day for Los Angeles.”
See what others are saying: (The Los Angeles Times) (The Los Angeles Daily News) (CBS Los Angeles)
Conservatives Slam Elmo For Getting Vaccinated Against COVID-19
While critics accused the muppet of promoting propaganda, CDC data shows the shots are safe and effective.
Elmo Gets Vaccinated
Conservative politicians expressed outrage on Twitter after the beloved “Sesame Street” character Elmo revealed he got vaccinated against COVID-19 on Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cleared the way for children between the ages of six months and five years to get vaccinated against the virus. The famous red muppet is three years old, making him finally eligible for the jab.
In a video shared by “Sesame Street,” Elmo said that he felt “a little pinch, but it was okay.”
Elmo’s father, Louie, then addressed parents who might be apprehensive about vaccinating their own kids.
“I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the COVID vaccine,” he said to the camera. “Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice.”
“I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors, and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love,” he continued.
Republicans Criticize “Sesame Street”
While some praised the video for raising awareness and addressing the concerns parents may have, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) quickly lambasted the effort.
“Thanks, Sesame Street for saying parents are allowed to have questions,” Cruz tweeted. “You then have Elmo aggressively advocate for vaccinating children UNDER 5. But you cite ZERO scientific evidence for this.”
Despite Cruz’s claim, the CDC has provided ample resources with information on vaccines for children.
He was not alone in criticizing the video. Harmeet Dhillon, a committeewoman of the Republican National Committee for California, suggested that Elmo would be taking puberty blockers next.
Other anti-vaxxers claimed Elmo would get myocarditis and accused “Sesame Street” of promoting propaganda.
COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be both safe and effective against transmission of the virus, but this is not the first time conservatives have turned their anger against a friendly-looking muppet who opted to get the jab. When Big Bird got vaccinated in November, Cruz and other right-wing figures accused the show of brainwashing kids.
Big Bird’s choice to get vaccinated was not a shocker though, clips dating back to 1972 show him getting immunized against the measles.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Hill) (Market Watch)
Uvalde Puts Police Chief on Leave, Tries to Kick Him Off City Council
If Pete Arredondo fails to attend two more consecutive city council meetings, then he may be voted out of office.
Police Chief Faces Public Fury
Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo was placed on administrative leave Wednesday following revelations that he and his officers did not engage the shooter at Robb Elementary for over an hour despite having adequate weaponry and protection.
Superintendent Hal Harrell, who made the announcement, did not specify whether the leave is paid or unpaid.
Harrell said in a statement that the school district would have waited for an investigation to conclude before making any personnel decisions, but chose to order the administrative leave because it is uncertain how long the investigation will take.
Lieutenant Mike Hernandez, the second in command at the police department, will assume Arredondo’s duties.
In an interview with The Texas Tribune earlier this month, Arredondo said he did not consider himself in charge during the shooting, but law enforcement records reviewed by the outlet indicate that he gave orders at the scene.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told state senators on Tuesday that some officers wanted to enter the classrooms harboring the shooter but were stopped by their superiors.
He said officer Ruben Ruiz tried to move forward into the hallway after receiving a call from his wife Eva Mireles, a teacher inside one of the classrooms, telling him she had been shot and was bleeding to death.
Ruiz was detained, had his gun taken away, and was escorted off the scene, according to McCraw. Mireles later died of her wounds.
Calls for Arredondo to resign or be fired have persisted.
Emotions Erupt at City Council
Wednesday’s announcement came one day after the Uvalde City Council held a special meeting in which community members and relatives of victims voiced their anger and demanded accountability.
“Who are you protecting?” Asked Jasmine Cazares, sister of Jackie Cazares, a nine-year-old student who was shot. “Not my sister. The parents? No. You’re too busy putting them in handcuffs.”
Much of the anger was directed toward Arredondo, who was not present at the meeting but was elected to the city council on May 7, just over two weeks before the massacre.
“We are having to beg ya’ll to do something to get this man out of our faces,” said the grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, a 10-year-old victim. “We can’t see that gunman. That gunman got off easy. We can’t take our frustrations out on that gunman. He’s dead. He’s gone. … Ya’ll need to put yourselves in our shoes, and don’t say that none of ya’ll have, because I guarantee you if any of ya’ll were in our shoes, ya’ll would have been pulling every string that ya’ll have to get this man off the council.”
One woman demanded the council refuse to grant Arredondo the leave of absence he had requested, pointing out that if he fails to attend three consecutive meetings the council can vote him out for abandoning his office.
“What you can do right now is not give him, if he requests it, a leave of absence,” she said. “Don’t give him an out. We don’t want him. We want him out.”
After hearing from the residents, the council voted unanimously not to approve the leave of absence.
On Tuesday, Uvalde’s mayor announced that Robb Elementary is set to be demolished, saying no students or teachers should have to return to it after what happened.
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Texas Public Safety Director Says Police Response to Uvalde Shooting Was An “Abject Failure”
New footage shows officers prepared to engage the shooter one hour before they entered the classroom.
Seventy-Seven Deadly Minutes
Nearly a month after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, evidence has emerged indicating that police were prepared to engage the shooter within minutes of arriving, but chose to wait over an hour.
The shooting at Robb Elementary began at 11:33 a.m., and within three minutes 11 officers are believed to have entered the school, according to surveillance and body camera footage obtained by KVUE and the Austin American Statesman.
District Police Chief Pete Arredondo reportedly called a landline at the police department at 11:40 a.m. for help.
“It’s an emergency right now,” he said. “We have him in the room. He’s got an AR-15. He’s shot a lot… They need to be outside the building prepared because we don’t have firepower right now. It’s all pistols.”
At 11:52 a.m., however, the footage shows multiple officers inside the school armed with at least two rifles and one ballistic shield.
Law enforcement did not enter the adjoined classrooms to engage the shooter until almost an hour later, at 12:50 p.m. During that time, one officer’s daughter was inside the classrooms and another’s wife, a teacher, reportedly called him to say she was bleeding to death.
Thirty minutes before law enforcement entered the classrooms, the footage shows officers had four ballistic shields in the hallway.
Frustrated Cops Want to Go Inside
Some of the officers felt agitated because they were not allowed to enter the classrooms.
One special agent at the Texas Department of Public Safety arrived about 20 minutes after the shooting started, then immediately asked, “Are there still kids in the classrooms?”
“It is unknown at this time,” another officer replied.
“Ya’ll don’t know if there’s kids in there?” The agent shot back. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there.”
“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” the other officer responded.
According to an earlier account by Arredondo, he and the other officers tried to open the doors to the classrooms, but found them both locked and waited for a master key to arrive. But surveillance footage suggests that they never tried to open the doors, which a top Texas official has confirmed were never actually locked.
One officer has told reporters that within minutes of the police response, there was a Halligan bar, which firefighters use to break down locked doors, on-site, but it was never used.
At a special State Senate committee hearing Monday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw called the police response an “abject failure” and “antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”
“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from (entering rooms) 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” he said. “The officers have weapons, the children had none.”