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Protestors Clash With Police Over Sweep of Echo Park Homeless Encampment

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  • 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.

Widespread Backlash

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)

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Florida Appeals Court Grants Officers Involved in Shootings Privacy Protections Under Marsy’s Law

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  • A Florida appeals court sided with a local police union Tuesday, ruling that a state constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law can shield the identities of officers who shoot suspects if the officers are threatened during those incidents — an argument often made in police shootings.
  • Marsy’s Law grants privacy protections to victims of crimes, and a trial court previously sided with the city of Tallahassee and media, saying it could not interpret the law “to shield police officers from public scrutiny of their official actions.”
  • Lawyers representing the media called the new ruling a “setback for police accountability.”
  • The appeals court, however, argued that privacy protections would not stop an internal affairs investigation, grand jury proceedings, or stop a state attorney from later deciding that an officer was not a victim in a specific case.

Case That Lead To Appeals Court Ruling

Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals unanimously decided Tuesday that municipalities cannot make the names of officers who shoot citizens public if the officers themselves were crime victims.

According to Axios, that is almost always the argued case in police shootings.

The ruling stems from a case involving two Tallahassee officers who fatally shot a suspect in separate incidents. Florida’s Police Benevolent Association, the police union representing the two officers, argued in a lawsuit that the city shouldn’t release any information that would personally identify them as the shooters.

They cited Florida’s 2018 constitution amendment, called Marsy’s Law, which grants privacy rights to crime victims. They argued that the amendment applied to these officers because they were allegedly threatened in these use-of-force incidents.

The city and news media, however, argued that the documents identifying the two officers were public records under the Florida constitution. They also argued that officers acting in their official capacities cannot be victims.

The trial court had sided with the city and media, saying that the court “cannot interpret Marsy’s Law to shield police officers from public scrutiny of their official actions.”

It also added that the language of the law was not intended to apply to officers acting in their official capacity.

The police union appealed that ruling and the three-judge panel of the appeals court unanimously sided with the officers, saying that Marsay’s Law does not exclude “law enforcement officers … from the protections granted crime victims.”

Because of this, the judges said an officer who is a victim has the right to keep confidential, “information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim.”

What Does This Mean for Police Accountability?

The judges said that keeping an officer’s identity private wouldn’t stop an internal affairs investigation or a grand jury proceeding. It also wouldn’t stop a state attorney from later deciding the officer was not a victim and bringing charges.

Still, a lawyer representing media organization issued a statement criticizing the ruling.

“Today’s decision was an unfortunate setback for police accountability. We respectfully disagree with the court’s reasoning and are considering our options,” Tampa lawyer Mark Caramanica said in a prepared statement.

See what others are saying: (News4) (Tampa Bay Times) (RawStory)

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Minneapolis Police Chief Testifies Against Derek Chauvin

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  • In a highly unusual move, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo on Monday testified against former officer Derek Chauvin, who faces murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd. 
  • In his testimony, Chief Arradondo said that Chauvin violated a number of departmental policies when he kneeled on Floyd’s neck, including rules on reasonable force, neck restraints, non-violent de-escalation, and rendering aid. 
  • Arradondo is now the highest-ranking public safety official to testify in the trial. It is rare for a police chief to take the witness stand against a fellow officer.
  • Experts said his testimony underscores the difficulty Chauvin’s defense will have in persuading the jury he did his job before, during, and after he kneeled on Floyd’s neck.

Chief Arradondo Testimony

The second week of the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, began Monday with a rare testimony from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.

It is unusual for a police chief to take the witness stand against a fellow officer and even more unusual for one to offer such sharp rebukes of a former employee.

In his testimony, Arradondo said  Chauvin violated several departmental policies when he kneeled on Floyd’s neck. 

The most important part of the testimony came from Arradondo’s remarks on defensive tactics and reasonable force. When shown a picture of Chauvin using the neck restrain on Floyd and asked by prosecutors if that was part of the department’s training, the chief said it was not.

“A conscious neck restraint by policy mentions light to moderate pressure,” he said. “When I look [at the picture], when I look at the facial expression of Mr. Floyd, that does not appear in any way, shape, or form that that is light to moderate pressure.”

“I absolutely agree that violates our policy,” he added.

Arradondo also noted that in order for use of force to be considered reasonable, it has to be applied throughout the entire encounter and a number of factors need to be taken into account, including the threat to the officer and others.

“There’s an initial reasonableness in trying to just get him under control in the first few seconds,” he said. “But once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back, that in no way, shape, or form is anything that is by policy, it is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.” 

Ongoing Trial

Chief Arradondo is now the highest-ranking public safety officer to testify against Chauvin. 

His testimony emphasizes the attempts of law enforcement officials to distance themselves from the former officer’s actions. As The New York Times wrote, the chief’s testimony “underscored the difficulty that Mr. Chauvin and his lawyers will have in persuading the jury that the officer was just doing his job when he pinned Mr. Floyd to the ground with his knee for more than nine minutes last May.”

That point is especially notable because in his questioning of Arradondo, Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, focused on the claim that the police department’s policies gave officers some room to determine the reasonableness of the use of force on a case-by-case basis, which the chief agreed with.

Still, in addition to holding firm that Chauvin did not use reasonable force in this case, Arradondo also emphasized that Chauvin violated department procedures on a number of policies. . For example, he noted that the former officer went against policies for non-violent de-escalation and rendering first aid, which the officers involved failed to give after detecting that Floyd did not have a pulse. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (The Minneapolis Star Tribune)

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Students Watched Footage of George Floyd’s Death for Assignment on Derek Chauvin’s Trial

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  • As part of a class assignment, freshman students at a Texas high school were required to act as jurors in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is currently facing murder charges over his role in the death of George Floyd.
  • Parents complained about the assignment, which involved their children watching graphic footage of Floyd’s encounter with police, watching 45 minutes of Chauvin’s trial each day, and not being allowed to discuss the case with anyone for at least six weeks.
  • In a letter to the school, parents said, “This murder seen by millions around the globe was triggering and traumatizing for adults. Yet, you left students to handle their own emotions and mental health as they left your class, without proper and professional support.”
  • The school’s principal agreed that the assignment was not age-appropriate, and the district said the unapproved lesson has been removed.

Class Assignment Sparks Outrage

A Texas high school is facing criticism from parents over a class assignment regarding the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd— a death that sparked worldwide protests and discussion about racism and police brutality.

A teacher at Cedar High School in Dallas reportedly assigned their freshman students to watch the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is facing second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter charges after kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe.

Watching that trial meant the children also had to see graphic images and footage of the incident.

According to parents, the teacher never asked for their consent to carry out such an assignment. Parents, however, eventually learned about what was going on and wrote to the school, arguing that the trial could impact the mental health of their 14 and 15-year-old children.

“It is unfathomable to me that you felt it appropriate to force my child to watch George Floyd’s murder on television in your classroom and then move on with his day as if nothing had happened,” the letter to the school read, according to a local ABC station.

“This murder seen by millions around the globe was triggering and traumatizing for adults. Yet, you left students to handle their own emotions and mental health as they left your class, without proper and professional support.”

School Responds

The teacher, who has not been named, responded to the parental complaints with an outline of the project. That breakdown laid out plans for students to watch the trial for about 45 minutes each day because they would be “acting as actual jurors in the trial.”

“Therefore, every day, your child will be attentive to the actual trial, listening and paying attention to the evidence of both sides, defense and prosecution, during the trial,” the teacher explained.

The teacher’s memo even said the students were not allowed to speak with anyone about the case for at least six weeks, adding, “They may not text discuss what they hear with friends, siblings, or relatives – not even the family dog.”

In response to the growing outrage, Cedar Hill Independent School District officials issued a statement saying they were aware of the assignment.

“The assignment was not approved by campus or district administrators,” the school district told ABC News. “The matter has been addressed with the teacher, and the assignment was removed.”

In a separate response to parents, Cedar High School Principal Jason Miller wrote, “I don’t feel that viewing and discussing this case in school is age-appropriate for scholars.”

See what others are saying: (ABC News) (Insider) (WFAA)

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