It was a long night at the OccupyLA encampment outside of City Hall. The celebratory mood during the day had turned to tension at night, as the 12:01am Monday deadline loomed for what Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa had announced on Friday as the "date certain" when peaceful demonstrators would no longer be able to peacefully demonstrate in the overnight encampment on the lawn at City Hall.
57 days of free speech and peaceable assembly were fine, apparently, but 58 days would simply be a bridge too far. Or so Villaraigosa had made it sound during his presser that night, with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck by his side. They each took the opportunity then to praise the "Occupy LA movement for its peaceful efforts to change the national political and economic conversation."
But, as LAPD cops and the Mayor had been telling (often skeptical) demonstrators for the last several days: "We are not Oakland. We are not New York City." They had promised that there would not be a repeat of the horrific scenes which had gone viral on YouTube in other cities, where peaceful demonstrators were shot, beaten, "nudged," pepper sprayed, threatened and tear gassed during violent confrontations created by the police themselves, as they attempted to evict OWS encampments elsewhere.
One long-time demonstrator told us hours prior to the expected shut down last night, the LAPD had taken great pains to work with the L.A. protesters from the beginning of their encampment nearly two months ago. There has been a cooperative spirit with them from the beginning, she explained, noting that it seemed the LAPD was "still haunted" by the 2007 May Day Riots (which The BRAD BLOG covered live as it happened, and again when they finally reached a $13 million settlement in 2009 with the victims of their outrageous, inappropriate and unnecessary violence which included rubber bullet attacks on peaceful demonstrators and attacks against journalists attempting to cover it).
Last night's eviction never came, as protesters, media --- both corporate and citizen --- all took to the streets (and skies) around City Hall all night long. There was little show of force by the police, as they were mostly missing altogether through the night, with a few hundred, at best, appearing in the very early hours with helmets (but not full riot gear as seen elsewhere) largely to patrol intersections in an attempt to keep folks out of the street. Ironically, at about 3:30am, they spread the word that protesters should go back to City Hall Park, that they'd only be arrested if they were in the streets. There were just three such arrests total last night and the camp is still standing as of this morning.
The mixed messages from officials led one citizen journalist --- an OccupySF live video streamer who had come down from the Bay Area to cover the deadline here in L.A. --- to mention wryly as his camera rolled in the early hours: "The LAPD seem to want something from us, but it's unclear what their demands are"...
We were torn on whether to head downtown ourselves last night, to cover things live on the ground, or whether we'd be able to do a better job back here, with access to all of the corporate and, more importantly, citizen media, livestreams and tweets from folks both on the ground and elsewhere. In the past, while we've been able to report interesting stories from on the ground, we've found we're often able to offer a better overall picture of events like this when we're not down inside of them.
It's not that we don't like the taste of pepper spray at midnight, but in this case, we had direct contact with a lot of folks on the ground throughout the night, in addition to what was available on the Internets (and, very occasionally, on television) as events unfolded in very slow motion through dawn's early light. We tweeted our live coverage from here instead.
The mood varied between tension and celebration all night, as demonstrators had difficulty, understandably, trusting the words of the Mayor or the police or media reports suggesting that there would not be a full raid on the encampment at 12:01am or in the hours immediately following.
During the day, Villaraigosa had issued another statement on the "upcoming closure of City Hall Park", largely echoing his remarks from Friday.
"As Chief Beck has made clear," his statement read, "though the park will officially close tonight at 12:01 a.m., the department will allow campers ample time to remove their belongings peacefully and without disruption."
"I am proud of the fact that this has been a peaceful, non-violent protest," Villaraigosa repeated. "It has been peaceful because we have done things differently in Los Angeles. I trust that we can manage the closure of City Hall Park in the same spirit of cooperation."
He went on to list the city's efforts planned for that "spirit of cooperation," including a walk through the encampment "handing out bilingual flyers with information about the park closure," by General Services Officers and by L.A. Homeless Services Authority "to inform people about social and public health services that are available." On Monday, he said, 50 shelter beds would be made available "for those individuals from the encampment who are homeless and will need an alternate place to spend the night." He noted that they would "make nearby parking available to make it easier for people to move their belongings and personal property."
"We have and will continue to work hard to ensure that the park closure will be peaceful and non-violent," he said, adding again that "The movement has played an important role in focusing the national conversation on economic equality." He urged demonstrators "to expand their efforts far beyond the confines of the City Hall Park in the coming months."
'They Don't Want to Hurt Us'
Whether Villaraigosa's sentiments hold in the coming days remains to be seen. But what a starkly different picture is painted in comparison to cities elsewhere where demonstrators were tricked, disparaged, and viciously abused by Mayors (both Democratic and Republican alike) and by steroid-pumped, riot-geared, paramilitary troops masquerading as municipal police departments, all too eager to try out their new, violent, post-9/11 goodie-bag of anti-terror toys not against terrorists, but against peaceful U.S. citizens.
Between Friday's announcement and Sunday night's planned closure, long-time BRAD BLOG reader, now LAOccupier Jeannie Dean told us, the city had kept its end of the bargain. Folks from social services were indeed making their way through City Hall Park --- redubbed Solidarity Park by the demonstrators --- helping to find shelter for those who needed it, such as the many homeless families, including one woman with three young children, who had no place else to go.
"Some families were put into motels," Dean said, adding that "Occupy Animals" had also been on hand to help find shelters for the many Occupuppies and other pets that had become mainstays at the park.
Though she had come armed with the "I'm Getting Arrested" app on her iPhone, just in case, she said that the city had "been great. They don't want to hurt us."
When asked if she believed the police would be able to distinguish between OccupyLA's actual peaceful demonstrators, versus those who might show up as provocateurs hoping to spark violence, she responded, optimistically, "Yes! They know us. We know them. They're our neighbors!"
She said that City Council Member Bill Rosendahl had even participated in the afternoon General Assembly, telling demonstrators they "don't have to be arrested," and inviting them "to come in to City Hall and we'll continue the work."
The L.A. City Council, as a whole, has been extremely supportive of the encampment from Day 1, even going so far as to file an extraordinary resolution in support of both them and the Occupy Wall Street movement as a whole, officially titled "The Responsible Banking Measure" [PDF].
On a rainy cold morning several weeks ago, just after the Occupation had gotten under way, Villaraigosa had even sent over a hundred rain ponchos to the park. Last week the LAPD sent several turkeys to the demonstrators for Thanksgiving. (The latter prompted one cynical observer to tweet last night before the 12:01am deadline: "LAPD gives stuffed turkeys to #OccupyLA, in advance of driving them from land. It's just like the First Thanksgiving!")
Freedom of the Press
Unlike in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg had appallingly restricted Freedom of the Press by barring media from observing in Zuccotti Park as the riot-geared NYPD violently and shamefully shut it down without warning in the middle of the night two weeks ago, sending thousands of protesters onto the cold streets, purportedly to help protect their "health and safety", L.A.'s corporate media were largely on hand to cover the event from on the ground and even from helicopters in the sky for most of the night.
Some coverage was better than others, naturally.
Reportage from KNBC/KCET journalist Angie Crouch was particularly helpful, as she tweeted information like "BREAKING NEWS: LA Mayor announces the LAPD WILL NOT raid #OccupyLA camp tonight" and "CONFIRMED: LA MAYOR PRESS secretary Teddy Davis confirms there will be NO RAID tonight at Occupy LA."
Her reports confirmed those from citizen journalists like the live streamer who calls herself @OccupyFreedomLA. She had broadcast a streaming interview from her Android phone with LAPD Cptn. Rodriguez at 4:30 in the afternoon, confirming that the department had no intention of raiding the camp tonight, or anytime prior to day break on Monday. There would be no arrests, except for "violations of the law" such as "people marching on the street...blocking traffic," etc.
According to a tweet from local NPR affiliate KPCC reporter Molly Peterson, a reporter from Fox11 News, Christina Gonzalez, said she'd "taken a flag (Identification) off her microphone [because] of #OccupyLA preconceptions about MSM, Fox." (We attempted to confirm that with KTTV Fox 11's News Director Kingsley Smith twice --- once last night, and again today --- and to see what his explanation might be for that, but we've yet to hear back.)
The Los Angeles Times, as usual, offered a mix of both good and bad reporting.
BAD: A photo by Robert Lachman posted atop a short article headlined "Occupy L.A: Protesters surround police SUV":
Um, looks to us more like media taking photos of LAPD, rather than the more ominous moment described in the headline and sure to show up misleadingly in Google News for years to come. As a matter of fact, if you look closely at the actual photo caption, likely from Lachman himself, way at the bottom of the article by Joel Rubin, you'll see "Police confront protesters on Spring Street early Monday." Got that? Police confronted protesters. Not the other way around as the headline seems to inaccurately charge.
GOOD: An exceptional, must-see collection of photos from Times photographers taken throughout the night (Note to LATimes: Please allow folks to embed your slideshows!), including these and many more...
Still Standing...For Now...
At this hour, nobody knows what will come in the hours and days ahead at OccupyLA. But demonstrators are happy to have simply made it through the long night for now.
Jeannie Dean sends us these photographs she took this morning, at about 8am, including a tree house which has now been built at Solidarity Park, presumably in response to Villaraigosa call to "clear the lawn" at City Hall...
[UPDATE: Very cool interactive panoramic 360 photo of City Hall Park this morning from LATimes here.]
If officials continue working peacefully with protesters, Los Angeles can continue to be very proud. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck will deserve much praise for helping to turn the corner at a police department which has brought much shame on itself and the city over the past several decades.
But all of that is just "as of now". We'll see what happens next. This morning, Villaraigosa told NBC's Chuck Todd (who got the story wrong on the arrests, right at the beginning of the interview) that "departure is imminent...this is not sustainable."
For the moment then, we'll just leave you with this tweet, from Xeni Jardin as posted on Saturday, in the wake of Villaraigosa so-far-unkept promise to shut down Solidarity Park at City Hall. So far, part of the tweet has yet to come to pass, even as the second part of the tweet is worth keeping in mind as we all move forward together...