This article was published by Capital & Main.
The crowd of tens of thousands of Angelenos who converged on Hollywood last Sunday was by far the largest seen in Los Angeles County during two weeks of sustained protests against systemic racism and police brutality, which were spurred by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. But despite the throngs of protesters, the most visible police presence was an LAPD helicopter crisscrossing overhead.
The peaceful scene stood in stark contrast to earlier demonstrations that saw numerous clashes between protesters and a police force seemingly bent on squashing the marches through force and arrests — and on fighting political critics by attacking Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and members of the city council and board of supervisors.
Capital & Main reviewed records from the initial weeks of protest to see what L.A.’s police have been up to, and how the situation may continue unfolding.
1. Violence on Video
L.A. police were caught on camera using force numerous times in the early days of the protests.
Officers fired rubber-coated bullets at: people running away in downtown L.A.; a Marine Corps veteran in the Fairfax District who said he suffered a “brain bleed”; a photojournalist whose camera was gashed instead of his face; an unhoused disabled man left bleeding in his wheelchair. Other cops were seen bashing protesters with batons and jabbing a journalist in the stomach. Officers also rammed a police vehicle into a crowd, knocking over two people before reversing and fleeing the scene.
The widespread attention these incidents received, largely thanks to social media, is already sparking calls for accountability.
The L.A. Police Commission’s inspector general is reviewing social media posts like these and opening investigations into possible incidents of excessive force. Black Lives Matter’s L.A. chapter and the Los Angeles Community Action Network are suing the city over officers’ handling of the protests. Mayor Garcetti is directing the LAPD to “minimize” its use of rubber bullets when dealing with peaceful protesters, and California lawmakers say they will pursue legislation to limit law enforcement’s use of projectiles.
2. Thousands Arrested, None Charged
Police arrested at least 2,500 people across Los Angeles, mainly for violating curfew or failing to disperse, according to a Los Angeles Times review of booking records.
But those arrests may have been for naught. Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer decided not to prosecute these protesters. And while Feuer initially wanted to require all arrestees to meet with officers before dismissing their cases, he backtracked following criticism.
3. LAPD Chief Blamed George Floyd’s Death on Looters
Chief Michel Moore said that the death of George Floyd was as much on the hands of those inciting criminal acts at protests as on the officers involved in Minneapolis. After facing backlash, Chief Moore said he “misspoke.” Mayor Garcetti defended Moore: “When I heard him say what he said, I knew that he did not mean it.”
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These violent acts and verbal missteps — and the widespread condemnation they received — are likely behind the LAPD’s choice to scale back police presence at marches, including the massive one last Sunday. Instead, the cops seem to be waging a war of words against local policymakers.
4. L.A. Police Union Lashed Out
When Los Angeles Council President Nury Martinez introduced a motion considering cuts to the LAPD budget — a core protest demand — the union representing LAPD officers accused her of “creating a deeper division between our police officers and the community we serve.” The union warned Martinez that when she calls the department seeking assistance now, “we may be a little late to answer.”
Los Angeles Police Protective League Director Jamie McBride also struck back against Mayor Garcetti over the proposed budget cuts and his comments describing officers as “killers.”
“Eric, do you really believe that Los Angeles police officers are killers?” McBride asked. “The same officers that provide you 24-hour security extra measures at your residence 365 days a year?” McBride’s comments appear to be another veiled threat that officers may pull back their services from critical politicians.
5. Angry Angelenos Humiliated the L.A. Police Commission
Angered by police officers’ handling of the protests, hundreds of Angelenos called in on Zoom to publicly berate the Los Angeles Police Commission during a seven-hour-long video meeting. The footage has been viewed more than a million times, according to Slate.
“This department has failed so miserably that you’ve mobilized a movement to defund your department,” one caller said. “I never thought that was something that would be on my radar, that would be a political agenda of mine, but you’ve done it — you’ve mobilized me, a lazy white person.”
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The historically large and widespread protests seem unlikely to slow in Los Angeles or across the country anytime soon. American voters’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement has increased almost as much during the last two weeks as it had in the previous two years, according to the New York Times. And policymakers are currently considering Black Lives Matter L.A.’s calls to reshape the city’s budget to “prioritize care not cops.”
So far, Los Angeles’ Finest have pivoted from physical force to verbal clapbacks. But have they learned that brutalizing Angelenos at anti-police brutality protests only proves their point?