Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department and park rangers encountered stiff resistance from protestors and the homeless while closing down the Echo Park homeless encampment recently.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the encampment has been a point of contention between city leaders and a league of protestors and homeless people who were displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic. City leaders gave an order to clear the park after receiving complaints from local residents about trash, drug use and crime growing in the neighborhood.
The encampment is one of the largest homeless camps in Los Angeles with over 200 tents and stands as a symbol for the Los Angeles homeless crisis.
On March 24, LAPD, along with park rangers and contractors, declared an unlawful assembly from a loudspeaker before moving into the park to order residents to leave and pack their belongings. They were met with 200 protestors who were defending the park’s residents.
Police told protestors to disperse, but they refused. During the clash, projectiles were thrown at officers and some protestors were shoved in an effort to push them back. At one point, a line of officers in riot gear was deployed.
After midnight, crowds began to dwindle, and officers began taping notices of closure to trees and light poles. The notices also ordered the removal of all personal property from the park. City contractors then moved in to deploy fencing around the park.
LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore said residents in the park can stay there overnight but must leave within 24 hours.
City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell said, “The LAPD was asked to support community safety efforts during installation of the fencing to assist in the rehabilitation of Echo Park. Department personnel are deployed in that area so that those efforts can begin in a safe and unimpeded manner.”
He added that homeless service providers would be in the park to offer assistance and shelter to residents. Indeed, social service organizations and several nonprofits were in the park to help the homeless relocate to hotel rooms the city is renting temporarily under a state program called Project Roomkey.
However, officials with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority believe the sweep was not communicated by the LAPD or the city clearly enough to give the homeless residents sufficient time to prepare.
“It’s about setting expectations, being clear and giving them options … if you’re gonna close the park, be clear. It doesn’t mean we need to take people by surprise,” said LAHSA Executive Director Heidi Marston. “It facilitates fear, chaos and it breaks the trust we built. It seems like it didn’t need to happen this way.”
O’Farrell has been criticized for not being transparent enough with the timing of the sweep. According to the Los Angeles Times, his office is getting bombarded with angry calls.
“You define a sweep as moving someone indoors to a safe, clean environment where they will be provided free, healthy meals, receive medical care and a path to wellness, then you can call it what you want,” O’Farrell replied. “Because this is what we are doing for everyone who has been there over the last several weeks or months.”