Unequal and Targeted Enforcement Escalated again on Main Street Yesterday – People Cited for Handing out Seedlings to the Community and Police Monitor Arrested

Downtown Los Angeles gentrification continues to reach all-time lows as LAPD carries on with its mission to rid downtown of poor and homeless, and mostly Black, faces. In the May 20th episode, LAPD took action to stop…wait for it…a seedling give-a-way in front of the LA CAN office. The bustling operation, coordinated by LA CAN’s community gardeners in front of our office, was being visited by a vast array of downtown stakeholders. In fact, our garden project almost always demonstrates the real potential of bringing together disparate communities and realizing the purported vision of a “mixed-income” downtown – there is widespread support for community gardens and giving residents access to seedlings to start their own gardens of any size.

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The Great Plant Caper – Seedling Give-Away at LA CAN

LAPD Officer Owens apparently isn’t a fan of gardening, but is fine with perpetrating the Jim Crow policing used under Downtown’s Safer Cities Initiative.  The tool of choice for years to move poor and homeless people off Main Street has the been the enforcement of municipal code 41.18D – no sleeping or sitting on the sidewalk.  And that’s what Officer Owens was doing yesterday – issuing a ticket to an elderly gentleman sitting in a portable stool and two LA CAN members sitting in chairs handing out seedlings.  Never mind that all parties cited were actually on private property – within 3 feet from a private building.  Never mind that a legal settlement agreement requires LAPD to give people warnings and the opportunity to comply BEFORE citing or arresting anyone for 41.18D.

Fully aware of their rights, and the actual 41.18 D rules, the LA CAN members stated they could not be cited for 41.18D and requested to speak to a supervisor. Instead, within minutes, nearly a dozen police responded to the plant give-away “crime scene.”  Thelmy Perez was monitoring this incredibly over-use of LAPD with her cell phone camera when she was seized by three officers and arrested.  Thelmy was released later in the day and now faces a charge of interfering with police investigation.  Sean and Esteban also received misdemeanor citations for their community gardening activities, and Jody, our elderly neighbor, faces misdemeanor charges for just sitting down for a brief rest. 

Police monitoring 5-20-13

Monitoring Police as they Detain Community Gardeners

We of course won’t accept Jim Crow in Skid Row – we will continue to fight for equal rights and equal enforcement through local fights and statewide fights like YES on AB 5, the Homeless Bill of Rights.  We will also fight these four cases together and ensure this most recent round of criminalization of perfectly legal community activities and organizing does not stick! LA CAN will continue our community gardening and seedling give-away programs in public space as well.

Yesterday is unfortunately just one example of the blatant selective enforcement and civil rights violations that define the Safer Cities Initiative, and the continued criminalization of organizers who stand up against these violations.  If you aren’t familiar with Main Street – wealthier residents and visitors sit and stand on the street regularly.  Below you will see the bench in front of the Nickel Diner and the tables and chairs for the new “Creamery”  – where their upscale customers sit without any police harassment, within a block of LA CAN.  Apparently the Nickel Diner can put a bench in front of their establishment (complete with a sign that says “customers only”), but LA CAN members can’t be found in chairs in front of our office.   Again – we won’t accept this and will fight for equity on Main Street and throughout all of LA and beyond.

nickle diner

Fiddler Creamory

Nickel Diner

Deborah Burton’s Trial Expected in Late April – These Unjust Charges Should be Dropped!

Yesterday, LA CAN was featured on Voices on the Frontlines with Eric Mann. Listen below to find out more about the coordinated efforts of CCEA, LAPD, and the City Attorney to silence the human rights work of LA CAN.

Deborah Burton, longtime LA CAN member and organizer, has been unjustly charged with three counts of assault for alleged actions during a legal protest in April 2011. She was not charged until August 2012, 16 months later, and public records show that in the interim months LAPD and the Central City East Association actively lobbied the City Attorney to criminally charge LA CAN members involved in a monthly protest of the CCEA’s “Skid Row Walk.” Deborah is just the latest target of the City Attorney’s ongoing campaign to squash protest and political dissent in Los Angeles, including other LA CAN members.

Since 2006, LA CAN has led the charge against LAPD’s Safer Cities Initiative (SCI), which has brought up to 150 additional cops into the Skid Row community and resulted in mass criminalization of homeless and poor, mostly African American, residents. In 2011, LA CAN and partners began protesting the CCEA’s “Skid Row Walk” because it was a tool to promote SCI, perpetuated myths about homeless people, and lacked the voice and participation of community residents.

Immediately after we began our protests, the CCEA, LAPD, and the City Attorney’s office began coordinating and strategizing on ways to stop LA CAN’s opposition to the walk. The quotes below, from emails obtained through Public Records Request, begin to shine light on just how CCEA was trying to use LAPD and the City Attorney to criminalize first amendment rights.

In one email sent the evening of the alleged incident with Deborah, CCEA’s Estela Lopez assures her Board of Directors that the City Attorney informed her that “they would explore all legal options to protect us and allow us to conduct our walk without interference from LA CAN.”   In another email from LAPD’s Lieutenant Paulson, she tells the City Attorney that she needs information about the filing of cases related to the public safety walk because “This is going to be an ongoing problem until it gets too costly for them.”

Stay tuned for more information about the documents obtained.

The targeting of LA CAN members exercising first amendment rights by LAPD, at the demand of business leaders, is clearly unjust. The City Attorney should not prosecute this unsubstantiated case and should not continue his past history of criminalizing protest and first amendment rights.

LA CAN members and supporters will be calling on the City Attorney over the coming weeks to drop these charges and not pursue this trial. Please join us! You can call the City Attorney’s office directly (213-978-8100) and/or stay tuned for other ways to get involved by spreading the word through social media and other public actions.

Community Support for Deborah Burton Continues to Grow

Deborah Burton is just the latest target of the City Attorney’s ongoing campaign to squash protest and political dissent in Los Angeles, including other LA CAN members.

Deborah, a longtime LA CAN member and organizer, has been unjustly charged with three counts of assault for alleged actions during a legal protest in April 2011. She was not charged until August 2012, 16 months later, and public records show that in the interim months LAPD and the Central City East Association actively lobbied the City Attorney to criminally charge LA CAN members involved in a monthly protest of the CCEA’s “Skid Row Walk.”

To learn more about Deborah’s case, click HERE. Stay tuned for more information!

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