Protesters On What It Was Like To Be One Of The 2,700 People Arrested By LAPD Last Week
Since the start of the protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, at least 2,700 demonstrators have been arrested in Los Angeles. Booking records show that the majority of the corresponding charges were for looting, vandalism, burglary, and violating curfew, despite the fact that most of the protests we've reported on over the past two weeks have been peaceful.
The arrests have sparked outrage on social media, as well calls from public officials and advocacy groups to drop charges.
Today, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that they are currently investigating "allegations of misconduct, violations of Department policy, and excessive force during the recent civil unrest." So far, the department is investigating 56 complaints - 28 of those involve alleged use of force.
The following are three accounts of events from protestors who were arrested for disobeying orders from police officers.
Here are their stories, in their own words, edited for clarity:
Farhan Kamdar, 20-year-old college student from Walnut, California.
Arrested for "failing to obey a lawful order" from LAPD, while protesting at City Hall in downtown L.A. on May 29th.
I got downtown at around 5:30 p.m. and was marching through the streets of downtown with all of the protesters. There were hundreds of them. It was very peaceful. People were just chanting and holding up signs and repeating the names of George Floyd and the other victims of police brutality. It was completely peaceful until around 9:30pm.
When the police got there, it became chaotic. I saw a few instances of people who were completely unarmed and non-violent, shouting at police. LAPD officers pushed them away and shot people with rubber bullets.
We stopped in front of City Hall because the police had blocked us in. They surrounded us on all sides and wouldn't let us leave. They released a statement saying that they gave us the option to either leave and disperse, or be arrested. But in reality, we had been chanting for an hour to let us leave — we were chanting the phrase "Let us leave, let us go home."
The police would not let us leave. They slowly closed in on us and demanded that we all sit down, in order to be peacefully arrested.
We asked what we were being arrested for and they wouldn't respond. They said that they gave us a warning but in reality, there was no warning. They arrested the few hundred of us that were there.
When we were arrested, we were taken one by one behind City Hall and told to sit down, very close to each other. No space for social distancing. They handcuffed us with zip ties and took our names. We sat there for over an hour.
They started blocking us in at 9:30 p.m. We were arrested starting at around 11:30 p.m. And by 1:00 a.m. we were put into Metro buses and taken into an LAPD building, where we were kind of just corralled.
It was a very, very large group, about five or six bus loads of people. We were trapped in a very small area with a lot of people and very slowly processed. Then we were given citations and let go.
Overall, I would say that LAPD's behavior and response was pretty hostile towards what I would consider peaceful protesters. The most violence that I saw were people screaming and shouting, which I do not think is cause for rubber bullets being shot and people being tear-gassed.
It was scary when I heard the police firing with loud bangs. I felt frustrated with the system.
I think it's important to know that the protesters are trying to be peaceful and that the violence is often instigated by the police. The few times I did see someone trying to spray paint a business or try to [loot] or something, there were a dozen or so protesters that would stop them or protect the business. I saw someone start to spray paint a food truck and about 15 protesters told him to stop.
I think it's important to know that the violence really escalates with the police's hand, and that's true all across the country.
The night that Kamdar was in downtown, LAPD did declare an unlawful assembly, following, as they said in a statement to CNN, "repeated acts of violence & property damage."
Ricci Sergienko, 29-year-old organizer with the Sunrise L.A. Movement and the People's City Council of Los Angeles
Arrested for "failing to obey an order from a police officer," according to LAPD's citation on May 30th in the Fairfax District.
At the beginning of the day, it was all full of love and so much solidarity and positivity. When we broke out of Pan Pacific Park and hit the streets, we had tens of thousands of people [with us].
People were honking from their cars to let us know they were there with us, in solidarity.
Then LAPD showed up.
Officers separated us, so that one group went in one direction and another group (of thousands of people) went in the other direction.
While we were marching, I turned on Kendrick Samson's Instagram livestream and I saw that there was a direct confrontation stand-off with the police happening nearby.
A bunch of us, specifically from People's City Council LA, tried to head back towards where Kendrick was [to help him]. We've had discussions before about what happens when black people are confronted by the police and we agreed that white people try to act as a buffer between the police and black and brown people.
So we headed back. On the other side of the block, we were met by the police. We could see Kendrick and the other group of protesters were being hit by the police with batons.
LAPD was being very violent, trying to corner and hit protesters. I specifically got a video of an officer instigating violence. He was [hitting] and pushing protesters with this baton.
The rest of LAPD officers followed his lead, and started pushing and hitting protesters. I was right there recording it and I was telling protesters "relax, relax, don't fight back."
At one point I got all the protesters to put their hands up to let the LAPD officers know we were not there to be violent. But it wasn't enough to stop the police. I turned to a few of my friends that were with me and said, "We need to get everyone out of here. We need to get everyone to dip out right now."
Watch this video. Share this video. The police are inherently violent and racist. They exist to terrorize and brutalize black & brown communities. We will never be a non-racist country for as long as these system continue to stand. We need to #DefundThePolice pic.twitter.com/SELbeLzGg9— maybe: defund the police (@ricci_sergienko) June 2, 2020
As I was announcing that we should leave on my megaphone, LAPD officers ran up to me, tackled me, dragged me across the ground and hit me with a baton. One of my friends, Albert, tried to grab me. They hit him with the baton twice. And I was arrested.
I was left in handcuffs on the side of the street for about three hours. They put us in the van to head to jail, where we waited for about two hours. I was in tight handcuffs the entire time.
Sergienko said after waiting in the van, he was taken to a police station in Van Nuys, where he was issued a misdemeanor citation and let go.
The citation requires him to be present for a court hearing in October.
Kaamil Benoit, 30-years-old, works as recording secretary for the Voices Neighborhood Council in South L.A. She joined the protest on June 2 in the area near City Hall.
Arrested for being in the area past curfew, which was at 6 p.m. that day.
I watched George Floyd's murder. And I saw a man beg for his life, while another man so casually took it away from him. All while three other people, who were supposed to be there to "protect," just let it happen.
I went out protesting because I spent the morning crying after seeing what was happening to other protesters around the country. Seeing a man tear-gassed with his pregnant girlfriend in the car (Denver) and a young college couple pulled out of their car and just terrorized (Atlanta). It's just like — "You guys know we're watching you. And there's just still such a little regard for our lives."
I arrived around 4:30 p.m at the downtown protests. There were a lot of people of all races and a lot of young people - I think that probably stood out the most. I saw a lot of police officers in front of the LAPD building. They seemed pretty casual, just kind of standing there, chatting...not doing much.
At about 5:30 I ended up back in front of City Hall. At 5:56 p.m. the police made an announcement - they were like, "you guys have four minutes until curfew. If you're out here after curfew, you may get arrested." Everybody pretty much just booed.
The organizers were basically saying, "if you want to leave, this is the time to do it. But if you want to stay, 'we got this.'"
I decided to stay.
Others stayed, too. We chanted. We kneeled. We put our hands up. We put our fists up. It was all just very peaceful methods of protest.
At about 6:30, we started marching again, very peacefully, past the police station. People were leaning out of the buildings, cheering us on. Then towards the front of the protest, people kind of stopped. The police had formed a kind of blockade with their bodies.
At that point we realized we were trapped by the police, which wasn't a great feeling.
Our white allies really stepped up. They literally pulled their cars parallel to us and the police officers, saying things like "we're going to protect you, we have to protect you guys." I've never seen that from white people before. That was amazing.
We kept chanting and eventually we all went to one side to basically get out of the street and we sat down on the sidewalk. Somebody was like, "let's sit in.. just sit in and be peaceful." So we're sitting and being peaceful.
People were yelling from their apartment buildings at the police to let us go. Meanwhile, the police were like slowly inching in; their perimeter was getting closer and closer.
Then they announced that we were all under arrest for violating curfew.
I very carefully got my phone out of my pocket and called my boyfriend and just kind of spoke into the speaker like, "Hey, I'm getting arrested. I'll let you know what's happening." People were circulating the number to a lawyer; they encouraged us to chant it and write it down on our arms.
The police told us to put our hands behind our heads. We did, and they just came into the crowd and stood in front of us and said, "You're under arrest, if you choose to comply, stand up."
Everyone stood up because no one was trying to fight. They put zip ties on our wrists. I told the officer that mine was on my wrist bone, and he was like, "Don't worry, we'll take it off when you get over there." He pointed across the street. At that moment, I felt emotional because he was a person of color.
They were separating the men and women and processing us. They asked us questions like - "What's your name? How old are you? Where do you live? Have you ever been arrested?" They searched our bags. It seemed like almost every protester had their own police officer, arresting them, which I thought was weird. My arresting officer stayed with me the whole time. He held my purse.
After that we were put in a van and transported to the LAPD's Metropolitan Detention Center.
The LAPD officers weren't physically rough. But a good amount of them were trying to antagonize us by making comments about Trump, and telling people they had a chance of spreading coronavirus. They were the most antagonizing when we were in closed quarters with them in the van.
At the Detention Center, we sat and waited, for about 30 to 45 minutes, to get into the area where they were doing the bookings. They gave us a little piece of paper, then we gave it to the person at the door, and the person at the door gave it to another officer. That officer called the names from that stack of papers and then took us in to get processed. We finally got the zip ties off and were fingerprinted, given a citation and told to go home.
I absolutely don't think we should have been arrested. We were peacefully protesting. I don't think the curfew was legitimate, especially after a day or two of no looting. It was designed to keep us from our constitutional right to assemble.
It's especially bizarre to have the institution that we are protesting, keep us from protesting.
At the very least, we need accountability.
We reached out to LAPD for comment on the protestors' stories. Officer Drake Madison declined to address the specifics of what these three protestors experienced, but said that the department is aware of the videos posted online and is investigating "each instance thoroughly," with plans to, "hold any officer who violates Department policy accountable."
He also sent us the following statement by email (which is identical to the blanket statement that LAPD posted several days earlier on Twitter), and points to injuries sustained by police officers.
"Protests, marches and demonstrations over the last several days have been often dynamic and at times dangerous situations for both officers and demonstrators. A number of these gatherings have unfortunately devolved into chaos with rocks, bottles, and other projectiles being launched at police officers, who have sustained injuries that range from cuts and bruises to a fractured skull. We have also experienced vehicle and structure fires with widespread looting and destruction while trying to facilitate the first amendment rights of those peacefully demonstrating."
The statement also encouraged anyone who "believes they were wrongfully accused of a crime, unjustly injured, or experienced misconduct on the part of an officer" to make call the Professional Standards Bureau complaint line at 1-800-339-6868 or make a complaint through the Office of the Inspector General at 213-893-6400 or Oig.firstname.lastname@example.org.
On June 4, the ACLU and Black Lives Matter L.A. filed a lawsuit against several local politicians, including Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Michel Moore, over the city's curfew orders, which they say violated the constitutional protections of free speech and freedom of movement.
Four days later, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer said people who were arrested for peacefully protesting won't face jail or fines, but he did suggest they talk it out with police "to directly share their experiences and views." On Tuesday, Feuer said arrested protesters would not be required to talk it out with police.
However, the sessions will still take place and Feuer said he encourages all protesters to participate.
City Attorney Mike Feuer:— LA City Attorney (@CityAttorneyLA) June 9, 2020
Rather than default to traditional prosecution, I see this as a moment to further focus on the deeply-rooted, deeply-felt issues at the core of the protests - to begin to find common ground necessary for us to make progress...https://t.co/QBceZLhvK8
The decision came after L.A. City Council members Mike Bonin and Marqueece Harris-Dawson introduced a motion to have Feuer drop efforts to have protesters arrested for curfew violations and failure to disperse participate in these discussions. Bonin and Harris-Dawson said these sessions would be an "unnecessary burden" and a "waste" of city resources.
Peaceful demands for justice shouldn't be penalized with fines, mandatory courses, or vehicle impound fees.— Mike Bonin-Official (@MikeBoninLA) June 10, 2020
I was grateful to join my colleague @mhdcd8 to propose legislation today requesting the city attorney dismiss violations against peaceful protestors. pic.twitter.com/1Ego3ap5lK
Council member Mike Bonin also wrote a letter to LAPD Chief Moore about his concern over "reports that protestors were detained unnecessarily by officers" at the protests.
L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey sent a memo to her deputy DA's stating that her office will not prosecute anyone for violating curfew or failing to disperse, because doing so "could be considered punishment for people exercising their First Amendment constitutional rights." Lacey's office, however, is only responsible for cases in unincorporated L.A. and in cities that don't have their own prosecutors.
Mayor Garcetti also noted that the Los Angeles Police Commission is "reviewing protest videos and will ensure a full investigation of incidents depicting excessive use of force, which could lead to officer discipline or removal."
Several days later, LAPD tweeted a video of the protests, calling them proof of the city's "collective voice." LAPD said the department will not release body cam footage to the public from the demonstrations, in cases where excessive force is being investigated.
This is the power of a collective voice — this is Los Angeles. pic.twitter.com/tuIyGmYNhv— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) June 7, 2020
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO VERSION OF THIS STORY HERE:
READ MORE ABOUT ARRESTS MADE DURING THE PROTESTS:
- Why Are LA Metro Buses Taking People Arrested In Protests To Jail?
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