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Criminal Justice

Echo Park Lake Encampment: Protesters Clash With LAPD As A Deadline To Leave The Park Is Issued

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LAPD officers in riot gear descended on Echo Park Lake late Wednesday night as part of an operation to close the park -- ostensibly for renovations. They were met by about 300 unhoused people and housing advocates who object to the removal of a large tent encampment.

Late Wednesday, LAPD officers declared an unlawful assembly as they faced off with housing activists and residents of the longstanding encampment.

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Meanwhile, city workers assembled fencing around the 30-acre park.

City workers erect fencing around Echo Park in the early morning hours March 25, 2021, in preparation of closing the park. (Frank Stoltze/LAist)

Ultimately, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said those still inside would be allowed to sleep there another night.

The LAPD and the City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who represents the area, said the remaining people must leave the park by 10:30 p.m. Thursday. In an email early Thursday, O'Farrell said the city "has started the process of closing Echo Park, beginning with numerous intersections and freeway ramps around the facility. They are now closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic to protect public safety while crews begin the installation of the fence around the park." City workers actually began erecting the fence Wednesday night as officers faced off with protesters and TV helicopters hovered above.

It was unclear how many park residents remained overnight. O'Farrell's statement said people living at the park have been offered shelter at a nearby winter shelter facility, hotel rooms through the City's Project Roomkey, and housing at a nearby Project Homekey property.

"Our homeless service providers will return [Thursday] morning to continue their work with the park's unhoused residents to offer shelter and services to anyone who wants and needs the assistance," O'Farrell said.

The councilman's statement also said the Echo Park property "has devolved into a very dangerous place for everyone there: drug overdoses, sexual and pysical assaults, self-styled leaders taxing homeless individuals and vendors, animal abuse, families without shelter in the colder weather, and last fall shootings where one homeless individual was shot in the leg by gang members while children stood nearby. There have been four deaths in the park over the last year."

An unhoused man put a tent in front of an LAPD scrimmage line on Glendale Boulevard adjacent to Echo Park. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)
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To those making their home in tents and makeshift shelters at Echo Park Lake, the pandemic had been a break from city sweeps of homeless encampments.

"Without the constant LAPD and city harassment uprooting our lives we've been able ... to come together as a community, not just unhoused but housed as well and work together for the mutual aid and benefit of each other," read a statement issued this week by the Echo Park Tent Community.

Tony Arranaga, a spokesman O'Farrell, said earlier this week said the temporary closure was needed "to repair more than half-a-million dollars in damage."

Aymen Ahmed, 27, has lived in the park for a year. Wednesday night, he said he was prepared to be arrested.

"The support is beautiful. And I am so grateful. And at the end of the day, it's written in scripture, 'wicked people plot, but their plots will fail.' God is the best of planners. But we'll be back and be back and be back. And you're going to have to arrest us and arrest us and arrest."

Hundreds of protesters who are against cleaning of unhoused people from Echo Park face off against LAPD officers. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

Many people had already moved out of the park on their own, with some accepting offers by the city for a 60-day stay at a hotel. Others, like Ahmed, said the short-term hotel stays are a worse option than the community of more than 100 tents that once stood in the park.

"We are not shelter refusing," Ahmed said. "We are creating a shelter out here because the city decided for so many months not to. And it's just going to be a fight to show that."

More from the park last night: