Now comes the question: What’s next for all those Occupiers now left with so little to keep themselves occupied? The grounds outside City Hall have been closed, guarded day and night by police officers and surrounded by concrete barriers topped with chain-link fencing, but some from the movement have been gathering at various times on the still accessible steps to the building’s main entrance. Thus forced into nomadism, the Occupiers staged an impromptu march through the streets of downtown L.A. on Saturday, resulting in one arrest when marchers defied police commands to stay on the sidewalk. (The L.A. Times reported that the man arrested, Anthony Lascano, was also jailed when the Occupy L.A. camp was shut down Thursday morning.)
And what’s to be done when the Occupiers choose to occupy some other handy but unguarded public space? Will it take another two months before Mayor Villaraigosa, Chief Beck, and the rest of L.A.’s political structure summon the courage to take action? The eviction, when it finally came, was skillfully handled, but the shame of it was that it took those two months for it to come about, even as it diverted police and other municipal services from elsewhere in the city.
For example, early on the morning of November 28, just hours after the eviction notices were posted at City Hall, Occupiers poured into the streets in anticipation of a coming police raid. No such raid was planned, but hundreds of officers nonetheless had to respond to downtown so as to clear the streets before the morning rush hour. Well over half of the officers on duty at the time were sent, causing the LAPD to declare a tactical alert throughout the city and to stop dispatching officers to non-emergency calls. If you called the police from the San Fernando Valley, the West Side, or from South Central L.A. that morning, they either didn’t come or they came hours later. These are costs that neither Chief Beck nor Mayor Villaraigosa addressed as they crowed about the success of the eviction.
Even the editors of the Los Angeles Times, whose opinions I rarely share, came to see the light when the Occupiers at last were scattered. In an editorial that ran on Dec. 3, the Times lamented that the LAPD had practiced what amounts to the opposite of “Broken Windows” policing by allowing the encampment to remain as long as it did. “[C]ity officials bent over backward to accommodate a group of protesters they in some ways admired — and who, in some ways, deserved that admiration,” wrote the editors. They continued:
This page even applauded the city’s restraint. But what we didn’t anticipate is that once demonstrators were allowed to spend one night on the City Hall lawn, it became harder to deny them a second. And then harder still to deny them a third. Given the ambiguity of their demands, it became unclear what would ever cause them to leave, short of force.
If the editors at the L.A. Times can learn this lesson, maybe Mayor Villaraigosa can as well. But don’t count on it. The Occupy movement is thoroughly enmeshed with the type of labor-union activism that launched the mayor into politics, and his reluctance to see the law enforced should be viewed in that light. As the last two months have clearly proved, it will be politics and not the law that will determine his response when he awakes one day to find that the Occupiers have occupied someplace new.