Occupy L.A.: A Cop's Perspective
Life under the occupation is growing ever more wearisome. I have so far not been called upon to confront or otherwise deal with the group known as Occupy Los Angeles, which has now been encamped on the lawns (or what used to be the lawns) outside L.A.’s City Hall for the better part of two months. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had occasion to share the vexation imposed by the Occupiers on those people so unfortunate as to live and work in downtown L.A.
If the occupiers confined their activities to their campsites, I suspect most people here in Los Angeles would by now have come to regard them as part of the landscape and ignored them as they do any number of other petty annoyances inherent in city dwelling. But of course, they do not confine themselves to their campsites. Intent on recapturing the spirit of the ‘60s, they regularly “take it to the streets,” marching here and there with little regard for traffic laws or for how all this marching inconveniences their fellow citizens -- all those working stiffs into whose pockets they hope to reach so as to pay for the things they themselves are unwilling to work and pay for.
I don’t work in downtown L.A., but my duties occasionally take me to the Police Administration Building at First and Main Streets, directly across the street from City Hall and the larger of the two Occupy L.A. campsites (the smaller one is around the block, on the north side of City Hall). Such was the case the other day, and after finishing my business at headquarters I was driving down Second Street and towards the freeway that would take me back to where I work. I was stopped at a red light, six or seven cars back from the intersection of Second and Hill, and when the light changed to green, I found it odd that the cars ahead of me weren’t moving ahead. I leaned out my window for a look between the cars and saw a column of placard-bearing Occupiers streaming through the intersection against the red light. Well, I told myself, all these people waiting here will be expecting the police to bring some order to this scene, and with me being the only cop around, or so I believed, I started to maneuver my car down the curb lane in preparation to do just that.
But imagine my surprise to discover, as I neared the intersection, that the marchers were being escorted by a number of my fellow LAPD officers. Apparently under orders, these officers were in effect abetting lawless behavior, allowing a hundred or so Occupiers to inconvenience the thousands of people who were forced to sit in their idling cars as the motley parade made its way down Hill Street to whichever bank or other business they planned to disrupt for the afternoon.
Welcome to the Los Angeles Police Department of 2011, where Chief Charlie Beck takes pride in having allowed such disorder to take place. And he apparently is prepared to let it continue through the coming year. “This is not a riot, one-time event,” Beck told the L.A. Weekly. “This is a sustained movement, in my opinion, that we’re gonna have to deal with maybe for all of 2012.”
Imagine living or working in downtown L.A. and hearing the police chief tell you you’re going to be stuck with this nonsense for the next year, all because neither he nor his political masters have the courage to simply enforce the law. “The LAPD does not want to be the story here,” Beck says. “I could change the story real quick, but I don’t want to do that.”
In other words, we are not willing to take the abuse sure to be ladled onto us in great heaping gobs on television and in the pages of the Los Angeles Times if we mix it up with the Occupiers and so much as muss their hair. So, yes, they will be running amok on the streets of downtown and probably elsewhere for as long as they choose to do so. If you’re late for work or late getting home because of it, well, that’s just tough.
As annoying as the Occupiers are here in Los Angeles, I would not go so far as to endorse the tactics recently employed on protesters by police at the University of California at Davis. Perhaps you’ve seen the video, which shows a helmeted police officer standing before a line of seated protesters and then very casually hosing them down with pepper spray. Perhaps more appalling than the pepper spraying was the justification offered by U.C. Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza. “The students had encircled the officers,” she said. “They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out.”
I gather Chief Spicuzza did not have the luxury of viewing the video before making that statement. She made it sound as though the officers were like Gen. Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn, surrounded and about to be overrun and scalped by a hostile force. Clearly that isn’t what happened. But if the officers were indeed concerned with being surrounded, why did they take action against the protesters seated on the ground and posing the least potential threat? We’ll be hearing about this one for some time to come.
And while I might have sympathy for nonviolent protesters who take an unjustified dousing with pepper spray, that sympathy does not compel me to join the Occupiers and get arrested with them, as did a retired Philadelphia police captain. Ray Lewis, who retired from the Philadelphia Police Department in 2004, donned his old uniform and headed off to lower Manhattan to take up with the Occupy Wall Street crowd last week, then found himself hauled off to the calaboose with 300 other protesters. “[The NYPD] complained about the park being dirty,” Lewis said. “Here they are worrying about dirty parks when people are starving to death, where people are freezing, where people are sleeping in subways and they’re concerned about a dirty park. That’s obnoxious, it’s arrogant, it’s ignorant, it’s disgusting.”
Mr. Lewis is free to spend his retirement as he pleases, and one must admire a man with the courage of his convictions. He came to New York determined to participate in civil disobedience, a possible consequence of which would be his arrest. He took it like a man, praised the manner in which the police treated him, and was right back at Zucotti Park as soon as he was released from jail. Far be it from me to deny a man the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, even if those grievances are as nebulous as those of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
But your right to protest does not include the right to inconvenience your fellow citizens by blocking traffic or interfering with lawful commercial enterprises. The Occupiers love to talk about their rights and to claim the streets and parks as their own. It’s a shame that here in Los Angeles we have a political establishment that’s so bent on protecting the Occupiers’ rights that they’re willing to forget about everyone else’s. Yes, Chief Beck, we may be stuck with the Occupiers for the next year, but only because you allow it.