Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shock And Awe

The Los Angeles Times reports that Occupy Los Angeles has filed a class-action law suit against the city and top officials asserting that the group's 1st, 4th, and 14th amendment rights were violated during the November 30, 2011 eviction blogged here (and linking back further from there).

Protesters hold banners while shouting slogans during a late afternoon march through downtown Los Angeles on October 3 in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York City.The lawsuit describes "shock and awe" military tactics as 1,400 police officers aggressively burst upon the camp from various directions, knocking down anyone in their path, indiscriminately arresting people - even those not at the demonstration - while also kettling and seizing those attempting to disperse upon the department's stated orders.  Police arrested about a total of 300 peaceful individuals, many then detained for long hours without access to bathrooms, water, or food.  In an appalling account of human rights abuses - and what can be considered torture - people are described forced to urinate and defecate on themselves while tightly handcuffed with their hands behind their backs, and after repeatedly denied access to bathrooms.  One male protester (video interview below) was told that he could urinate if he could urinate with his hands tied behind his back; others were instructed outright (apparently by county employees) that they could defecate or urinate on themselves.  On one bus, a person was placed in a cage on the bus while all detainees sat in the vehicle amidst nauseating odors caused by people compelled to relieve themselves in this degrading and unsanitary manner.  Protesters jailed were held on average 60 hours although they were entitled under the California Penal Code to be released on their own recognizance.

RT speaks in the video below to Iraq War veteran and March Forward! founder Michael Prysner who was also arrested that day and is one of the five individuals bringing the class action on behalf of themselves and 292 others.  He discusses the meaning of "shock and awe" relative to military terminology and efforts to intimidate populations and squash freedom of assembly and expression.  Mr. Prysner says the group wants to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again in the future and that people's constitutional rights to protest are protected.  

The plaintiffs state the city previously indicated that Occupy L.A. had the right to protest;  officials welcomed the protesters and fully endorsed their activities; a formal resolution was passed in support of the Occupy protest, officials spoke at the site, Mayor Villaraigosa supplied tarps for rain, and protesters cooperated with the city in terms of site upkeep.  The city also established precedent with the way previous demonstrations have been handled at that location, with many thousands gathering, historically, even up to 750,000 on one occasion.  Throughout, the City Hall lawn has never been under the purview of the Parks department, and only after the November 30th arrests did the City amend the municipal code to specify that the lawn was a "park" with camping prohibited.

"The basic rule of the 1st Amendment is that you can't change the rules halfway through the game," said Occupy Los Angeles attorney Carol Sobel.

Read the lawsuit here.

After the arrests (and only after the arrests), Mayor Villaraigosa (yet again revising the city's side of the story) referred to children at the encampment as the reason for the eviction. The city, however, never took any children into its custody with "public officials charged with protecting the welfare of children," and which one presumes would be the procedure in that case, if city officials were concerned.  No children were at the site during the eviction either.  (Though of course children too are allowed to attend demonstrations and showed up at a number of Occupy Wall Street gatherings across the country.  The Mayor of Los Angeles does not have the right to stop a protest - and with a paramilitary operation - because children are there.)  Additionally, the group states, "Los Angeles has homeless families living on the streets and in cars with young children in and around Skid Row, but the Mayor has never responded to that situation."

Occupy Los Angeles has also been recently visible in the news in the anti-foreclosure movement, stopping the eviction of a single mom right before Christmas, and trying to prevent the eviction of Columbine shooting survivor Richard Castaldo from his L.A. condominium.  (Mr. Castaldo is in a wheelchair for the rest of his life due to a bullet lodged in his spine.)

Thursday morning, in housing news again, the group was not as successful (as those 2 stories, we hope) when 100 police officers with armored vehicles forcibly removed 18 activists during a Bank of America foreclosure the group has been fighting on behalf of Javier Hernandez and his family.  Mr. Hernandez has also been unable to make payments, and activists occupied the property in a stand-off that, until December 27th, has lasted 2 months.  Over Christmas, the grandmother stood before a Christmas tree and told NBC Southern California that her grandchildren still didn't know the truth.  

Mr. Hernandez hopes to continue fighting the bank in court, but at this point, the family has been thrown out, with BOFA stating that he didn't submit required paperwork on time.

Photo credits/top, courtesy of Your Free Press/photographer: Frederic Brown/October 3, 2011. Protesters march in downtown Los Angeles in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street./Bottom, courtesy of l.a. activist/photographer: Dan Bluemel/September, 2011. "Fort Hernandez." Protesters outside of the barricaded home of Javier Hernandez, trying to save it from foreclosure.

12.28.12 Editor's Note. This post has been revised to accomodate additional information for the story.

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