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Protesters Clash With Police Over Shutdown Of Echo Park Lake Homeless Camps, 182 Arrested

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Dozens of people were arrested Thursday night during a protest against the removal of a large-scale homeless encampment at Echo Park Lake and the park's indefinite closure to clean up an estimated $500,000 in damage.

Echo Park Homeless eviction - during the Coronavirus pandemic
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 25 - - Police gather outside a fenced Echo Park where the homeless are set to be removed in Los Angeles on March 25, 2021. Los Angeles official said they intend to close a homeless encampment at Echo Park and authorities ordered residents of the camp to clear out. There are many homeless who remain in Echo Park. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Police Department announce Friday that a total of 182 people were arrested on charges of failure to disperse.

The last two residents of the encampment, who police said refused to leave, were removed from the park and cited on misdemeanor charges of erecting a tent in a city park, police said.

Several hundred protesters Thursday night faced off with LAPD officers in riot gear outside the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell at Sunset Boulevard and Lemoyne Street, which is also just outside Echo Park Lake. Just after 8 p.m., the LAPD declared an unlawful assembly after officers said the crowd used high-intensity lights in an attempt to blind officers.

Officers also fired several less lethal rounds at the crowd after police claimed that protesters threw things at them.

Multiple media members were detained during the round-up, including a reporter for the L.A. Times and two reporters for Knock LA, but all were later released.

Protesters Clash With Police Over Shut Down Of Echo Park Lake Homeless Camps, Several Arrested
Several protesters are arrested after clashing with LAPD officers during a demonstration against the closure of Echo Park Lake homeless camps. March 25, 2021. (CBSLA)

LAPD issued a statement early Friday morning about the detaining of the media members. It said that, after declaring an unlawful assembly, officers asked all media members to identify themselves and remove themselves from the crowd.

"The protesters failed to disperse, requiring officers to safely establish containment and begin detaining individuals one by one," the LAPD statement read in part. "As members of the group were being individually detained, the officers learned that several credentialed and non-credentialed members of the media were part of the group. Members from the Department's Media Relations Division were summoned to assist in identifying these individuals and they were released at scene without being arrested."

The LAPD also added Friday that O'Farrell's office was vandalized. Officers remained staged near the park Friday night, causing some in the neighborhood to feel uneasy.

"I've never felt unsafe around my unhoused neighbors," Nick Johnson, who lives in the neighborhood, said. "I feel very unsafe now with the extreme amount of police presence that's here."

And while city officials declared the effort a success, Union Rescue Mission CEO Rev. Andy Bales said the confrontation highlighted just how poorly the situation has been handled by the city.

"We're always playing catch up, because we have not addressed the situation in the urgent manner that it needs to be treated," he said.

Bales said about 70,000 people were living on the streets of Los Angeles, about 20,000 more than the last homeless count in January 2020. He said the process of moving unhoused residents into shelter was taking too long.

"They have the resources, they just need the courage to step up and lead," he said.

O'Farrell said that 32 people were moved into transitional housing Thursday.  He said a total of 200 homeless people from the park have been moved into transitional housing over the past week.

Protesters Clash With Police Over Shut Down Of Echo Park Lake Homeless Camps, Several Arrested
Echo Park Lake was closed and homeless encampments cleared out. March 26, 2021. (CBSLA)

The city also said it will return items to those who have left them behind.

This came after several hundred demonstrators also faced off with police on Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, L.A. officials confirmed Thursday morning that Echo Park Lake is being closed for an unknown amount of time in order to remove the homeless encampment there.

Echo Park Lake has been closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. City contractors Wednesday began installing fencing around the park.

"The Echo Park facility has devolved into a very dangerous place for everyone there: drug overdoses, sexual and physical 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," O'Farrell said in a statement Thursday. "There have been four deaths in the park over the last year."

Wednesday night's protests prompted the LAPD to order a citywide tactical alert. Video showed pushing and shoving between the two sides and police issued a dispersal order and declared the demonstration an unlawful assembly. In a statement, the LAPD said that the protest remained "largely peaceful," and said that no tear gas was used. One person was arrested on charges of failing to comply with orders from a police officer.

In January and February of 2020, the city attempted similar cleanup efforts that were also met with large protests. Homeless advocates called the forced move unjust and said it represents the larger issues surrounding L.A.'s homeless crisis.

"What we learned last year when we fought is that the vast majority of people get it, they get it, they get that they could be in this situation, that that could be your mother or your brother, and they support us," Ayman Ahmed with Echo Park Rises Up told CBSLA Tuesday.

"They want these people out of here, out of the park, yeah, they're going to get involved just to go to a hotel," community activist Carlos Marroquin said Wednesday. "But what happens after that? Those vouchers are not permanent, they're temporary."

O'Farrell did not provide a date for when the park will be reopened to the public.

"Once the assessment of damages in the park and the necessary repairs are completed, an update will be provided on when the park will reopen to the public," his news release read.

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