More than 180 protesters in Los Angeles were arrested and several members of the news media were detained in the second night of confrontation over the removal of a large homeless encampment that overtook a city park, police said Friday.
Streets reopened as cleanup crews went to work at Echo Park Lake north of downtown.
The city’s decision to close the park and clear out the homeless encampment prompted protests Wednesday and Thursday in the Echo Park area.
A Los Angeles Police Department statement said an unlawful assembly was declared Thursday night near the park when “several instigators” disrupted peaceful activity by using strobe lights against the officers.
The department said the 182 arrests were for failure to disperse and that three people who identified themselves as members of the media and another three who said they were with the National Lawyers Guild were released at the scene. NLG members observe demonstrations to protect the rights of protesters.
The incident followed a confrontation with protesters Wednesday night when the city moved to fence off the park for repairs while trying to move homeless people to alternative housing.
The Los Angeles Times said one of its reporters was briefly detained Thursday night but was released without being arrested after inquiries by the newspaper’s editors and attorney.
Times Managing Editor Kimi Yoshino said the news organization was outraged that the reporter was detained while doing his job.
The LAPD said the declaration of unlawful assembly was announced at least five times and members of the media were asked to remove themselves from the crowd.
When reporters were detained along with protesters, representatives of the police media relations team were brought in to identify them and they were released without being arrested, police said.
Mitch O’Farrell, the City Council member who represents the Echo Park area, has spearheaded efforts to remove the camp, house its residents elsewhere and repair what he has described as hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.
O’Farrell said nearly 200 people who had been living at the park have been provided transitional housing.
On Friday, LAPD said that O’Farrell’s office was vandalized.
Police said the last two people remaining in the park Friday morning declined repeated offers for housing from service providers and were arrested without incident on municipal code violations including erecting a tent in a city park.
Robert “Bobby” Rodriguez, 44, waited outside the fence Friday as cleaning crews worked.
He said in an interview via a photojournalist’s cellphone that he was unable to return to his tent when the fence went up and was worried about his belongings. He said a sign on the fence stated that items would be taken to another location.
“I have nothing with me right now and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have no ID, no phone, no wallet,” he said.
Rodriguez said he lived in the park since March 2020 and acknowledged there were problems including mental health issues and drug use in the park.
“I don’t have a problem leaving the park,” he said. “I understand, you know, it’s a public space. A lot of the things that went on here they’re not for children and you know parks are for children as well. … I understand the need, the want to get us out but they’re placing such urgency on it.”
Rodriguez said that about two weeks ago an organization brought him to a room in a downtown luxury hotel but he left immediately because of tight restrictions.
“It’s just the exact opposite of being outside, from one extreme to the next, and I didn’t last,” he said.
The encampment has been the site of drug overdoses, assaults and shootings, with four deaths in the park over the past year, according to a statement from O’Farrell’s office.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who had been noticeably absent amid the debate over the future of the park and its homeless occupants, spoke out for the first time on Friday while visiting a vaccination site in South L.A.
While speaking to reporters, Garcetti framed the closure and sweep of Echo Park Lake as a success, saying that the city along with L.A.’s Homeless Services Authority was able to find shelter for many people who had been living at the lake and give them vaccinations, medication, meals and other basic needs.
“With 57 people that were living in the park in terrible, terrible conditions, over 200 people are now housed, which means even people came from other parts of the city to join what was happening, and we were also able to successfully house [them],” he said.
Garcetti reiterated O’Farrell’s comments made earlier that the park was “incredibly dangerous.”
“Four people died in this park,” Garcetti said. “Women were being abused, sexually exploited. Unhoused Angelenos were being charged for rent, in our public park, to live there. … We can’t wait for someone else to die before we take action.”
As of January 2020 there were more than 41,000 homeless people within Los Angeles city limits. The annual count was canceled for 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.