By Mark Lipman
Something that the Los Angeles Police Department really doesn’t like is when the people know their rights.
It was just after midnight, on the 24/25th of August, a Saturday night. Occupy Venice’s 3rd Annual Sleep Out to support the unhoused community was a massive success, with over 500 in attendance throughout the day and the participation of many community groups, artists and activists. The lawns of Beyond Baroque and Spark were fully splayed with tents, as those camping were settling in for the night.
A contingent from the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN) had joined us and just heard about the curfew on Ocean Front Walk – the closing of a public street from the hours of 12 to 5am, which was by design the city’s way of preventing unhoused people from sleeping on the boardwalk at night, by criminalizing their very presence there.
About 20 of us decided to walk down to the beach to see first-hand if this blatant violation of our constitutional rights – and legal rights (under the California Coastal Act) was true.
When we arrived at Windward and Ocean Front Walk around 12:30am, sure enough we discovered that the boardwalk was closed, and a violation of the curfew could result in a fine of up to $581.
As there was no public access allowed on Ocean Front Walk, the group decided to walk down Speedway.
Now, if anyone has been to Speedway they know that there is no sidewalk. Pedestrians and vehicles have shared this public thoroughfare going back decades. That is both historical fact and legal precedent.
On this occasion however, as our group was simply walking along, minding our own business, an LAPD patrol car came in our direction. Seeing that the complexion of our group was on the dark side, they decided to take a better look at us by shining their spotlight in our faces.
One of our number, we’ll refer to him as Ryan, asked the officer to take the light out of his face, to which the police officer, Officer Carillo, asked if he were on probation or parole – basing his question solely on the fact that Ryan is African-American – which by definition is racial profiling.
Ryan informed the officer that it was illegal for him to ask that question. (No crime had been committed; there was no cause for an investigation – 4th Amendment Rights.) The police are not allowed to just randomly stop anyone to try to determine their “arrestability,” as just confirmed by the Federal Court of Appeals, which recently struck down New York City’s Stop-and-Frisk Law as unconstitutional.
Officer Carillo, seeing that his authority was being challenged – instead of following the law – decided to escalate the situation and take his racial profiling a step further. He stopped and handcuffed Ryan and commenced a background check.
Within seconds more LAPD patrol cars arrived, with 10 police officers cordoning off a perimeter, blocking all traffic on Speedway, as a crowd gathered, all questioning the LAPD’s right to just stop and harass people for “walking while black.”
Sgt. Ross of LAPD’s Pacific Division held a tense standoff with the public for nearly an hour, refusing to present any legal justification for their actions other than “Because I say so.”
A shift in the drama then occurred when Bess Byers, a resident of Speedway, showed up with her camera. “I’ve been watching the whole thing from my apartment and you’re dead wrong,” she told Sgt. Ross.
“You guys just pulled him off the street for nothing. I video recorded the whole thing. You have no right. I’d be pissed if you just shined a light in my face like that and stopped me. All he was doing was walking. I see this stuff happening every single day down here. It’s racial profiling and I’m sick of it.
“If I call for your help, you’re never there. I could get raped or killed and you’d show up half an hour later, but for this every patrol car in Venice is surrounding this guy in a matter of seconds. This is a total waste and abuse of our tax dollars.”
Sgt. Ross appeared visibly shaken. “Well, if that’s how you feel, you can show up to court and testify for him there,” he simply dismissed Byers’ comments.
Finally, after running a background check – finding nothing – they released Ryan – issuing him a ticket for multiple violations of “walking down the street.” Just then, a white man walked by them (in the sidewalkless street) passing all 10 police officers, completely uninterrupted for the very same “offense.”
If the LAPD finds it has an image problem, perhaps it’s because of the endless string of incidents just like this, which keep happening, with no sign of correction.
There is no honor in violating the constitution, our civil rights, and the oath of office. If the police in this community want to receive respect, then they need to start showing respect in their actions and end their behavior of racial profiling – determining for themselves someone’s guilt based on whether or not they like how that person looks. Until then, it’s just another case of “Shame on you LAPD.”
… and furthermore, if this city and the LAPD are so concerned with people walking in the street on Speedway in the middle of the night, perhaps they should start thinking about opening up our other city street – our pedestrian only city street – Ocean Front Walk and stop wasting our tax dollars trying to criminalize and fine poor people to subsidize their police state.
Perhaps this would be a good question to bring up with our newly elected City Councilperson, Mike Bonin?
By Mark Lipman