Homeless encampments cleared out at Echo Park, area now empty as crews move in to clean

The last two residents of an Echo Park Lake homeless encampment were arrested and removed from the park Friday, concluding a relocation operation that prompted two nights of contentious protests and raised questions about police tactics against protesters and journalists.

The park is now empty and sanitation crews have moved in to clean up.

According to the Los Angeles Police Department, 182 people were arrested for failure to disperse during Thursday night's protests. Officers deployed three rounds of less-lethal 37 mm projectiles, one round of less-than-lethal 40mm projectile and six rounds of less-than-lethal bean bags, according to the agency.

"I think a lot of people probably who were protesting didn't know that there were only two people last night even left in the park, and those people have kind of refused to go, but hopefully, we're optimistic and we've given more time to those folks,'' Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters Friday morning prior to the arrest of the last encampment residents.

The two people who remained inside the park and were arrested Friday morning were identified by Ground Game L.A. to the Los Angeles Times as Ayman Ahmed and David Busch-Lilly. Police said they were arrested for erecting a tent
in a city park and using park areas or facility for a purpose contrary or
inconsistent to its specific or designated purpose.

Ground Game L.A. officials told The Times that Ahmed and Busch-Lilly have since been released from custody.

Regarding the large police presence of hundreds of officers equipped with less-than-lethal projectile launchers, Garcetti said, "I think to make sure that folks wouldn't surge in and prevent the housing operation that was happening and the ultimate closing to clean up the lake, that's why the police were there.''

The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday criticized the Los Angeles Police Department's response, which included detaining legal observers and journalists covering the protests.

RELATED: 4 journalists detained by LAPD while covering Echo Park protest released

"Taking militarized police action to displace people who are already displaced is cruel and does nothing to bolster public safety. Mass arrests of protesters, legal observers and journalists will not keep the city's brutal, ill-conceived actions from being known. The city leaders who approved this approach should be held accountable,'' the ACLU said.

"In this time of crises in both the economy and public health, the city should seek solutions in developing permanent, affordable housing and appropriate services for people who are unhoused.''

Councilman Mike Bonin called the police response "a disgrace.''

"A neighborhood in lockdown. Hundreds of cops in riot gear. Reporters being zip-tied and detained. Protesters being kettled and arrested. This is a disgrace and it did not have to happen. It's a shameful day for Los Angeles,'' he said on Twitter.

According to the LAPD, officers on Wednesday and Thursday nights were supporting efforts by Councilman Mitch O'Farrell and Los Angeles Park Rangers
"to conduct outreach to those experiencing homelessness at Echo Park and
connect them with service providers.''

Police declared an unlawful assembly about 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Lemoyne Street and Park Avenue, in front of O'Farrell's district office, after "several instigators in the crowd demonstrated a willful intent to disrupt the peaceful activity and began to use strobe lights against the officers, an activity that has the potential to cause significant injury to the eyes.''

The department said two officers sustained minor injuries during the protests, and O'Farrell's office and an LAPD vehicle were damaged.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority told City News Service Friday that 138 park residents were placed in Project Roomkey hotel rooms, 35
in Project Homekey sites and 11 in A Bridge Home shelters.

RELATED: Los Angeles to close Echo Park Lake, clear park's homeless residents

But advocates for the homeless blasted the city's effort to remove the encampment, saying it had grown into a safe haven for people with no other
options. They also questioned what would happen to the homeless once their
stays at the temporary hotel rooms ended.   

O'Farrell told reporters Thursday that his office has been working with the Urban Alchemy outreach group since December to find housing for the homeless living in the park. He said he was committed to finding alternative housing for everyone before temporarily closing the park for repair work, which he estimated will cost about $500,000.

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