LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — Hundreds of protesters faced off with Los Angeles police Wednesday night ahead of the planned closure of a park that’s expected to displace a large homeless encampment.
Demonstrators gathered throughout the day at Echo Park Lake, where a homeless encampment has grown throughout the coronavirus pandemic. By Wednesday evening, they faced a line of police in helmets, some of whom appeared to be carrying batons or projectile weapons.
Shortly after 10 p.m., police began herding demonstrators away from one end of the park and later declared an unlawful assembly, allowing arrests.
Footage at the scene captured gas in the area, NewsNation affiliate KTLA reported.
City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, whose district includes the neighborhood just north of downtown, said in a statement that police were asked to support “community safety efforts” while fencing was installed.
“Our homeless service providers will return tomorrow morning to continue their work with the park’s unhoused residents to offer shelter and services to anyone who wants and needs the assistance,” the councilman said late Wednesday.
O’Farrell’s office said in an earlier statement that more than 120 homeless residents have been moved from encampments into transitional housing to prepare for closing the popular park with a large lake as its centerpiece. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said at least 44 people were moved into shelters this week alone.
No timeline was provided for the closure, which O’Farrell’s statement said was necessary to make “extensive repairs” to lighting and plumbing and for general “public safety improvements.”
Homeless residents have slept in the park near downtown for years, but tents have proliferated in recent months. The group Echo Park Tent Community said in a statement that the growing encampment has provided a secure place for homeless people during the public health crisis.
“The biggest pandemic in years actually turned out to be a blessing for us,” the statement said. “Without the constant LAPD and city harassment uprooting our lives we’ve been able to grow… to come together as a community, not just unhoused but housed as well and work together for the mutual aid and benefit of each other.”
A few hundred protestors first gathered at the lake just after sunrise Wednesday carrying signs that said “dignity not displacement” and “we need long term solutions.” They argued that the encampment with dozens of tents provides a makeshift community for people with nowhere else to go.
Part of the crowd marched to rally outside the nearby offices of O’Farrell.
“These are people. And they are our neighbors,” said Ashley Ryan, who lives in the area. “The way we have treated this community is horrendous. These people deserve love and compassion … and we have the audacity to tell them to get out? Absolutely not.”
Antonia Ramirez, 60, vowed to stay.
Ramirez, who has been homeless for 20 years and has lived in parks in LA and neighboring Orange County, said she moved into Echo Park Lake the previous night.
“They are now closing the park but there was no notice given … it’s like a dictatorial, fascist regime,” she said. “I’m not leaving. I will be arrested and I will spend my time in jail.”
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate KTLA contributed to this report.