Officials confirmed the closure of a Los Angeles park for an undisclosed period of time to clear out a homeless encampment, following police clashing with hundreds of protesters.
Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles, California, has served as a homeless encampment for hundreds of people. This has caused problems for local officials as a growing number of constituents have called for clean and safe streets, while the amount of people without homes increases.
LA City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell confirmed on Thursday that the location was temporarily closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
“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,” Mr O’Farrell said in a statement.
“There have been four deaths in the park over the last year.”
On Wednesday, local contractors started to install fencing around the area so the city could begin clearing out the homeless encampment. But it sparked hundreds of protesters – a mix of homeless people and activists – to fight the closure.
Police officers with the Los Angeles Police Department worked to clear the encampment on Wednesday night, but they were met with about 200 protesters who were against the move.
Signs were posted around the park on Wednesday night to inform everyone that its closure would begin on Thursday and all personal items must be removed from the area, “including, but not limited to, tents, chairs, tables, backpacks, bags, and personal items…”
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said that homeless people already in the encampment would be allowed to stay there overnight into Thursday, but then they would be required to leave within 24 hours.
Clashes with protesters ensued, though, into the night. Pictures and video footage showed police officers attempting to push back protesters as bottles were thrown in their direction.
At one point, several police officers showed up to the park in riot gear to assist in clearing out the protest. People in the crowd were heard chanting, “Why are you in riot gear? I don’t see no riot here!”
The protests prompted police to release a citywide tactical alert. This alert was then lifted at 1:25am local time on Thursday morning after police were able to clear the area.
In a statement, LAPD said the protest remained “largely peaceful” and that no tear gas was used to disperse the crowd. One protester was arrested on charges of failing to comply with orders from a police officer, the statement added.
“After expressing their 1st amendment rights, all protesters left the area voluntarily,” the LAPD said.
Community activists have slammed the city for removing the homeless encampment without enough notice to allow people to find another place to sleep. Some have said what occurred at Echo Park Lake showed a deeper problem about the number of people who are homeless in California.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti claimed on Wednesday that while there were about 120 tents in the park, there were only about 19 people living in the encampment when the park shut down.
Officials have also revealed there was an estimated $500,000 of damage at the park due to the encampment. There was no date yet about when the park might 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,” Mr O’Farrell said in a news release.
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