Downtown Los Angeles gentrification continues to reach all-time lows as LAPD carries on with its mission to rid downtown of poor and homeless, and mostly Black, faces. In the May 20th episode, LAPD took action to stop…wait for it…a seedling give-a-way in front of the LA CAN office. The bustling operation, coordinated by LA CAN’s community gardeners in front of our office, was being visited by a vast array of downtown stakeholders. In fact, our garden project almost always demonstrates the real potential of bringing together disparate communities and realizing the purported vision of a “mixed-income” downtown – there is widespread support for community gardens and giving residents access to seedlings to start their own gardens of any size.
The Great Plant Caper – Seedling Give-Away at LA CAN
LAPD Officer Owens apparently isn’t a fan of gardening, but is fine with perpetrating the Jim Crow policing used under Downtown’s Safer Cities Initiative. The tool of choice for years to move poor and homeless people off Main Street has the been the enforcement of municipal code 41.18D – no sleeping or sitting on the sidewalk. And that’s what Officer Owens was doing yesterday – issuing a ticket to an elderly gentleman sitting in a portable stool and two LA CAN members sitting in chairs handing out seedlings. Never mind that all parties cited were actually on private property – within 3 feet from a private building. Never mind that a legal settlement agreement requires LAPD to give people warnings and the opportunity to comply BEFORE citing or arresting anyone for 41.18D.
Fully aware of their rights, and the actual 41.18 D rules, the LA CAN members stated they could not be cited for 41.18D and requested to speak to a supervisor. Instead, within minutes, nearly a dozen police responded to the plant give-away “crime scene.” Thelmy Perez was monitoring this incredibly over-use of LAPD with her cell phone camera when she was seized by three officers and arrested. Thelmy was released later in the day and now faces a charge of interfering with police investigation. Sean and Esteban also received misdemeanor citations for their community gardening activities, and Jody, our elderly neighbor, faces misdemeanor charges for just sitting down for a brief rest.
Monitoring Police as they Detain Community Gardeners
We of course won’t accept Jim Crow in Skid Row – we will continue to fight for equal rights and equal enforcement through local fights and statewide fights like YES on AB 5, the Homeless Bill of Rights. We will also fight these four cases together and ensure this most recent round of criminalization of perfectly legal community activities and organizing does not stick! LA CAN will continue our community gardening and seedling give-away programs in public space as well.
Yesterday is unfortunately just one example of the blatant selective enforcement and civil rights violations that define the Safer Cities Initiative, and the continued criminalization of organizers who stand up against these violations. If you aren’t familiar with Main Street – wealthier residents and visitors sit and stand on the street regularly. Below you will see the bench in front of the Nickel Diner and the tables and chairs for the new “Creamery” - where their upscale customers sit without any police harassment, within a block of LA CAN. Apparently the Nickel Diner can put a bench in front of their establishment (complete with a sign that says “customers only”), but LA CAN members can’t be found in chairs in front of our office. Again – we won’t accept this and will fight for equity on Main Street and throughout all of LA and beyond.