Downtown LA Art Walk – LAPD & Protesters Clash!

After a great afternoon and evening of giving my usual tour of Gallery Row during the Downtown LA Art Walk, we were stopped by a line of police officers on our way back to our cars blocking Spring Street between 5th and 6th. It was around 10pm and the group now consisted of actress/blogger Beverly Sotelo, Niche.LA Production Manager Norberto Briceno, and our amazing new Gallery Row intern, Nicolei Gupit.

A few protesters were yelling in the faces of the cops and one was holding up his bike as a shield right in front of them. Then someone threw a water bottle, which landed towards the east side of the street right at their feet. It was open and some water splashed out. Then it happened quickly. In unison, the line of LAPD advanced rapidly and the guy hurled his bike at the police. I was with people I care about and responsible for so we retreated in unison with the LAPD, surprised at how quickly they moved.

Then I saw the guy with the bike get taken by several police officers behind a parked car and they clubbed him several times. Though he was behind the parked car and I was on the sidewalk, I saw the police baton go up and go down. He was hit and hurt, no doubt. At this point, it was far more important I make sure my group was safe than pique my need for viral videos. The police moved fast and we had to get out of the way. Then the line stopped just as quickly as they advanced.

So I pulled out my camera… By then, we were pushed back close to 6th and Spring and we could retreat towards Broadway if we needed and we were safe for now. Most people there were Art Walkers, oblivious to what happened so everybody on the street was asking questions, but no one represented any sort of united message of any kind. It was curious to me if all this would actually happen over chalk drawings. No chants of “Free Speech!” but plenty of “Fuck You!”

Which is extremely embarrassing. Civil Rights, this is not.

Did the police over-react? Yes, absolutely. There was no need to club that guy, but he did stay in their way and throw his bike at them. The protester had plenty of time to move and he essentially forced the police to respond in kind. I have to believe if the protester is smart enough to protest for a reason (even if it is something as innocuous as chalk), he’s smart enough to intuit what was coming if he didn’t get out of the way which is a good old fashioned LAPD beat-down. I suppose that’s how one gets initiated or jumped into Occupy nowadays.

Which is completely boring to me because I didn’t understand the narrative. Why was he getting beaten? Over chalk? Okay, great! I love chalk. This is a metaphor for free speech and I love metaphors. MET-A-PHOR! But nobody was shouting shit of any importance or value. It was simply chaos with no message and as a writer and community activist, I was profoundly more disappointed with the lack of story and random chanting than I was in the conduct of the LAPD. They handled it okay. I lived in Berkeley and next to MacArthur Park my entire adult life, so I’ve witnessed multiple riots with way worse brutality, but at least I knew then what those protesters were protesting because everybody there came for a reason and chanted their message in unison.

Whatever the intent, Chalk Walk started over the right to chalk sidewalks, but ended up betraying every tenet followed by true civil rights activists. I’m a diehard liberal and I strictly use credit unions, but protesting the right to chalk a sidewalk is a first world problem especially if it’s not even a metaphor for free speech. The twisted irony is that 99% of the crowd was there to enjoy Art Walk. 1% of the crowd was there to exercise their right to leave microbial filth on the sidewalk for someone else to clean up like mom at home. Quite a few behaved like bullies in a locker room purposefully inciting the LAPD to react so they can catch it on video, more shock re-activism than civil disobedience. The marketed intent may have been peaceful, but the premeditated highjacking of Art Walk at the busiest inner-section of Downtown at the height of attendance sells out their true motivation.

Which is lulz. Some say chalk and to protest the prior arrest of a colleague. Others claim gentrification, but nobody chanted anything of the sort. Instead, it was “Whose Street? Our Street!” which makes absolutely no sense. A street is meant for cars and sidewalks are meant for people. If you’re walking on the street inciting impressionable youths there for an entirely different reason to riot on behalf of your own modus operandi, you’re part of the problem. It’s showboating for the sake of infamy and martyrdom.

The sad truth is the violence was entirely premeditated on both sides. Someone made a flyer with a time and location. Which alerted police. Chalk was handed out freely. Which set the stage. Then someone jumped on top of a food truck and incited the crowd. LAPD drew a line. That food truck was later completely vandalized and deserted by the owners. Occupiers created the situation and LAPD ended it. Both are to blame.

So what’s the point? It helped no one and then shut-down a beloved monthly art event for the evening which cost a lot of small businesses money they need to survive. They didn’t hurt the property-owners they claim to be the perpetrators of gentrification. They hurt their own community much like what happened in the LA Riots 20 years ago. History repeats itself and it might as well be a step back if we’re still stuck in that same mindset. What irks most is the false sense of entitlement as if leaving particle debris for someone else to sweep up is a right in the name of art. It’s littering more than it is free speech and I’m offended they dare call that trite shit art. The act itself may be performance art, but the tags left all along Broadway most definitely were not.

Last night was amateur-hour. Nothing was gained, though I’m confidant all the protesters went home feeling very cool about themselves thinking they made an impression, but there are more productive ways to make a positive difference. Just because someone can assemble a flash mob on the internet doesn’t mean they’re an activist, especially if the end-game is a trashed street and a closed art event. I’ve seen better protests with genuine purpose. Chalk Walk was simply a publicity stunt and will hold no historical value in the grand scheme of Downtown, except perhaps to illustrate the decline of a leaderless Occupy. They have nothing on The Black Panther Party.

I founded Gallery Row with some great friends and can safely say we made a positive difference that changed Downtown forever in the best possible way. Instead of costing the City money, we made the City money by creating an environment where a community can support local businesses. That’s being an activist. Occupy is just a boring alternative to the Tea Party – all fringe with no substance, disruptive and justified in wasting valuable resources fighting irrelevant causes like the right to draw on sidewalks with chalk and dare calling it free speech.

Nic Cha Kim

Nic Cha Kim

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