Riot police formed skirmish lines in the streets of downtown Los Angeles Thursday night in response to what appeared to be a demonstration over the right to draw with chalk.
The action, called Chalk Walk, was meant to protest a slew of arrests in the past month of people who were writing with chalk on the street. A Facebook page for the event, which showed 172 people planned to attend, decried the arrests and described them as "an attempt to stifle dissent." Event organizers also wrote: "We will chalk it out all over Art Walk letting people know about the dangers of chalking."
Cheryl Aichele, Occupy LA activist, told The Huffington Post that at first, the protest went smoothly.
"Everyone was peaceful. The tone was jovial for Art Walk," said Aichele. "I didn’t see anyone being violent or aggressive."
Around 8:40 p.m., police started receiving reports of a disturbance near 5th and Spring streets, close to the monthly Downtown LA Art Walk that attracts hundreds of residents to the neighborhood. About the same time, journalist Nancy Casanova, who happened to be downtown for the event, tweeted a photo of a woman on the street being arrested for "chalking."
— Nancy Casanova (@nancycasanova) July 13, 2012
After that arrest, tweeted Casanova, protestors began throwing objects at police.
At least one officer was injured, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Around 9 p.m., police issued a citywide tactical alert over the "unusual occurrence." Aerial footage showed officers forming skirmish lines throughout the neighborhood, and separating protestors from media and other onlookers.
By 11 p.m., CBS2's footage of the skirmish line revealed that the crowd was mostly dispersed.
Several people were arrested, said LAPD Officer Karen Rayner to HuffPost, although she couldn't confirm the exact number. When asked if drawing on the ground with chalk is illegal, Rayner said, "It's not vandalism because it's not permanent, but I don't really know."
Some chalk messages, written on sidewalks and buildings, conveyed anti-police phrases like "F*ck the police," "F*ck LAPD" and "Welcome to the police state." Broken bottles also littered Spring Street. The aftermath of the protest was eventually obscured by the still-ongoing Art Walk event and large crowds of barhoppers who frequent the area on Thursday evenings.
Charlie Shepard, who was in the area for Art Walk, told NBC4 that he was shot with a rubber bullet.
"I was walking down the street and I saw a group of people. I was just here for Art Walk, I didn’t know anything was gonna happen," Shepard said.
ABC7 reported via Twitter that the police also released pepper balls:
— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@abc7) July 13, 2012
At the time of this writing, police couldn't confirm or deny the use of dispersal tactics on the crowd.
UPDATE: The police arrested 17 people in connection with the protest at 5th and Spring Streets Thursday evening. The following is a breakdown of the criminal charges arrestees could face:
- Misdemeanor vandalism: 8 adults, 1 juvenile
- Failure to disperse: 2 adults
- Resisting arrest: 2 adults
- Receiving stolen property: 1 adult
- Assault on a police officers: 1 adult
- Assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer: 2 adults
Downtown LA Art Walk’s Executive Director Joe Moller disavowed the protest and resulting violence in an exclusive statement to The Huffington Post:
The Downtown LA Art Walk had no role in this event and is not involved in the planning or execution of any Occupy events. It’s unfortunate that this small organization disrupted an evening of art, food and fun for the thousands of Angelenos and visitors who visited The Downtown LA Art Walk last night.
We work closely with the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure the safety of the public when they attend Art Walk the second Thursday of each month in Downtown Los Angeles.
We encourage people to visit our website at www.downtownartwalk.org to learn more about The Downtown LA Art Walk and the many art, food, fashion and fun opportunities at Downtown LA Art Walk, held the second Thursday of each month in Downtown Los Angeles.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article contained incorrect information about the number of arrests from the Associated Press. The piece has been updated with the LAPD's latest figures on the arrests.