Occupy LA says its "chalking" demonstrations have been an unofficial part of Art Walk downtown since October, but that the LAPD, for reasons unknown, decided to crackdown with furious anger Thursday.
Chalkers who drew "heart the police" and "I love the world" were arrested by ravenous cops in riot gear during a confrontation that night that injured four participants, Occupy organizers said.
But police have a different story and can pinpoint, they say, the exact actions that transformed the evening from quasi-innocent chalking to civil unrest:
While Occupy leaders say the LAPD instigated the clash by overreacting with riot squads, police told the Weekly that sidewalk chalkers were forcing Art Walk patrons to walk in the streets.
Police say demonstrators then purposely occupied an intersection and blocked traffic.
In both cases, officers told the chalkers to stop and walk away. In both cases, cops claim, the chalkers were defiant, culminating in injuries for four of the department's own after rocks and bottles were thrown at officers.
While much of the debate over the clash centers around whether chalking is protected free speech or vandalism, with the LAPD's own chief saying arrested chalkers would be prosecuted for defacing public property, this new take on the confrontation suggests that it was about more than chalk.
LAPD Commander Andrew Smith told the Weekly:
One thing that's getting lost is, from my understanding, we had people writing on the sidewalks and, because so many were doing it, they were blocking the sidewalk and forcing pedestrians to walk in the roadway.
There were lots of people amassing at Fifth and Spring streets for Art Walk on the warm summer night. So what?
Well, at the July Art Walk one year ago a 2-month-old boy was killed near Fourth and Spring streets after a Cadillac jumped a curb accidentally and hit the infant. Although the child was in his stroller on a sidewalk, some pointed to sidewalk overcrowding and called for streets to be closed for the event.
Cops, then, have been sensitive about keeping people off the streets.
But Smith says the Chalk Walk participants took it further by allegedly ignoring officers' orders to get out of the way and by then purposely taking over the intersection of Fifth and Spring to start drawing in the street:
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They refused to leave, were arrested, and then a whole bunch of people ran out and took over the intersection at 5th and Spring then unlawfully assembled, chalking in the intersection as well. They were rushing out en masse into the street.
Smith said people were given "an opportunity" to walk away without arrest, but many chose to challenge the cops. He added:
Chalking is not the crime of the century. But blocking sidewalks and forcing people into the streets is serious. You remember at nearly the same intersection we had a child killed. We're always aware of that.