In December 2020, as the newly elected Biden administration was weighing a potential cabinet position for LA mayor Eric Garcetti, dozens of activists from Black Lives Matter and similarly aligned groups noisily mobilized outside Getty House, the mayoral estate in Hancock Park where Garcetti was living with his wife Amy Wakefield and their nine-year-old daughter Maya.
Aggrieved by Garcetti’s handling of issues like police brutality, homelessness and transportation, the protestors called on the Biden team to dump him. They maintained their vigil outside the mayor’s residence for 13 days, much to the chagrin of the mayor’s neighbors. For much of that time, they were surrounded by a phalanx of armed riot cops charged with keeping the peace in tony Hancock Park.
Now a series of lawsuits filed by the activists allege that the police actions during that time were anything but peaceful. Earlier this week, three BLM activists filed a civil rights lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming that dozens of baton-wielding LAPD riot cops waded without provocation into the peaceful gathering and proceeded to brutalize the crowd of some 50 protestors—including small children and elderly. (The suit filed this week follows an earlier suit the group filed in the U.S. Federal District Court in Los Angeles last September..
The lead plaintiff in both the state and federal suits against the city is Greg Akili, a well-known 73-year-old activist and BLM-LA firebrand known to reporters for his stentorian (and occasionally disruptive) presence at police commission meetings.
In an interview with the L.A. Times, Akili described the police response as overkill. “Too often we have seen LAPD want to demonstrate their capacity to control a situation, and when they do that and it’s Black people involved, then they overdo it, they go too far, and we get hurt.”
He was joined in the suit by two other BLM activists. Shannon Thomas, a 28 year-old conflict resolution consultant who drove to the mayor’s house from Santa Monica that day alleges that many of her teeth were “loosened” when she was struck in the face with a police baton. A third plaintiff Emily Allers, claims she was also struck by a baton in the back of her head, an assault that she says rendered her unconscious.”
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Los Angeles, picketers on both the left and the right have brought a variety of grievances, from mask mandates to rent relief, to the doorsteps of public officials in Los Angeles. So much so that in September the L.A. City Council passed a law that creates a 300-foot buffer between picketers and the private residence whose occupant is the target of protest, and even allows those who are inconvenienced by illegal demonstrations, including neighbors, to pursue fines from protesters.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore has taken heat from both civil libertarians and angry neighbors for his efforts to strike a balance between the right to protest and the right of neighbors not to feel besieged in their homes. But one homeowner who lives right around the corner from the mayor’s house and walked up to see the protests in early December 2020, described them as “pretty mellow” and “rather civilized,” especially compared to the chaotic crowd that had gathered at nearby Pan Pacific Park in late May 2020. Fifty people at most, he said, which is consistent with the crowd estimate in the lawsuit, and is definitely on the smaller side for BLM-led actions that year.
The LAPD won’t comment on pending litigation. But at the time of the incident, an LAPD spokeswoman defended the cops’ actions, telling the L.A. Times that protesters started the violence when they punched, kicked, and otherwise violently interfered with four officers’ attempt to remove from the crowd an activist cops say was disturbing the peace with a bullhorn. (The municipal noise ordinance prohibits protesters from useing any device that projects sound further than 200 feet.)
Carol Sobel, the lead plaintiff’s attorney, has specialized in protest litigation in this city since the 1980s, and she and her pco-counsel, Shakeer Rahman and A. Dami Animashaun, have asked the court to grant class-action status to scores of other “harmless” protesters the lawyers say were “struck by batons or knocked down by LAPD officers.”
This is the second class-action civil rights lawsuit that BLM-LA has filed against the city stemming from confrontations with LAPD in 2020. Another suit filed on June 5, 2020, charged the LAPD with needless violence and incitement in their response to civil unrest after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer.
That case, which involved a violent clash between police and protesters outside the mayoral residence, is now in the hands of City Attorney Mike Feuer. “Our office will review the complaint and I have no further comment at this time,” said Rob Wilcox, director of community engagement and outreach for Feuer’s office said.
None of BLMs recent suits appear on the court docket for future hearings or actions, but the cases will probably be litigated later this year.
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