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LA won’t charge 180 people arrested at Echo Park protest

Atty of the city of Los Angeles. Mike Feuer will not press charges against 179 protesters, journalists and legal observers who were arrested for not dispersing during an Echo Park protest in March, his office confirmed on Friday.

“Freedom of speech and peaceful protest are fundamental to our democracy,” Feuer said in a statement. “These peaceful protesters did not threaten public safety and it would not be in the interests of justice to prosecute them. “

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Krithika Santhanam, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles, which had called for the charges to be dismissed, alerted many of those arrested to Feuer’s decision by email on Friday – saying they no longer had to worry about attend scheduled court hearings. .

Santhanam said Feuer’s decision was a victory for free speech and for protesters, who she said play a “vital role” in society.

“It is really important to us that people can exercise their 1st Amendment rights to protest injustices without fear of being criminalized,” she said. “We are very pleased that the city attorney’s office has chosen to exercise its broad discretion to reject these arrests.”

The March 25 protest involved the city’s displacement of homeless people and the deconstruction of a settlement they had built on the shores of Echo Park. The city had moved in with crews to clean up the area and close the park for renovation, with Los Angeles police in large numbers enforcing the closure.

A protest on the night of March 24 ended without arrest as protesters dispersed and people living in the park were allowed to stay overnight before the morning eviction deadline. However, on March 25, another protest erupted outside the newly closed park and ended with mass arrests after the LAPD declared the protest an illegal gathering.

Some journalists, including a Times reporter, were arrested and then released. Others were arrested and sentenced alongside the demonstrators.

Protest leaders, news outlets and some city officials denounced the detentions and arrests, while police defended them as necessary to restore public safety after protesters reportedly began flashing lights and launching objects on agents.

Feuer’s decision not to press charges was in line with previous decisions not to prosecute protesters arrested for failing to disperse during protests, including mass protests against the murder of George Floyd in the spring 2020.

Still, it was good news for those facing court dates for the Echo Park incident.

Jonathan Peltz, who was arrested while covering the events of Knock LA, a nonprofit newsroom affiliated with the progressive militant group Ground Game LA, said he knew those arrested for failing to being dispersed in past protests weren’t criminally charged, but still felt “a lot of anxiety” after being mailed an updated court date for her arrest at Echo Park.

The fact that he no longer has to worry about it “seems like a lifted weight,” he said.

The move comes as legislation to strengthen the rights of journalists during protests and protect them from detention and arrest while covering such events is pending in Sacramento.

Peltz said he hoped lawmakers would offer protection to all journalists, not just those at major publications.

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