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City Council Finally Starts Asking Questions About Olympic Policing

LA City Council just did something it hasn’t done in over forty years: hold a contested Olympic vote.

Detail of LA’s Federal Court and Jail festooned with corporate logos from the LA 24/28 Bid Book

Council members Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman became the first electeds to break from City Council’s Olympic booster ranks in the LA 2024/2028 Olympic bid’s seven year history. They both called for questions to be answered before the City enters into COPPSC, a problematic new law enforcement authority established to coordinate local law enforcement in preparation for the Olympic security plan known as an National Special Security Event (NSSE). They also voted against its creation.

The NSSE and COPPSC are the head and tentacles of a frightening, multi-agency policing Chtulu that will both help justify expanding local law enforcement as well as creating the cover for federal and local coordination, which poses a severe threat to BIPOC communities across not just the city of Los Angeles, but the entire region.

That’s not all. A full third of council expressed serious concerns about what the Olympics do to low income Black and brown communities in particular. This is notable because for years council members have tried to maintain that displacement, policing, diversion of resources and the Olympics aren’t inextricably linked.

Council member Kevin de León repeatedly expressed concerns about immigration populations being targeted by CBP and ICE. Marqueece Harris-Dawson spoke to his own experience growing up during the LA84 Games, a time when his parents told him not to go out after 6pm because of the increased LAPD presence in his community. Even Gil Cedillo got in on the action, speaking to the need to protect lives of our most vulnerable neighbors from policing terror for an optional event (we’ll see if he steps up in any meaningful way going forward…).

This skepticism towards COPPSC and Olympic policing was responded to by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, chair of the newly reconfigured (and police-friendly) LA 2028 Ad Hoc Committee, and John Wickham of the City Legislative Analyst. Neither one had good answers.

Wickham insisted ICE and CBP are not part of the COPPSC plan. De León asked why, if CBP is not part this Olympic policing, a chart from the LA24 Bid Book shows the CBP being part of the Olympic policing command?

Wickham admitted that he wasn’t aware of this chart (which, again, was in the LA Olympic Bid Book), signaling his offices’s lack of awareness of the most fundamental documents related to the Olympic project. Both Wickham and O’Farrell were noticeably light on answers — “I don’t know” and variations on “we can get back to you on that” were the recurring motif for the meeting. This is both embarrassing for Olympic boosters, but more importantly terrifying for the communities who will suffer due to City Hall’s lack of understanding on the Olympics items they’re regularly rubberstamping.

The chart taken from the LA24/28 Bid Book

Wickham also said, “he didn’t think the city would have a lot of power to tell the federal government how to ‘run its business’ in Los Angeles during the games, but said the city should check with the Los Angeles City Attorney,” as reported by Daily News. If you are concerned about the safety of Black and immigrant communities in Los Angeles this is a gigantic red flag, and an issue that NOlympics has been sounding the alarm on for years.

Council member Kevin De León showing where in LA28’s Bid Book the relationship between COPPSC and CBP is made explicit (source: LA City Council Live Stream)

O’Farrell took to his soapbox to defend the Olympics using vague platitudes about “having a seat at the table” while fear mongering around perceived threats and pining for the good old days at City Hall, when unanimous votes were much easier to come by. O’Farrell repeatedly emphasized the fact that the “Host City Contract” was voted on unanimously (12–0) back in 2017. Sure, Mitch. But let’s return to reality (the present) for a moment and consider that three of those councilmembers are no longer around:

  • Mitch Englander stepped down to work for Oak View Group (a sports/security firm very much attached to the LA Olympic policing and security project), before his criminal moves were exposed (which are not unrelated to Olympic development) leading to jail time.
  • David Ryu, another Olympic supporter, had taken money from LA28 Chair Casey Wasserman’s family preceding the Olympic vote in 2017 (weird!). Anti-Olympics organizers (including me) also met with Ryu’s office in 2017. They claimed to have never heard of the NSSE (we take their word on it) but voted to approve the LA Olympics wholeheartedly nonetheless. He was defeated at the ballot box by Raman.
  • And, lastly, there’s former council President Herb Wesson, arguably the biggest LA28 booster on City Council. Where’s he now? After running an campaign for County Supervisor where he literally included the Coliseum’s Olympic Cauldron in his logo, he’s also no longer involved in the public sector in LA anymore after getting creamed at the polls running an aggressively Prolympics campaign.
The former landing page for herbwesson4supervisor.com

So, only nine of the twelve who rubberstamped the Host City contract are still on council. Two of those nine who voted yes are now expressing serious doubts. Councilmember Joe Buscaino (amateur basketball enthusiast, YIMBY cop) has announced he’s giving up his council seat in 2022 to (unfortunately) throw his police hat in the race for Mayor. 

And of course, Eric Garcetti, our occasional mayor/one half of The ’84 Boys/the person most responsible for inviting the Olympics back to LA will be out of the picture by late next year. Meanwhile community activation and awareness of Olympic policing and displacement perils are at an all time high. Nothing about the Olympics is unanimous anymore.

The Olympics likely won’t surface again at the council level directly until October, when the City is scheduled to deliberate and deliver a “Games Agreement,” a document which to date no council or government office has provided to any of the four million people who live here. This document will shape the finances, policing and built environment of Los Angeles for the next decade, and no one has seen it after three years of delays! Very cool and transparent!

Until then, we will keep building broad support for cancelling the Olympics as we organize against sportswashing and gentrification. The arc of history bends towards NOlympics. Always has.

Until then, we will keep building broad support for cancelling the Olympics as we organize against sportswashing and gentrification. The arc of history bends towards NOlympics. Always has.

Jonny Coleman is a member of NOlympics LA.