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LAPD and DHS Attack Pro-Abortion Protesters in Downtown LA

Several hundred people gathered to protest the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Some were met with violence from local and federal police.

an LAPD officer yells as he prepares to swing his baton at a protester holding a camera phone. Several other LAPD officers behind him look on.
An LAPD officer preparing to swing his baton at a protester filming him. (Image: Sean Beckner-Carmitchel | Knock LA)

One day after the first draft of a decision suggesting that the Supreme Court was preparing to strike down Roe v. Wade, several hundred people gathered at the Federal Courthouse in Downtown Los Angeles to protest. After several hours, the group marched to Pershing Square, but when they prepared to march back to the courthouse, they were met with policing tactics by LAPD that included batons, shoving, tackling, and threats of violence.

Federal Protective Services (FPS), which serves as the law enforcement branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was also present, though the reason for their violent intervention at an intersection several blocks away from the nearest building in their jurisdiction remains murky. 

The tactics and level of force by both LAPD and FPS were condemned by many on social media as the protest continued throughout the night. Captain Ruiz, who was the incident commander for the protests, told Knock LA that LAPD “protected the demonstrator’s right to exercise their first amendment right… for freedom of speech.”

Rayna Zemel, a producer at Winter’s Rock Entertainment, told Knock LA that she came to the protest “because this abortion rights issue is pretty terrifying.” She continued, This is one of those things that no woman of childbearing age in America has ever known — an America where they couldn’t access abortions safely.”

Zemel often “stayed away from those kinds of protests and rallies because they aren’t intersectional. Since the Women’s March started in 2017, they cater to a specific demographic which has not been intersectional.” Zemel told Knock LA that she attended this event because “it’s going to open up Pandora’s Box,” and that “they came for gay rights, then they came for trans rights, and now they’re coming for abortion.”

Offering her assessment of LAPD’s response to protests, she told Knock LA that “unless it’s something that the cops are sympathetic to, they want to riot. LAPD likes to riot.”

a tweet from @rayzemel that reads "Downton Los Angeles Defend Roe V Wade rally. Hundreds of people are here, more are showing up. This is on of the more intersectional women's marches I've attended." A video still shows a person speaking to a crowd through a microphone
(Image: @rayzemel | Twitter)

Around 5 PM at the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in downtown LA, hundreds gathered to give and hear speeches. Protesters carrying signs and wire hangers mingled with each other and many vehicles passing by honked in support. 

The people speaking voiced concern regarding the leaked decision draft, and most speaking called on the protesters to continue to advocate for abortion rights by marching and voting. “I should be home, doing my homework, but instead I’m here fighting for my rights,” one 15-year-old told the crowd. 

A few speakers also spoke on issues of intersectionality; one woman mentioned being thrown to the ground by police at a Black Lives Matter rally several years ago, and another mentioned ICE detention centers.

Several hours later, chanting “legalize abortion now,” the group marched to Pershing Square. For the most part sticking to one side of the street, groups walked briskly through downtown. Many passersby waved in support of the group, though one man yelled “fuck you.”

A masked woman holds a microphone and addresses the crowd at the pro-abortion rally in downtown LA.
Speakers at the pro-abortion rally. (Image: Sean Beckner-Carmitchel | Knock LA)

Around 7:45 PM, the group moved into Pershing Square. Speeches from groups calling for abortion rights took about an hour.

As some protesters marched back to the courthouse and others to City Hall, one group began to gather into the street. Once they filed into the street, blocking traffic for marching, a dark blue vehicle flashed red and blue lights. 

Though unmarked, the badge of FPS could be seen located on the driver’s left breast pocket. Why an FPS vehicle would be located several blocks away from the nearest building under their jurisdiction and why the vehicle attempted to drive past the protest as other vehicles nearby remained stationary is unknown. DHS did not respond to Knock LAs requests for comment on this story.

A crowd formed around the front of the vehicle as it continuously honked its horn. The crowd chanted “fuck the police,” along with a nearby speaker playing the iconic NWA song, and many gave the FPS vehicle the finger.

Not long after, another FPS vehicle raced into the area near the intersection. “Get out of the street,” was heard coming from the DHS vehicle as the crowd was forced to dodge the quickly approaching car. Then, a third FPS vehicle approached the crowd. Protesters continued shouting as three men with FPS uniforms exited their cars. One man in an FPS uniform shoved a protester and began pointing weapons at the crowd

Echoing claims on social media that the march’s goal was to finish and remain peaceful, Zemel told Knock LA of FPS vehicles racing into the crowd. “That’s what escalated. It wasn’t people saying, ‘now it’s time to riot.’ People were leaving. And then all the sudden there were, like, three cops that came out of nowhere. These cops looked really scared, terrified. They were getting chased. Started beating people.” 

Zemel relayed the experience of a second group of LAPD officers charging and pushing protesters, telling Knock LA, “Afterwards, maybe four or five cops in full riot gear as the police were getting chased,” and a moment where the crowd was barreled into. On Twitter, Zemel recounted that she was nearly hit by FPS vehicles, echoing claims by several others on social media.

In a response to a request for comment, LAPD’s Public Information Office claimed the crowd attacked the FPS vehicles. They also made sure to draw a distinction between the actions of on-scene FPS officers and their own: “There were no incidents of note, until around 9:00 PM when a Federal Protective Service (FPS) unit … came under attack by people in the area, and a ‘help call’ by the FPS was broadcast to LAPD. LAPD and FPS were not working together or coordinated in actions last night.”

Protesters shouted, “I don’t see no riot here. Why are you in riot gear?” As FPS officers pointed “less lethal” munitions towards the crowd and shoved protesters, the officers backed away while returning to their vehicles.

Some in the crowd yelled “let them go,” and several in the crowd kicked FPS vehicles. Protesters continued to verbally taunt the vehicle, and a large portion of the group marched away. Eventually, one of the FPS vehicle’s back window was smashed and later filled with what looked like flyers. Another vehicle’s bumper had “ACAB F12” written on it.

an LAPD officer yells as he swings his baton at a protester holding a camera phone. Several other LAPD officers behind him look on.
An LAPD officer swings his baton at a protester filming him. (Image: Sean Beckner-Carmitchel | Knock LA)

As four LAPD officers arrived, protesters began chanting “leave the area,” and “run away,” at them. LAPD officers pushed several protesters, screaming “back up” at the large crowd. One officer raised his baton and menaced protesters with it. That same LAPD officer pushed two protesters back, and a Knock LA reporter counted at least 24 occasions where that particular officer pushed or shoved protesters with varying degrees of force. 

In response to questions from Knock LA, LAPD claimed they were not aware of any protester injuries sustained as a result of police action. Captain Ruiz told Knock LA that “some of the people that took part in the confrontation with the police had fled, so at this point, they have not come forward.”

LAPD officers continued to push the crowd, eventually using batons. Later, officers wedged themselves near police cars and more officers stationed themselves a half block away.

Another officer with the group of four tackled a protester to the ground for unknown reasons, just barely missing a fire hydrant. Another officer near him attacked protesters nearby with his baton as the crowd chanted “let him go!”

One officer covered his head after a crowd encircled the tackled protester. Captain Ruiz told Knock LA that one injury was sustained to an officer who was “possibly struck in the head,” while “he was attacked by part of the crowd of instigators.” Ruiz later elaborated on the circumstances, stating the officer was “doing okay,” and “in stable condition.”

Eventually the officer was pulled back by another LAPD officer and either lost his grasp or let go of the protester. When both officers were standing, a scooter was launched toward the officers. The officer reached his hand onto his firearm and the other officer yelled at him “no, wait.” The only two officers on the scene, they began to walk away as one protester yelled, “You better get the fuck out of here, bro!”

An LAPD officer reaches his hand toward his service weapon during the pro-abortion protest in Downtown LA.
An LAPD officer reaches for his service weapon during the protest. (Image: Sean Beckner-Carmitchel | Knock LA)

Dozens of LAPD officers in riot gear then ran toward the group of protesters, shoving them and screaming “back up.” LAPD officers pointed less-lethal weapons at the crowd and screamed at them to leave. A protester yelled “we were done, y’all leave!” as onlookers from nearby congregated.  

Officers opened the trunk of an LAPD Cruiser and grabbed an additional “less lethal” rifle. More LAPD cruisers arrived after the majority of the crowd left the immediate area, with some protesters traveling to Los Angeles City Hall.

As LAPD officers ran forward on the side of the street, one protester’s stereo equipment was knocked over and then kicked. The area around Hill and 4th Street was blocked off, and as a person attempted traveling through on scooter, an LAPD officer pushed or punched the person’s dog.

One anti-choice protester arrived at the area with a sign reading, “Abortion is child sacrifice.” Though the remaining group at Hill and 4th Street had dwindled to less than 30 people, many of whom were onlookers, LAPD elected to call an unlawful assembly around 9:15 PM. Knock LA witnessed one officer wearing motocross gloves with Bad Touch branding in large letters.

an LAPD officer wearing a pair of motocross gloves with the phrase "bad touch" written vertically on the index and middle fingers.
(Image: Sean Beckner-Carmitchel | Knock LA)

At some point, Los Angeles City Hall’s front steps were spray painted and the barricade in front was knocked down. Spray painted messages near areas where LAPD had cracked down on protesters had messages like “abort the st8,” “eat the fetus,” and “we are our own judge mothafukaaa.” An altercation between protesters and several unknown men occured at City Hall with no known injuries to either party.

the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. A red A with a circle is spray painted on one of the pillars. It differs from the "anarchy" symbol in that the "A" is entirely contained within the circle, with no lines breaking out.
The steps of Los Angeles City Hall. (Image: Sean Beckner-Carmitchel | Knock LA)

In an interview, Captain Ruiz blamed many of the events of the night on “instigators.” Ruiz did not clarify who those instigators were.