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A Weekend of Protests in Los Angeles After High-Profile Deaths Nationwide

After a series of brutal deaths resulting from encounters with police, protesters took to the streets of LA.

Rearview of a protester on roller skates facing a group of protesters in the sunlight
As demonstrators continue to give speeches, one woman observes on roller skates. (Sean Beckner-Carmitchel)

The release of body-worn camera footage of recent police killings inspired a round of protests throughout Los Angeles during the weekend of January 28, some of which featured graffiti, smashed windows, and questionable police tactics. The causes activists cited for the protests included the deaths of Tortuguita, an activist shot dead by Georgia state troopers on January 18; Keenan Anderson, who died in a hospital after LAPD tased him multiple times on January 3; and Takar Smith, who was fatally shot by LAPD officers on January 2.

Several LAPD officers seemed convinced that large-scale destruction was possible. An officer emailed the Mid-City Neighborhood Council, presumably alarmed by previous large-scale protests, asking them to “please let me know if you hear or see any large gatherings within the city. We don’t want what occurred the last time.” 

De’Antraye Dantzler, a senior lead officer with the LAPD, encouraged the Melrose Village Neighborhood Alliance to “be on the lookout for large groups and ANTIFA members.” Prior to the protests, an LAPD public information officer said that the messages were not approved by LAPD command staff, and that there was no credible information “on Antifa in the area.” The PIOs also clarified that the emails did not undergo any formal review before being sent.

City Controller Kenneth Mejia and staffers from his office went to the protests to monitor the LAPD’s response. They could be seen near several of the protests taking notes. The controller’s office later said in a tweet, “This past weekend, our team monitored LAPD responses to public demonstrations related to police killings in our city & across the country.”

Autonomous Action at LAPD Headquarters

LAPD officer with helmet and open face shield and a so-called less letal weapon
An LAPD officer points a 40mm launcher at a crowd of protesters outside LAPDHQ. (Sean Beckner-Carmitchel)

Autonomous Actions

Autonomous actions are intentionally leaderless protests, often where protesters are encouraged to maintain their own ethical rules for behavior.

On January 27, a group of approximately 50 demonstrators gathered outside the downtown Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters (LAPDHQ) for an autonomous action. Several speakers encouraged protesters to be angry about the actions of the five officers who maced, beat, and likely killed Tyre Nichols; body-worn video from several of those officers had been released just hours before the protest. Audio from the beating was played via loudspeaker.

At the end of a short march through downtown, activists knocked down a barricade at the headquarters. After going past the upturned barricade, a line of police officers blocked the protesters’ path. Several activists in the crowd spray-painted messages; one person added “kills,” to a Los Angeles Police Department sign on the building. Another message on a planter read, “Kkkops Kill.”

Graffiti on the wall of the LAPDHQ adding the word "KILLS" below the Los Angeles Police Department sign and "FTP!"
Los Angeles Police Department sign amended via graffiti. (Sean Beckner-Carmitchel)

Eventually, a second group of officers arrived at Main and 1st Street. The crowd shifted their focus to the second line of officers upon their arrival. After a long period of verbal confrontation, LAPD began to leave. As officers went to their vehicles, several activists began to go through the line of officers who were still on foot. One protester yelled, “How’s it feel to get kettled, motherfuckers?” while the crowd began to flank and then encircle vehicles.

Many in the crowd began slapping vehicles with their hands. After one protester threw a smoke bomb, at least one LAPD cruiser’s back window was smashed. LAPD vehicles raced out of the immediate area.

A smaller group of officers were parked in cruisers nearby. Protesters began to surround and rock the cruisers back and forth. LAPD officers on foot raced from LAPDHQ to the vehicles. As officers gave conflicting directions on where protesters should relocate, protesters surrounded them once again. Social media showed vehicles bumping into each other as officers struggled to drive away from the area.

At least one reporter appears to have falsely claimed LAPD gave a dispersal order; Knock LA reporters on scene did not hear one, and LAPD stated they did not give one.

On the morning of January 28, a small group of protesters arrived in Los Feliz and then marched to Hollywood. Members of the group gave speeches at both locations, and there were no confrontations with law enforcement. The protesters left the area in the evening.

Though there was no official use of force, officers pushed several demonstrators and at least one National Lawyers Guild legal observer.

Autonomous Action in Hollywood

Sign announcing $20 parking kocked over in the foreground, a mask protester picking up a scooter and several protesters walking in the background
A group of protesters marches down Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. (Sean Beckner-Carmitchel)

At 7PM, another autonomous action began in Hollywood. Approximately 50 people gathered, and members of the crowd announced that the evening’s demonstration would be an autonomous action. Some protesters remained in intersections while others marched down Sunset Boulevard, chanting. Protesters broke several windows at businesses including a Wells Fargo branch and stores on Cahuenga Boulevard.

At the weekend’s autonomous actions, many people holding cameras were threatened. Demonstrators blocked several news cameras by placing objects in front of the lenses and by placing their bodies in front of the cameras. Hours before the autonomous action, at least one independent journalist received online threats that their camera would be broken.

At both autonomous actions, right-wing agitators moved through the crowd and filmed demonstrators. One, who has organized several anti-trans protests and runs a right-wing website, was chased out by protesters at least three times over the weekend. At least one of the agitators filming the protests was a member of explicitly neo-Nazi groups.

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles in Venice

On Sunday, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles (BLMLA) organized a protest at the intersection of Venice Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard, where Keenan Anderson — who later died in LAPD custody — was detained and tased. Anderson’s family has filed a $50 million dollar wrongful death claim against the City of LA. BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who spoke at the event, is Anderson’s cousin. 

Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of BLMLA, called the protest a “turn up” and encouraged attendees to pressure the Los Angeles City Council to push legislation to remove LAPD officers from traffic stops. She also referred to LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore as “murderous.” The group marched to what they said was the home of CD11 Councilmember Traci Park, where BLMLA activist Baba Akili spoke, calling for Park to vote yes on the removal of LAPD from traffic stops. 

Speakers expressed outrage that local officials had been critical of the Nichols killing in Memphis, but were less outspoken on the death of Anderson: “Michel Moore had the audacity to call what happened in Memphis grotesque. There was one murder in Memphis — there were three murders in Los Angeles,” one said. 

Cullors knocked on Park’s door, saying she was attempting to have a conversation with Park concerning Anderson’s death and the traffic stops that led to it. She referenced Park’s City Council campaign being supported by the Los Angeles Police Protective League — the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers. 

Rear view of Sam Sullivan with a David Sullivan pin on his back pack, flicking of a helicopter above
Sam Sullivan reacts to an LAPD helicopter circling overhead a protest in Los Angeles. (Sean Beckner-Carmitchel)

Several families who also lost relatives to police violence were in attendance as well. Stephanie Luna, the aunt of Anthony Vargas, told Knock LA, “I lost my nephew in 2018 to the East LA sheriffs. And, y’know, four years later, nothing’s changing. We have policies that have been put in place; nothing’s changed.” Sam Sullivan, the sibling of David Sullivan, told Knock LA that they were there to protest the deaths of Anderson and Nichols. “Legally, cops can still do whatever they want. And they are protected with their [police bill of rights], so they get extra rights. Which is stupid. They’re protected by qualified immunity, by Lexipol, by the other members of the government covering for them because they don’t want to look bad.”

City Councilmembers Respond; Others Stay Mum

Protest sign that reads, "NO COPS @ TRAFFIC STOPS"
A sign reading “No Cops @ Traffic Stops” is placed outside of Councilmember Traci Park’s reported home. (Sean Beckner-Carmitchel)

Park did not answer the door, protesters left signs on the front porch, and the group dispersed. Councilmember Park’s office did not respond to a request for comment afterwards. 

LA City Councimembers Hutt, Harris-Dawson, Soto-Martinez, Raman, and Hernandez put out a joint statement calling for alternatives to armed police officers. 

Contributing reporting from Joey Scott.