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Occupy Los Angeles Interfaith Sanctuary

This piece was originally submitted to the Los Angeles Times and rejected, the authors say.

The strategy and tactics used by the Los Angeles Police Department in clearing the Occupy LA encampment have been widely praised: There have been salutes to the new, community-friendly, "constitutional" LAPD.

We were there throughout the night of the eviction. We were inside City Hall Park prior to the action. We left the park only to seek out Chief Perez at the police plaza across the street, in the hope of gaining access in order to stand witness to the arrests we knew would take place. That access had been denied by Chief Beck in our meeting with him on Monday.

In the immediate advent of the police action, Chief Perez said that we could enter the park "once the area was under control." We were held on the plaza during the actual operation, and were later escorted into the park where we clarified to protesters that they could still leave if they did not intend to be arrested, and to stand as witness to the arrests. We had played a similar role in the Bank of America action on November 17--blessing arrestees and calming them--to great effect.

Unlike in Oakland and New York recently, there were no officers swinging batons and wielding pepper spray. There were not the kind of storm-trooper tactics associated with what Connie Rice calls "your grandfather's LAPD." From the police plaza, we did, however, observe overwhelming use of terrifying force (portrayed in the LA Times on Thursday, November 1 as a work of military prowess) against what was, by then, a very small number of peaceful Occupiers still inside the perimeter. And we heard from trustworthy friends inside the park that while batons were not swung, they were certainly wielded hands-apart against unresisting people.

We wonder, after weeks of commendable restraint, why the spectacular shock and awe? Why the white hazmat suits? Why the hundreds (1400 by Beck's admission) of riot-suited officers, the hundreds of police vehicles, the many police helicopters hovering loudly overhead?

If the mayor does respect and appreciate the Occupiers, as he assured us he does during that meeting with religious leaders and Chief Beck on Monday, why the military-style eviction and disrespectful trashing of private property in the park the City Council had resolved could be the movement's home? Why the exorbitant $5000 bail for civil disobedience?

The Mayor and the Chief want to have it both ways: They want to be heroes--leaders of the only city in the nation to clear their park gently, in collaboration with the Occupy movement; but they want to make it clear that they are still forceful, still in control, still all-powerful. They are not sissies.

From what we observed, the action early Wednesday morning was far from respectful: it was physically and psychologically violent. We thank God the Occupiers were well trained from the outset in non-violent response. Had there not been that training, nor their firm resolution by consensus to that principle, the story would have been tragically different.

Since the eviction, we have watched as crews of city workers sanitize what had been an emblem of noble human aspiration and righteous indignation against what we deem true crimes: bank fraud and corporate sleaze. It's crucial that we not let the City and the media under its sway sanitize the story of how and why that emblem was taken down.

Stacie Chaiken
Rabbi Jonathan Klein
Reverend Peter Laarman
Shakeel Syed
Members, Occupy Los Angeles Interfaith Sanctuary

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