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Assaults raise concerns about crime at Occupy L.A.

One woman is charged with setting someone's clothes on fire and another woman is accused of hitting a man with a tent pole, focusing attention on the encampment's future.

November 05, 2011|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • A man who calls himself "San Diego" warms his hands from an afternoon chill moments after a rainstorm at the Occupy L.A. encampment near City Hall.
A man who calls himself "San Diego" warms his hands from an afternoon… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Police were called to two violent incidents at Occupy Los Angeles on Friday, adding to questions about the protest and its future.

In the morning, a woman was arrested at the encampment outside City Hall after she set another person's clothes on fire, police said. In another incident hours later, a woman was arrested after protesters said she struck a man with a tent pole. Both were booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

Also Friday, police arrested a man on suspicion of climbing a tree and dumping fluorescent paint on a historic marble fountain that the city barricaded earlier this week to protect from vandalism.

The incidents are distressing, city officials say, because up until now protesters at Occupy Los Angeles have been mostly peaceful.

"We have not seen violent incidents like this," Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith said. "But two felonies from the south lawn in one day? This has raised concerns for us."

Last week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the encampment "cannot continue indefinitely," citing health and safety concerns. He has instructed city officials to begin drafting a plan to identify another location for the demonstration. But it's not clear when the plan will be announced or whether the protesters will agree to move.

Villaraigosa spokesman Peter Sanders said Friday that the city is working with protesters to assure the safety of those camping on the City Hall lawn. "But," he said, "we recognize that a number of the individuals who are on the lawn are not affiliated with the Occupy L.A. protest."

The encampment's location in the heart of downtown has attracted more than just people protesting economic policies that they say have created an unfair distribution of wealth. A sizable number of homeless people have joined the camp — some who identify themselves as protesters and some who don't — along with a range of other curiosity-seekers.

Protester Orameh Bagheri, who is organizing a teach-in with college professors and community activists this weekend, said the camp is "an open public space. There's people coming in, and we don't necessarily throw people out."

Bagheri said the camp's safety committee is working on how to address acts of aggression, which she said are an anomaly. "It is a nonviolent movement," she said.

Compared with New York, where Occupy Wall Street protesters have had a tense relationship with police, or Oakland, where protesters have rioted, the relationship between police and demonstrators in Los Angeles has been quite relaxed. Marijuana smoke wafts throughout the encampment during the day, but there have been few drug-related arrests.

Most of the crimes reported have been petty, police said, as in another incident on Friday morning. As a heavy rain fell downtown, employees at a Starbucks near the encampment called police after they noticed that two patio umbrellas had been stolen.

Officers found the umbrellas — which had been painted in an unsuccessful attempt to disguise them — at Occupy Los Angeles.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com
twitter.com/katelinthicum

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