Youth Justice Coalition's Day 1 of Freedom Factory Leads to Confrontation With LAPD

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By Youth Justice Coalition & Rise Up L.A. 12/13/2011

At 9:00 am on Tuesday December 13, 2011, Day 1 of the Freedom Factory, youth who have grown up in the communities of South Central Los Angeles, Watts, Inglewood and Compton liberated the L.A. City Library's Hyde Park branch on Crenshaw Blvd. and 66th Street. The action was sponsored by the Youth Justice Coalition and Rise Up L.A.

Located in the middle of one of L.A. County's poorest and least resourced areas, the library has been padlocked since 2004.  The goal for the action was to open the building for 4 days of community programming, and to demonstrate the benefit of youth and community centers.  (L.A. County invests less in youth development than any other large city in the nation.)  A planned schedule of activities included 3 meals a day, political education workshops, art and mural making, sports and theater classes, films and information on jobs and other community resources - all free for anyone in the community.   .

Youth were setting up food for the neighborhood in the library parking lot.  But, within the first hour, LAPD officers approached the site.  Without warning, police closed the gates of the library trapping half the youth and others (including media and legal observers) inside the library parking lot, while the rest of the crowd remained just outside the chain link fence.  Before long, approximately 30 LAPD officers, 20 squad cars, a police bus and a police helicopter had blocked the streets several blocks in a each direction from the library, and were not allowing either car or pedestrian traffic anywhere near the building.

Organizers asked to speak to LAPD command, and Captain Dennis Kato, one of two Captains at the 77th Street Station and Bob Green, LAPD South Bureau Commander had already been called to the site.  Raising that members of participants in the action were breaking the law by trespassing on city-owned property without a permit, the LAPD commanders threatened the youth with arrest if they didn't leave, including full processing through the system and a minimum of $5,000 bail. YJC members raised the fact that city buildings - such as the abandoned library - belong to the community.   Legal observers from National Lawyers Guild contacted the Community Redevelopment Agency who manage most abandoned properties, and they indicated that CRA had given control of the library back to the city.  City officials were unwilling to issue immediate permission for use of the library, but did agree to contact the Mayor's Office to discuss access to the space.

For three years, the Youth Justice Coalition has been exposing the fact that just 1% of the County's law enforcement budget equals $100 million dollars a year and could fund 25,000 youth jobs, 50 youth centers open 3pm - midnight, 365 days a year each with an annual budget of $500,000, and 500 full-time peacebuilders/intervention workers in schools and communities,  Several police officers on site said that they agreed with the demands, but stated that there were political processes in place to change public policy and the budget.  In response, YJC members stated that the organization has mobilized mass actions, rallies, testimony at City Council and County Supervisors' meetings, and numerous presentations and meetings with elected officials and law enforcement, with very little movement forward.  The City's and County's inaction caused youth to increase their pressure through the liberation of the library space.

For more than an hour, there was a stand-off between young people and the LAPD.  A community meeting was held to discuss the options - including arrest.  At the same time, participants kept pressuring the LAPD, City and County officials to make commitments toward meeting the demands.

In the end, the action participants decided to leave from inside the library before arrests were made and organized a rally in front of the site. Having gotten several commitments from City, County and Law Enforcement officials:

(1) Commander Green and Captain Kato agreed to tour Chuco's Justice Center and meet with the youth to strategize how to get a $100 million investment in youth development, as well as a commitment to work on getting permits for the transfer of abandoned space over to community use.  Captain Kato, through the leadership of Officer Pessis came for a tour of Chuco’s immediately following the action.

(2) Deputy L.A. City Mayor Larry Frank, and Deputy Chief of Staff, Matt Szabo, agreed to meet this week on the demands.

(3) Richard Fajardo, Justice Deputy and Alex Johnson will work on getting a meeting with Mark Ridley Thomas.
 
By 5pm, the City had hired independent contractors to contract an additional 9’-high fence around the entire library site!
 
Stay tuned for more details as this week's action moves forward! - http://www.youth4justice.org/

 

Media Coverage of Youth Justice Coalition's Freedom Factory:

- 12/13/2011 L.A. Weekly: LAPD Mistakes Hyde Park Library Cleanup for 'Occupy' Protest, Orders Youth Group to Disperse