Thousands of people in U.S. cities from Los Angeles to New York protested peacefully while others blocked traffic or clashed with police as anger flared over a grand jury’s decision — announced Monday, Nov. 24 — not to indict a white police officer who killed a black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.
In Los Angeles, three people were arrested overnight during protests that erupted in response to the Ferguson announcement. One person was arrested on suspicion of assault on a police officer, one for failure to disperse and one for public intoxication according to police Chief Charlie Beck.
Protest marchers — angered by a grand jury finding that Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the August shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man — stopped northbound and southbound traffic on the Harbor (110) Freeway downtown for approximately 70 minutes Monday night and Tuesday morning, and also blocked lanes on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills for about 10 minutes.
“We are very frustrated and outraged,” said community activist Najee Ali, standing with protestors in Leimert Park. “We believe that Officer Wilson is responsible for the murder of Michael Brown and should have been brought to justice. Instead, he walked away a free man.”
Also expressing anger was Kenyanna Celina, an organizer for the Coalition for Community Control Over The Police.
“It is no surprise. This has been happening to black and brown youth in this country for decades,” Celina said. “It’s our job to continue to push Obama and Eric Holder for federal charges against the officer.”
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) issued a stated after McCullough’s remarks “lamenting” the grand jury’s decision.
“As immigrants seeking to be part of the American Dream, we painfully realize the Dream for other U.S. citizens is also short-handed, outright denied, and fraught with injustice. Life, liberty, and justice still needs to be guaranteed for all citizens,” the statement said.
“We call on all residents of this great nation to use our anger and disillusionment as the fuel that ignites our compassion and support for Brown’s family and our commitment to continue fighting for justice and equality for all, police accountability, and stronger communities.”
A smaller group of protestors tried to block lanes on the Santa Monica (10) Freeway near La Brea Avenue, but were chased away by California Highway Patrol officers.
Sgt. Ed Kinney of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Central Division said one of the protestors was arrested at the scene of the 110 freeway stoppage, and another at a later gathering on East First Street, in front of police headquarters. What they might be charged with was not immediately disclosed.
A tactical alert, which requires that all officers remain at their posts beyond their shifts, was called early Monday afternoon after it was announced that the Ferguson decision was imminent, Kinney said. The alert was lifted at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 25.
The Los Angeles Times estimated that one of the marches, which began at Leimert Park before heading north on Figueroa Street, had swollen to around 300 participants by the time it reached the 110 Freeway. News footage from the scene showed protestors scaling an embankment and then standing and lying on the northbound lanes of the freeway, with some stopping traffic on the southbound lanes.
Protestors could be seen standing on the narrow concrete center divider, and a cyclist circled around the northbound lanes.
CHP Officer Peter Bishop said the freeway was shut down around 11:20 p.m. Monday, and reopened at 12.30 a.m.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Nov. 25, Beck described the protest reactions as “lawful” but also asked the public not to engage in destructive behavior.
“We want to make sure that everybody knows that we absolutely support the First Amendment,” Beck said. “We support people’s right to assemble and to lawfully speak out on issues that are of great concern to them. We will do that again tonight, and today.
“However, we cannot support — and we will not allow — people to use their rights to trample on the rights of others, and that includes such things as vandalism, violence, and in particular an incident that we had last night (of) going up on one of our freeways.
“Freeways are very dangerous places — even in a car — but as a pedestrian, they are extremely dangerous,” Beck said.
Beck noted that officers had fired some “less lethal” foam rounds to keep people from going onto freeways, and he warned that police were prepared to arrests those who tried to do the same on Tuesday.
“We want to facilitate lawful protest,” Beck said. “Please allow us to do that. This is a national discussion; a national debate. … Today, we hope for a calmer day.”