*******Ever since 9/11, when Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace ("ICUJP") was founded, we have called on religious communities to "stop blessing war and violence" and have urged our elected officials to seek peaceful solutions to conflict at home and abroad.
We believe that Occupy LA had a right to protest peacefully and should not have been evicted. In a time in which we often hear laments that no one cares and no one gets involved, the Occupy LA movement should be commended for getting involved and peacefully protesting a government that has become completely beholden to the interests of the rich, the military, banks, and corporations. Their involvement also inspired others to get involved, which should be celebrated as well.
Since the Occupy LA encampment was endorsed the Los Angeles City Council and its goals has the support of the majority of California voters, we feel Mayor had no legal authority to unilaterally order the LAPD to shut it down.
As religious leaders who personally observed the police crackdown have testified, protesters at Occupy LA were peacefully exercising their constitutional rights when 1400 police in riot gear descended upon them, arrested almost 300 and brutally dispersed the rest. Although the police allegedly did not use the outrageous and illegal level of violence evident in other such crackdowns, observers described the behavior of the LAPD as "violent" and "brutal," leading to abuses and injuries, which have been ignored.
This police overreaction could have been avoided. Religious leaders had made an agreement with the police department that they would be given an opportunity to meet with the protesters prior to arrests to help defuse tension. According to reliable sources, only 50 protesters had planned to commit civil disobedience. The rest were willing to disperse when requested to do so. These religious mediators were deliberately taken aside and deceptively told they were being briefed while police initiated their raid without observation. This betrayal of trust by law enforcement violates deeply held democratic values.
ICUJP also regrets that the local media, including the Los Angeles Times, betrayed the ideals of a Free Press, by failing to unflinchingly report what actually happened during the police raid on Occupy LA. A free society depends on a free press independently exposing government abuse rather than uncritically republishing the official story.
The Mayor and others have boasted that this police action was peaceful, compared with the pepper spraying and other violent behavior that has taken place throughout the United States. We also object to the use of excessive bail and jail time to intimidate the protesters.
We believe City should not only permit, but encourage its citizens to exercise their right to protest peacefully if we are to preserve our democracy.
Finally, we condemn the growing use of paramilitary tactics to suppress the exercise of First Amendment rights, including freedom of peaceful and non-violent assembly, here in the United States. A democracy cannot survive if it treats protesters as if they are "the enemy." We are appalled that the Department of Homeland Security has been advising mayors throughout the country on how to suppress the Occupy movement, thereby equating American citizens exercising their constitutional rights with terrorists.
We fully concur with former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper who has severely criticized the police for adopting a militaristic approach to dealing with demonstrators. Stamper urges the police and elected officials to remember "they are dealing with fellow Americans" and notes that the Occupy protesters are raising "issues that are vital to the entire country, and certainly to the middle class and those who have been marginalized, especially by poverty or by discrimination."
We are committed to Speaking Truth to Power. ICUJP calls for an independent People's Tribunal to fully investigate the events surrounding the raid on Occupy LA and to publicly expose the whole truth.