The Olympic Battle for Echo Park

Echo Park Protest

Protesters demonstrate on Sunset Boulevard against the removal of a homeless encampment at Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles, Calif. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

In the shadow of Hollywood, conflicts continue between a community encampment of the unhoused in Los Angeles’s Echo Park and the LAPD. A push by the police and city government to crack down on the encampment is part of a continued attack on the poor during a crisis of safe and affordable housing. LA’s overall unhoused population is around 66,000. That number is expected to rise by 36 percent by 2023. Last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti called it “the humanitarian crisis of our time.”

But that was last year. This is the season not of charity but of the truncheon, and it is not confusing as to why. The Los Angeles 2028 Olympics are in the planning stages and the long-term push to remake the city in time for the games is already underway.

There is a fountain in Echo Park Lake that was built to commemorate the last time Los Angeles hosted the Olympics, back in 1984. As police cracked down, activists projected words like “House Keys Not Handcuffs” and “ACAB” onto the water streaming from the fountain. Now, in the shadow of that very fountain, the encampment and its hundreds of allies are bearing the preemptive brunt of the forthcoming games.

Hamid Khan, the coordinator with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, said to The Nation, “The removals need to be seen through the lens of how the city is leading up to the 2028 Olympics—that these supposed eyesores of shantytowns and ‘undesirables’ need to be cleared out. This is obviously what gentrification and over policing produces. But it is also the result of how Los Angeles is looking to further brand itself as a ‘destination city’ for events like the Olympics.”

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition is allied with NOlympics LA, a group formed in May 2017 to oppose the city’s bid for the Olympics. From the beginning, NOlympics LA has centered the nexus of policing, gentrification, and homelessness. The group emerged from the Democratic Socialists of America chapter in Los Angeles. Many activists in NOlympics LA also work with Street Watch LA, a group that does outreach with the unhoused while monitoring police interactions with those living on the streets.

Members of both groups turned out in droves—alongside hundreds of supporters—at Echo Park Lake. Annie Powers, an activist with both NOlympics LA and Street Watch LA, attended the standoff “to defend the homes of people living in the park from eviction.” Powers described to The Nation how the police entered the area in full tactical riot gear and did not engage in meaningful dialogue with the unhoused residents. Powers said, “The police came in full-throated, like a military raid.” LAPD officers were quick to whip out their weapons, pointing them directly at protesters. The police crackdown at Echo Park Lake is a grim foretaste of what is likely to arise when the Olympics come to town.

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