By Greta Cobar
As the Beachhead fore-saw in its January 2012 issue, the new Ordinance regulating free speech on Ocean Front Walk (OFW) is not being enforced, and vending is in full swing (http://bit.ly/13dLKrQ). The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) have displayed full power and control over selective enforcement, choosing to ignore vendors of mass-produced items and targeting local performers with tickets and arrests.
On March 20 Solomon the Snake Man, also known as Willie Lee Turner, was arrested on a panhandling charge. The incident was video-tapped by Vivianne Robinson and highly publicized online (http://bit.ly/11Txvne and http://bit.ly/11SkLBd).
The LAPD proceeded to confiscate all of Solomon’s belongings, which they kept even after he posted the $100 bail fee. After performing the same show, in the same spot, for the last twelve years, how much sense does it make for the LAPD to tell him that he cannot do it anymore? And how much sense does it make for the LAPD to confiscate Solomon’s rubber snakes and everything else he used to put on his show? Is the LAPD implying that he should just sit on a street corner or on OFW truly panhandling, mocking the LAPD officers’ charge for taking him to jail?
How easy do you think it is to lose your way of earning an income? And who gives the LAPD that type of power?
All of that while more than half of OFW free speech spots are once again taken by out-of-town vendors, re-selling made-in-China merchandise bought downtown. That was exactly what the new OFW Ordinance, which took effect late January 2012, was supposed to eliminate.
Some of us had our Summer 2011 plans derailed by the city of Los Angeles’s decision to hold dozens of meetings concerning the new OFW ordinance. Although Venetians did not sit back, but instead, like myself, attended each and every one of those meetings during the summer months, input from the community was completely ignored, and once again downtown higher-ups drafted their own version of the legislature.
One of the points that we did not agree with was the punishment proposed and finally provided for in the 2012 Ordinance. All repeat offenses carry misdemeanor charges with possible $1000 fines and six months in jail.
Previous to this latest Ordinance, all offenses were categorized as infractions, not misdemeanors, did not carry a minimum charge and definitely did not have a jail sentence attached to them.
Besides being opposed to the fines and punishments for non-compliance, Venetians also asked that the First Amendment be mentioned in the Ordinance, opposed artists being called “vendors”, and the free speech zone being divided into “designated” spaces, but none of our suggestions were incorporated into the final draft of the Ordinance. Who would have ever thought that free speech could be limited to a marked box?
The back-bone of the Ordinance, stating that all spots are to be occupied on a first-come basis, was a failure from the beginning, as the same people occupy the same spots day in and day out.
All of these legislations created by downtown higher-ups who chose to ignore our outspoken community activists did not make provisions for enforcement. As previously reported by the Beachhead (bit.ly/13dLKrQ), at the Dec. 15 2011 Friends of the Boardwalk meeting Lieutenant Paola Kreefft stated that the LAPD does not have a plan to enforce the new ordinance going into effect at the end of January 2012. Not surprisingly, the LAPD shied away from enforcing the Ordinance, but proved to be blunt when it came to selective enforcement on several instances (http://bit.ly/XKdWuz and http://bit.ly/WZwKZL).
Just in case you are thinking that a new Ordinance needs to be drafted, remember that this is the sixth revision of the Los Angeles Municipal Code 42.15, first introduced in 2004. The previous revision, of 2008, established the lottery system of allocating the 205 designated spaces on OFW. It was deemed unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson in October 2010 on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment.
Although many OFW artists and vendors did not agree with the lottery system of allocating spaces, the very vast majority of them bought into it. Solomon was one of the very few who never joined the lottery system.
Just a few months ago a highly popular online video of an LAPD officer in Venice (http://bit.ly/XjMVMS) abusing his power resulted in public outcry, which led to the ticket being dismissed and the officer being disciplined. The same thing is bound to happen regarding Officer Gonzalez’s arrest of Solomon, which was deemed as abuse of power and selective enforcement not only by the Beachhead, but even by websites that have traditionally been supportive of the LAPD.
Please contact your local police officials to let them know that you are against LAPD engaging in selective enforcement.