LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Thousands of people who were arrested for curfew violations in Los Angeles during the past week of protests against police brutality won't be facing criminal prosecution, with the City Attorney's Office announcing plans for a more education-based resolution of cases.
“Peaceful protest is profoundly important, and these protests have rekindled a long-overdue effort to change hearts, minds and institutions. We can't let this moment pass as we have too many times before,'' City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement. “As we move forward, our restorative approach to these cases will bring protesters, law enforcement and other voices from our community together to foster the mutual empathy, understanding and respect that are essential to building a better version of our city.
“We want to go beyond the all-too-common dynamic of people talking at each other,'' he said. “We want to create an environment where participants really listen to each other. Ideally we'll develop a model on which jurisdictions across the nation can build at this crucial moment.''
Specific details of the diversionary programs were still being developed, but according to Feuer's office, the effort a “menu of programs employing different formats,'' including discussions of steps that can be taken by the community “to address issues relevant to these protests.''
“Our hope is that this restorative justice approach will be an ingredient in deepening the mutual empathy, understanding and respect that our city needs -- perhaps serving as a model for other jurisdictions as well,'' according to Feuer's office.
The diversionary programs will be offered to people arrested solely for curfew violations -- not those suspected of violence, looting or vandalism.
The decision follows complaints by some of those arrested that they spent hours in plastic handcuffs in crammed buses without justification, leaving them with injuries and potentially exposing them to the coronavirus. A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Black Lives Matter L.A. claims the curfews illegally suppressed constitutionally protected protests and violated people's freedom of movement.
The day after the lawsuit was filed last week, Los Angeles County and most Southland cities stopped imposing curfews, saying the protest marches had become noticeably more peaceful, absent the violence and looting that marred some of the gatherings early on.
An ACLU attorney said Feuer's decision to seek an alternative to prosecution for curfew violators does not resolve all the concerns outlined in the lawsuit, saying all charges against them should simply be dropped.
“Given what we have seen this week with respect to how LAPD enforced the curfew -- the many videos and news reports of excessive force and ambush tactics -- any move by the city attorney to force people to defend themselves against curfew charges would be tantamount to sanctioning police repression,'' Adrienna Wong, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, told the Los Angeles Times.
That sentiment was echoed in a joint statement issued Monday by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Community Action Network, National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County Public Defender Union.
“While we welcome this first step, we demand that the Los Angelescity attorney decline to file any charges against anyone protesting police violence and standing in solidarity with the black community – without conditions,'' according to the groups.
They called on Feuer's office and all prosecuting agencies to “honor our community, respect our civil rights and reject the criminalization of black lives.''
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said he supports the effort to resolve the curfew cases outside court.
“Resolving these violations through alternative methods is a productive and appropriate way to address these offenses, and will have lasting positive effects on our community,'' he said in a statement. “I fully support this approach to criminal justice reform, and will work closely with the City Attorney's Office to ensure it is successful.''
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, whose office would handle curfew violations in parts of the county without their own local prosecutor's office, said her office will not pursue charges for people arrested on curfew violations or failure to disperse.
“I believe whole-heartedly in free speech and support the right or protesters to demonstrate peacefully against historic racial injustice in our criminal justice system and throughout our nation,'' Lacey said in a statement.
“I want to encourage the exchange of ideas and work to establish dialogue between law enforcement and protesters so that we may implement enduring systemic change.''
Memorial services were being held Monday in Houston for George Floyd -- who died after being pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer who placed his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.
In the Southland, four funeral-like processions were held in honor of Floyd, beginning in South Los Angeles, Long Beach, Reseda and Orange County. The four processions made their way to downtown Los Angeles, where they converged for a midday gathering at First Street and Broadway.
Crowds of people were already gathering late Monday morning, with thousands of people expected to eventually attend.
Other marches and gatherings are planned across the area.
Tens of thousands of Angelenos took to the streets Sunday to denounce racism and police brutality, with more than a dozen countywide demonstrations tied to the deaths of George Floyd, killed by police on a Minneapolis street, and Breonna Taylor, in her Louisville apartment.
One Hollywood protest drew a massive crowd -- “A triumph for the 1st Amendment,'' Los Angeles police Captain Steve Lurie, commander of the Hollywood area tweeted. “Today @LAPDHollywood hosted more than 50,000 demonstrators who peacefully marched and spoke out! No arrests, no use of force, and no issues reported.''
Sunday evening, an estimated crowd of about 20,000 peacefully marched west on Hollywood Boulevard from Highland Avenue in Hollywood, according to Los Angeles police and media reports from the scene. Marchers were still moving as of 7 p.m. and most appeared to be wearing face masks, although social distancing did not appear to be observed.
Other gatherings were held in downtown Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Compton, East Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.
National Guard troops that had been deployed to the Los Angeles in the early days of the marches to help control violence and looting, began leaving the area Sunday night. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said a small number of units “will be stationed nearby until June 10 to provide emergency support'' if needed.
`We thank the members of the Guard for their willingness to serve to ensure the safety of demonstrators, businesses, residents and everyone in our city, Garcetti said.''
Photos: Getty Images