The LAPD Instigated a Riot, Falsely Arrested Me and Now I’m a #BLM Activist (Guest Blog)

“I am certain that some of the same ill will and presumptive negative judgment I experienced was in the air when the man we marched for was murdered,” TV sound engineer Zeke Richardson writes

cnn la riot black lives matter zeke richardson

I am white. I am 63 years old. I have lived in Hancock Park for 30 years. I have been blessed with good jobs in the entertainment industry. I coached Little League baseball and ref’d AYSO soccer. On Saturday afternoon, at 2:40 p.m., not far from my house, I was beaten and handcuffed, held for seven hours without charges and treated with the same contempt, indifference and cruelty so many less fortunate Angelenos experience. I saw young women my daughters’ age hit with clubs, well-dressed men shot with rubber bullets at point-blank range, people pushed back with cross checks against their chests. When I set out with my family to support anti-racism and reform in police departments, I was a police supporter, but the LAPD and Sheriff’s Department have lost my support.

Yes, there were rocks and debris thrown and two police cars were set on fire, but all that occurred much later, after police escalated the situation. Before, during and after my arrest, protesters who were within a few yards of the police lines did not commit any acts of violence. The people on the front lines at the Fairfax flashpoint were exercising their First Amendment right to assemble and were punished for it.

On TV, the aftermath of the terrible destruction, the vandalism and looting, are sad reminders of past rage and injustice when those prone to violence and criminal acts use chaos as a cover to do damage to those who neither deserved nor could afford it. And here we are again, this time in the middle of a crippling pandemic, when everyone is already angry and weakened. I didn’t loot or cause destruction, but that is how I was treated while in custody and this is how I may have appeared when I was splashed on national TV. I want to set the record straight.

The media portrayed the demonstration as a peace march gone bad because of a few rotten apples. I think both the police and media got it wrong. There’s always more than one narrative, of course, and I was only in one place, under a media blackout in the long hours I was in custody. But from what I saw, the LAPD instigated the riot in the Fairfax District.

los angeles black lives matter protest
Getty Images

Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day. At 2 p.m., my wife came out to the backyard to say our 16-year-old daughter wanted to go down to the rally in Pan Pacific Park. I stupidly grabbed the walking stick I had used with my eldest daughter to walk the Grand Canyon, a useful tool for old fools like me when walking long distanced. I strapped on my face mask and headed out, thinking that my family would catch up.

When I got to Pan Pacific Park, the crowd was already on the move along Gardner. Everyone was masked, keeping social distance. The demonstrators turned west on Third Street, most walking quietly on the sidewalk. As we passed the Grove we saw the intersection at Fairfax was completely filled with people. Traffic in all directions was stopped. There were a couple people making speeches on megaphones, a few people sitting on light poles, and three or four men standing on a muni bus which had presumably been abandoned. The bus had not been vandalized. I was leaning on my stick, next to a guy in a lone BMW stranded in a sea of people, happily joining the demonstration, standing through his sun roof.

Some in the crowd continued walking west on Third Street and I joined them. The entire atmosphere was more subdued than I’d expected. I felt a little like a tourist. There were a few waves of chants but nothing sustained, like a wave at a baseball stadium that never really gets going. There were some provocative signs, but I didn’t feel any sense of anger. The speakers drew some applause, but it was impossible to hear them with the police helicopters circling above so I continued walking towards Crescent Heights. The noise and heavy vibrations of the helicopters above was in stark contrast to the light and bright atmosphere.

I found the crowd had been halted and were bunched together at Edinborough. This was the first police presence I saw. The LAPD had formed a circle, presumably to keep people off the street and onto the sidewalks. They were surrounded but not threatened. I was standing a few feet from the front line at this point, took a video of the crowd and tried texting my family again.

The human police barrier was causing people to pinch together so I walked around the circle on the sidewalk. I shouted something about how we have the right to assemble, to keep walking, but at Crescent Heights the LAPD had created a firm and more formidable line. They were more on edge and had their batons pointed outward directly towards us. Many of us tried to engage them in conversation, asking why they were blocking our way, explaining we had a constitutional right to assemble, reminding them we were regular citizens not out to do anyone harm.

After a few minutes, the police line started moving forward. I was pushed back hard and knocked down. When I tried to stand I was butted with a heavy stick and body checked. The crowd fell back into the parking lot to the north. I ended up just off the sidewalk in a dirt area on my knees, using my walking stick to hold myself firmly. One thing which should be made clear was that my walking stick was NEVER used in any threatening way at any officer.

The line of LAPD stopped for a moment — and then suddenly forged ahead. One of them grabbed my walking stick and jabbed me hard me with his baton in the ribs. I felt a second baton strike my arm. I fell down on the stick and covered my head to avoid serious injury. The man I had tried to talk to moments earlier beat me on my back, wrestled my walking stick away. I was pulled to my feet, my mask was ripped off, my stick was tossed and I was told I was under arrest. I was frisked by another officer, tightly cuffed and told to stand against an SUV squad cruiser and  spread my legs. If I moved my feet even an inch I was threatened not to move again. My feet were burning. I stood in this position for about two hours. I want to emphasize that I was completely cooperative from the time of my arrest until my release seven hours later. To my knowledge the people who had me in custody did not know my name and no one bothered to tell me what I had been charged with.

For about an hour, I seemed to be the only one arrested. I was in the middle of the street, seeing exactly what the police were seeing. A line of protesters to the east about 50 yards away were hit with batons and rubber bullets. To the north, the dispersed crowd was being cornered into a Trader Joe’s parking lot, driven back like cattle and hit as well. As the Hollywood division came in to replace the downtown officers who had started the action, the energy intensified. I could hear the police radios, see men in riot gear loading up small backpacks with large rubber bullet rounds. Whoever was directing this action was ordering the troops to “Take back the Fairfax intersection.” This felt like war with only one side engaging in battle. One of the police loading his gun and backpack appeared to be smiling.

The crowd behind me holding the line at Crescent Heights were not attacked. They were to hold that line for much of the afternoon, never doing anything violent or threatening, refusing to retreat. I asked the officer holding my arm what I was being charged with and who was my arresting officer. He didn’t answer.

fire la police car black lives matter protest
Getty Images

Suddenly, one of the police cars was on fire. I didn’t see how it was started. The fire quickly spread to a second car and within just a minute or two the street was filled with a thick black smoke. Rocks hailed down. What I thought curious was that the demonstrators had been pushed back, far from the vehicles which were set on fire. No objects were being thrown yet. I didn’t hear or see anything hit the vehicle; it just seemed to spontaneously combust. Someone may have done an end run around the police, rushed in and thrown an incendiary device.

The fire department arrived 10 minutes later and put out the fires. The smoke made it impossible to see what was happening in the direction of Fairfax. At around 4 p.m., someone ordered the guy still holding my arm to move over to the sidewalk. This is where my image standing handcuffed next to the officer was caught and played repeatedly on CNN.

For the next two hours, others were arrested and brought to where I was standing. No one knew what charges were being filed. The officers said unlawful assembly. One man was arrested simply because he was walking with his service dog by Trader Joe’s. One of the officers suggested that maybe he’d been looting and pulled his dog carelessly against a wall where he was ordered to sit down. One young woman I’d seen beaten earlier was brought over in handcuffs. Then a guy with a hat that read PTSD was brought over; the man was visibly shaken and scared. I later learned he was caught in his car, hemmed in by the crowd and he’d been ordered to turn left. As he did, his car was pelted with rocks and bottles. He stopped to get out and was arrested, presumably for stepping out of his car.

I want to emphasize those arrested were cooperative and anything but dangerous. None of us had looted, vandalized or defaced private property. We were normal, law-abiding people, yet we were treated as if we had set fire to the police car. Our questions were met with utter dismissal. When we asked for water, we were told the water bottles had been in the burned police car. When we said the handcuffs hurt after hours of confinement behind our backs, we were reminded they can be unpleasant.

Despite limited manpower, six officers stood guard for two to three hours, as if we were escape risks. They insisted they were holding us for our own protection and the streets were blocked in every direction. Neither of these claims turned out to be true. We were never read our Miranda rights or told why or when we had committed an act of unlawful assembly. There were hundreds of people in every direction who were not detained. One officer rifled through my pockets and, without my permission, took my wallet from me. She wrote down my name and license number on. This officer was not present when I was arrested. I was being charged by proxy. Due process and the rule of law were set aside Saturday.

Despite being told repeatedly that being held on the street handcuffed was for our own safety, people on skateboards, bikes and small groups were casually allowed to walk by. The crowd at Fairfax had been pushed back toward the Grove. I assume this was when the more serious vandalizing and looting began. I didn’t know it at the time, but Melrose and parts of Beverly Boulevard were being destroyed.

If the marchers had been allowed to simply walk down Third Street, a good deal of the violence, vandalism and looting might never have happened.

At 6 p.m., we were lined up and finally loaded onto a sheriff’s bus, each handcuffed prisoner locked inside in a three-by-four-by-five-foot cage. The man in the cage in front of me had been shot several times with rubber bullets, his hand bandaged and bleeding, his face torn and cut. Why we needed to be handcuffed while in these locked cages seemed punitive rather than safety-related. We sat for another three hours before the bus pulled out.

We wound up in Van Nuys for processing, miles from the jurisdiction where we had been arrested. No one explained why. Then we waited on the bus another hour before we were processed at a long plastic table.
At around 10 p.m., I was finally uncuffed. I could not feel my arms or hands. We were told to walk down the ramp and head toward Victory or be arrested. By then, a curfew was in place and we asked how we were to get home. This drew an apathetic shrug. One deputy said, “That’s your problem.”

black lives matter la protest
Getty Images

With my hands finally free, I took out my phone and found 64 texts, dozens of missed calls. My best friend picked me up. The narrative he’d been given by the media was a peaceful protest gone rogue. And I wondered how many people thought I was just another scumbag looter or a white supremacist trouble maker. Almost everyone asked me why I wasn’t wearing the mask the police had torn off my face.

Maybe I shouldn’t have stood my ground or tried to assert my rights. Maybe I should have thought of my family first, backed away and gone home. But if I had, I would have missed the most lesson of the day. I am now part of the fight. Reluctant perhaps, ill-equipped and inexperienced. I am not the enemy of the LAPD and they are not an enemy of mine. But I am certain that some of the same ill will and presumptive negative judgment I experienced was in the air when the man we marched for was murdered. I’m also certain if we can’t find a way for the police to see all of us as allies, brothers and sisters they are sworn to protect and defend, we will be served up more of the same tomorrow.

The LAPD lost my respect and support last weekend, but they can get it back. Here are a couple suggestions:

• Take a knee or stand with us. Even better, march with us. Law enforcement officers are in a unique position to inspire us and their condemnation of police brutality and racial profiling will be far more powerful than our civilian voices.

• Let us march. Stop treating these events as crimes. Walk alongside us as you did during the Women’s March. People were keeping their social distance before being attacked, corralled and scattered. Your community is simply trying to end horrible practices which the vast majority of your officers agree need to end. Give us safe passage. The true demonstrators won’t harm buildings or property if you escort them. It will be easier to spot radicals bent on creating havoc and burning cars. These chaotic people are our common enemy as they seek to delegitimize what we all truly stand for — peace, justice and order.