On Tuesday, we reported on Mid-City West resident Taylor Holland’s experiences at the Black Lives Matter rally at Pan Pacific Park on Saturday. Holland attended the initial event, which was entirely peaceful, and left just before the climate shifted later in the day. Today, we hear from a longtime Citrus Square resident, Zeke Richardson, who was at the front of a group of marchers after the main rally, when they first clashed with police on Third Street just west of Fairfax. Richardson circulated his first-person account of the events to several local media outlets, including the Buzz, and it was published in its entirety yesterday on the The Wrap, an entertainment industry news site. We spoke further with Richardson about his experiences.
Zeke Richardson, a 63-year-old, longtime resident of Citrus Square, said he hadn’t originally planned to attend the Black Lives Matter rally on Saturday, but he decided to go a bit later in the day, when his 16-year-old daughter said she wanted to attend. By the time they arrived, however, the park event was winding down, and they joined the huge crowd as it started to flow south out to Third Street. Richardson, who is white, said the still-very-peaceful crowd paused at the Third and Fairfax intersection for a while, as various people made impromptu speeches over megaphones. At that point, however, he said all was still peaceful and there were no disturbances.
After a while, Richardson said, the crowd again began to move west on Third Street, past Fairfax. But by that time, he said, LAPD officers had formed a big circle in the street just a block west at Edinburgh Ave.
Richardson said he moved to the sidewalk then, attempting to go around the police, and kept walking west toward Crescent Heights, where he met an even firmer line of police.
According to Richardson’s full account:
“They were more on edge and had their batons pointed outward directly at us. Many of us tried to engage in conversation, asking the men barring us why they were blocking our way, that we had a constitutional right to assemble, that we were regular citizens just like them, not out to do anyone harm. We were warned not to take a step further, so we stood, holding our ground.
At the same time, Richarson said, the police line began moving east toward the crowd that was still advancing from Fairfax.
And at that point, Richardson wrote:
“I was pushed back hard and knocked down. When I tried to stand I was butted with the club 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. Now I was part of social resistance. I felt it was my duty to not be turned back from my 1st amendment rights. This was MY neighborhood and I was willing to take another blow and not fight back.
Richardson told the Buzz that although the police line kept advancing toward the crowd at this time, he never heard anyone tell the protestors to disperse or give them any instructions for escape routes. “I didn’t hear any orders,” he told the Buzz. “Nothing like that.”
Finally, he said:
“The line of LAPD stopped for a moment then suddenly forged ahead, one of them grabbed my stick and hit me with the 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 was trying to talk to moments earlier beat me on my back, and wrestled my walking stick away from me. I was pulled to my feet, my covid-19 mask was ripped off, my stick was tossed away and I was told I was under arrest. I was frisked but never identified and as the line of cops moved on I was aware people were filming me on their phones. I was grabbed by another officer, tightly cuffed and told to stand against an SUV squad cruiser and to spread my legs. The engine was running and it was hot. If I moved my feet even an inch I was threatened not to move again. My feet were burning. I was to stand in this position for about two hours.”
Richardson emphasizes that he was fully cooperative during this time, and made no moves to resist the police, even though by this time he had long since been separated from his family members, who had no idea where he was.
During the next two hours, Richardson says, he remained standing next to the police cruiser, with his hands cuffed, and watched events unfold on the street. He was located a bit west of a group of police vehicles parked in the middle of Third Street, behind the advancing police line. At some point, he said, one of the vehicles was set on fire (he didn’t see how it happened, and didn’t see any protestors – who by that time had been pushed further back toward Fairfax – near the car before it burned). And then other vehicles caught, fire too, filling the street with black smoke as the police began taking more people into custody.
Richardson’s account continues:
“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.”
Finally, around 6 p.m., Richardson said he and other arrestees were moved to a Sheriff’s Department bus, where they sat for another three hours. Eventually, around 9 p.m., they were taken to a police facililty in Van Nuys and put in “cages,” with their hands still tied. Finally, more than an hour later, Richardson says, a desk officer filled out an arrest form officially charging him with “unlawful assembly,” and released him, noting that it was after curfew and he should get off the street as soon as possible.
At this point, for the first time, Richardson was finally able to contact his family – who had no idea where he was until his daughter, long since back home, saw his image (above) on CNN. And he was also able to call a good friend in Studio City, who picked Richardson up and loaned him his car to drive home.
For the next few days, Richardson says, he avoided the news, penned his account of the day, and recovered with his family. But as is clear in the account he circulated to local media, the experience hasn’t faded, and his previous views of law enforcement have been forever changed:
“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.”
Richardson told the Buzz yesterday that he believes the violence would never have flared if the police had simply stood along the sides of Third Street, on the sidwalks, between the protestors and local businesses, or “just escorted us” as people moved west along the street. “I just didn’t see a lot of angry voices in the crowd – none of that,” he said.
Richardson said he also gained some perspective on the protests themselves. “Looting and violence as expression is not what people want,” he said. “They don’t want to burn down America. Nobody wants that.” In fact, he said, “We’re all in this together to try and fix the situation.”
And how would he like to see LAPD fix things moving forward?
“• 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.”
Finally, Richardson also told the Buzz that he feels that he was singled out as the first arrrest for two reasons: 1. he’s a large man and 2. he was carrying a walking stick (something that seemed innocent at the time he decided to bring it along, but was probably wasn’t interpreted that way by police)…and arresting him was a cautionary message to other protestors. But he said he also can’t help thinking that his experience, as bad as it was, would have been much, much worse if he – like George Floyd – was not only big and tall…but also black.
You can read Zeke Richardson’s full first-person account of his experience at Saturday’s protest on The Wrap, at https://www.thewrap.com/lapd-instigated-riot-saturday-arrest-black-lives-matter-protest/.