On May 21, 2010 tenants and their allies fighting for a temporary rent freeze were betrayed by Councilmembers and attacked by LAPD in City Council Chambers.
Sign our Solidarity Statement
On May 21st a 4-month moratorium on rent increases was being considered by City Council, an action that reflected months of organizing and the active involvement of more than 1,000 low-income tenants from across the city in the rent stabilization reform process. The proposed moratorium was a significant compromise by tenants. Our original demands were (and still are) for comprehensive rent stabilization ordinance reform and a one-year moratorium until full reforms were in place. The motion to write the moratorium had passed two weeks prior with an 8-6 vote, and a vote was needed on this day to adopt it.
Council chambers was filled with mostly Black and Brown tenants, including mothers with their children, people with disabilities, elders, Veterans, and others, with more than a hundred people in overflow areas. Tenants had taken the day off from work, left their children in school after hours, and/or had to make special family arrangements to attend the meeting. After five hours of a Council meeting that included numerous awards, commission appointments, and the declaration of Harvey Milk Day, the Council took up the moratorium item. Limited public testimony was taken on this crucial issue – about 12 minutes each for those supporting and opposing. Councilmembers Hahn and Alarcon expressed their support for the moratorium and their willingness to include some additional compromise, and called for a vote.
Council President Garcetti then intervened in the process and introduced an alternate motion to send the issue back to Committee, although two weeks prior he had voted to move it forward — essentially killing the moratorium and any chance for respite for rent-burdened tenants. That motion passed 10 – 5, with only Councilmembers Alarcon, Hahn, Huizar, Krekorian and Wesson voting on behalf of tenants.
Tenants were outraged by this betrayal and the obvious priority placed on landowners over tenants. We began chanting such things as “Housing is a Human Right” and “Traitors.” Councilmember Zine, who was acting President at the time although Mr. Garcetti was in Chambers, immediately called for the police to clear the room. Within minutes, there were over 60 officers pouring into Council chambers with bean bag guns, taser guns, and billy clubs ready. Councilmember Zine remained in the President’s seat, instigating the officers and continually commanding LAPD on the loudspeaker with such orders as “Get ‘em out of here.”
Tenants continued chanting as we were moving toward the door. Our chants posed absolutely no physical threat to any person or property. An order to disperse was never given by LAPD. Yet, when the entire large group had already moved about 2/3 of the way to the door, officers charged the group, using extreme force and violence against tenants. Officers had been aggressive toward tenants all day, but escalated their efforts to the extreme at this point. The police locked a group of people in the chambers at one point. Also, the police attacked people – shoving, pushing and pulling them to the ground. They stomped, choked, hit with billy clubs, and shot one person with a taser gun at least four times. Three people were forcefully arrested, two of whom face felony charges. These were not planned or justified arrests.
At no time during this violence did Councilmember Garcetti retain his seat or his obligations as Council President, nor did he intervene to prevent these human and civil rights abuses happening in front of his face. Instead he allowed Councilmember Zine to incite the officers further while he sat and laughed and chatted in Mr. Zine’s assigned chair.
We know that many of you consider Mr. Garcetti a friend, an ally, or a supporter, and many of us have as well. Yet, on May 21st, he was wrong on all counts – he initiated and allowed multiple and massive human rights violations. For years tenants have been overburdened by their rent payments, many paying over 50% of their income to maintain homes. In the meantime landlords have generally had profitable, growing businesses. Yet, tenants got no break. Councilmember Garcetti betrayed tenants with his motion to kill the moratorium, a violation of the human right to housing. He acted on behalf of wealthy property owners instead. He was not protecting small, “mom and pop” landlords, who had already been exempted from the proposed moratorium. He was not protecting labor, as he originally claimed to housing leaders, since many union members were present in Chambers and directly expressed their support for the moratorium to him prior to the vote. And, last, Mr. Garcetti allowed a physical assault on the democratic process in his own Chambers and sat silent watching police brutality against low-income people of color. This cannot be acceptable to any of us.
There were others who were wrong that day. Nine other Councilmembers caved to the pressure of large, wealthy landlords instead of taking the opportunity to provide temporary respite for rent-burdened tenants in an historic economic crisis. Councilmember Zine basically ordered LAPD officers to escalate their tactics against tenants who were already peacefully, but not quietly, leaving chambers. Councilmember Rosendahl had indicated he would vote against the moratorium. Many other councilmembers sat and watched the brutality unfold. And, to date, only Councilmember Alarcon made a public statement that reflected the sad state of affairs in City Hall on that day.
But Councilmember Garcetti is the President and he introduced the motion to kill the moratorium. He could have simply voted no, and we would have seen where the votes fell. He did not. He is also obligated to preside over Chambers, facilitate an open public process, and ensure the safety of those participating in that process. He did not.
On the same day that Harvey Milk Day was established in Los Angeles, the exact same police force and brutality tactics used against Harvey Milk and those in the gay rights movement were used against LA’s housing rights movement. In City Hall. In front of the Council’s own eyes. As Angelenos, we are asked to participate in civic processes and give input and when we did, enforcers were called in to violently silence us. Again, this cannot be acceptable to any of us.
Today we inform you that we will continue our fight and push forward our demands to ensure that Housing is a Human Right in Los Angeles. Also, we want to let you know that we hold every Councilmember accountable to the tenant majority in Los Angeles. The council, as a whole, is morally responsible for ensuring safe, stable and decent affordable housing regardless of market conditions or their own political aspirations.
We urge you to act. We urge you to publicly voice your opinions and position about this travesty of justice. While private conversations are often useful, in this case we need widespread and public response. We cannot allow May 21st to happen without accountability from all of those who participated – either actively or silently. As a first and simple step, you can sign the attached solidarity statement, which will be shared with public officials and others. We also urge you to send/email more extensive letters to Councilmember Garcetti and others, and provide copies to us. There are many other ways you can support the LA Right to Housing Collective’s actions now and in the future, so please contact us if you are interested and willing to act.
The LA Right to Housing Collective, including:
Coalition LA, Comunidad Presente, Inquilidos Unidos, Los Angeles Community Action Network, POWER, South Asian Network,
Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, and Union de Vecinos.
(All of whom had members and staff present in Council Chambers on May 21, 2010)
News clips and raw video are available at: