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Art Walk director on the defensive after Occupy Chalk Walk melee

By Hayley Fox
Published: Monday, July 16, 2012, at 06:07PM

Art Walk's executive director says the monthly event in no way endorses or condones what the Occupy protesters did last week on Spring and 5th streets.

Last week's Chalk Walk, organized by Occupy protesters during the Downtown Art Walk, resulted in a standoff with police, about 20 arrests and multiple officer injuries. Art Walk's executive director Joe Moller said the disruption had absolutely nothing to do with the monthly event and reiterated that Art Walk in no way endorses the protesters' behavior.

"In the history of Art Walk this is our first incident of agitators doing something like this," said Moller.

He emphasized that his organization had no role in the protest and added that it was "unfortunate that this small organization disrupted an evening of art, food and fun for the thousands of Angelenos and visitors" who attended last week's event.

LAPD officer Matt Shafer has worked the Art Walk since its inception and been involved with multiple Occupy events -- including the removal of protesters from City Hall's lawn. Shafer said most Art Walk incidents are minor infractions, such as people getting drunk and fighting, but when Occupy protesters showed up on Thursday at the already huge, 20,000 to 30,000-person event, it created a "pretty dangerous force."

Although Occupy is "supposed to be a peaceful unit," said Shafer, the chalk event quickly "started going south" after protesters began drawing at Spring and 5th streets on Thursday evening. Back-up was called to the scene, in addition to officers from surrounding divisions and units.

Shafer said that Art Walk is a "high priority event" and because they knew protesters were coming, they expected it "might get out of hand" and staffed accordingly -- but had no idea of the severity of the situation.

"We had enough resources but we didn't think it'd get to a mobile field force situation," said Shafer.

What started out as a 100 to 150 officer-event turned into approximately 300 to 400 officers showing up from a large cross-section of departments. Businesses got tagged with spray paint, people threw glass bottles and rocks and police retaliated with bean bag shotguns, said Shafer.

Since the incident, area Councilman José Huizar has publicly stated that he supports the actions of the police department and believes that public safety was jeopardized the night of the protest.

"My office will be meeting with the Art Walk Task Force to discuss next month’s Art Walk and how we can maintain the Downtown Art Walk as a safe, fun and worthwhile event,” Huizar said in a statement.

Moller said Occupy organizers targeted Art Walk because of its "notoriety and audience" -- two things he said the activist group is "grossly lacking in." Moller commented that the irony of the protesters' demonstration was that the only people who were negatively impacted were those also in the 99 percent; small business owners who make money from the crowded monthly event and emerging artists who need the exposure to make a living.

Moller referenced historical figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. as examples of how movements can make important political statements without creating waves of collateral damage.

"A lot of people locally are asking themselves 'is the opportunity cost worth it,'" he said.

Moller said the Art Walk has an an "impeccable" track record aside from two isolated incidents: a car accident which resulted in the death of a two-month-old baby last summer, and this most recent Occupy conflict.

He said that although every month is a learning experience for how to improve the event, he doesn't think last week's Occupy protest will affect attendance at August's event. Moller pointed out that for the third year in a row, Art Walk won an award for being the best event in Downtown, and added that next month they will be launching a new mobile app which will help visitors better navigate Downtown's galleries and restaurants.

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