Interfaith clergy, including the Rev. Liz Muñoz, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Hollywood, have written a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa protesting what they called the unacceptable level of violence they witnessed when city police cleared the Occupy L.A. encampment around the city hall in the early morning hours on Nov. 30.
The clergy are members of the Occupy L.A. Interfaith Leaders Support Network, described in a press release as “a growing ad hoc group now [comprised of] over 200 diverse clergy and lay leaders throughout Greater Los Angeles.”
“While we are grateful that there were no major physical injuries, we are distressed by the level of violence and brutality witnessed by the members of the clergy who were present at the eviction,” wrote the faith leaders in the letter, dated Dec. 1. “After two months of a peaceful occupation it is unacceptable that this level of violence was deployed. Occupiers were pushed and hit and corralled and hunted down by police in a military fashion. The police invaded the park without sufficient warning in a manner that was designed to create the greatest amount of terror and trauma.”
Protesters were cleared from the encampment on Nov. 30 in what the Los Angeles Times described as a well-planned, inexorable sweep involving some 500 police officers. Police arrested 292 protesters. Although press reports indicated that the sweep involved little violence and that both police and occupiers acted with restraint, the clergy disputed that claim in their letter.
“Despite the media impression that the eviction went off skillfully and without a hitch, in reality there was psychological and spiritual violence in as well as physical violence,” they wrote.
The clergy also protested the unusually high bail of $5,000 set for those arrested, “who are nonviolent and not a flight risk,” they wrote. “They must be released on their own
A list of other clergy who signed the letter was not immediately available.
Muñoz and the Rev. Canon Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, were also among 14 representatives from the Occupy L.A. Interfaith Leaders Support Network who met with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck on Nov. 29, according to a press release from The release described the meeting as “a productive 45-minute exchange on issues of shared concern.”
According to the release, the delegation raised three main areas of concern: a peaceful and respectful process for addressing the encampment on City Hall grounds, including a constructive role for clergy in that process; ways to sustain the Occupy presence and message in Los Angeles in the future as the encampment ends; and “ways in which Villaraigosa can use his ‘bully pulpit’ to further articulate and intensify major themes of the national Occupy movement: e.g., the need to halt the avalanche of home foreclosures, the need to reverse corporate “personhood,” the need to fully enforce the Dodd-Frank law, and the need to gain needed federal and state tax revenue to support municipal services in LA and throughout the nation.”
The mayor, who serves as president of the National Council of Mayors, pledged to do his best to rally his colleagues in these policy arenas, the release said. He “expressed his appreciation and respect for the Occupiers here, and he echoed clergy leaders in highlighting the power of nonviolent civil disobedience for the sake of righteous causes.”
The faith leaders commended Beck for the restraint shown by the LAPD to date in dealing with the encampment, while promising to hold the department accountable if abuses are observed in the future.
No further formal meetings are scheduled, but the interfaith group will work informally with city officials, labor leaders, and others toward positive outcomes for the Occupy LA movement, the release said. Many religious leaders were in the encampment on Nov. 29 and 30, urging nonviolence and showing solidarity with the movement’s larger goals.
In addition to Bacon and Muñoz, faith leaders taking part in the meeting included:
The Rev. Michael Beckwith, AGAPE International
The Rev. Ryan Bell, Hollywood Seventh Day Adventist Church
Ms. Stacie Chaiken, Occupy LA faith community liaison and member of IKAR
Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, American Jewish University
The Rev. Norman Copeland, presiding elder, African Methodist Episcopal Church
The Rev. Paige Eaves, Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church
Sr. Diane Donoghue, Sisters of Social Service & Esperanza Center
Rabbi Jonathan Klein, CLUE Los Angeles
The Rev. Peter Laarman, Progressive Christians Uniting
Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater, Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center
The Rev. Lewis Logan II, RUACH Fellowship and Fuller Seminary
The Rev. Sandie Richards, First United Methodist Church, Los Angeles