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Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer will not file criminal charges against 179 protesters, journalists and legal observers who were arrested for failing to disperse from an Echo Park protest in March, his office confirmed Friday.
"Free speech and peaceful protest are fundamental to our democracy," Feuer said in a statement. "These peaceful protesters did not threaten public safety and it would not be in the interest of justice to prosecute them."
A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Krithika Santhanam, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles, which had petitioned for the charges to be rejected, alerted many of the arrestees to Feuer's decision by email Friday — saying they no longer had to worry about showing up to scheduled court hearings.
Santhanam said Feuer's decision was a win for freedom of speech and for protesters, who she said play an "essential role" in society.
"It's really important to us that people are able to exercise their 1st Amendment rights to protest injustices without the fear of criminalization," she said. "We're very pleased that the city attorney's office has chosen to exercise its vast discretion to reject these arrests."
The March 25 protest was over the city's displacement of individuals experiencing homelessness and deconstruction of an encampment they had built on the banks of Echo Park. The city had moved in with crews to clear the area and close the park for renovations, with Los Angeles Police officers there in large numbers to enforce the closure.
A protest on the night of March 24 ended without arrests when protesters dispersed and people living in the park were allowed to stay overnight before a morning eviction deadline. However, on March 25, another protest erupted outside the newly closed park, and ended with mass arrests after the LAPD declared the protest an unlawful assembly.
Some journalists, including a Times reporter, were detained but later released. Others were arrested and booked alongside protesters.
Protest leaders, news outlets and some city officials denounced the detentions and arrests, while police defended them as necessary to restore public safety after protesters had allegedly begun flashing lights and throwing things at officers.
Feuer's decision not to file charges was in line with past decisions not to pursue criminal charges against protesters who were arrested for failing to disperse from protests, including during mass demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd in the spring of 2020.
Still, it was welcome news to those who faced court dates for the Echo Park incident.
Jonathan Peltz, who was arrested while covering the events for Knock LA, a nonprofit newsroom affiliated with the progressive activist group Ground Game LA, said he knew that people arrested for failing to disperse from past protests were not criminally charged, but still felt "a lot of anxiety" after receiving in the mail an updated court date for his Echo Park arrest.
The fact that he no longer has to worry about it "does feel like a weight lifted," he said.
The move comes as legislation aimed at bolstering journalists' rights at protests, and protecting them from detention and arrest as they cover such events, is pending in Sacramento.
Peltz said he hoped lawmakers will provide protection for all journalists, not just those at large publications.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.