Occupy LA Returns to Downtown, Is Met With Police in Riot Gear

The crowd gathered around 8:40 p.m. and were given the orders to disperse shortly after 11 p.m., police say.

Occupy L.A. demonstrators are blaming police for violence that erupted Thursday night in downtown Los Angeles.

17 people were arrested and four officers were injured as police and protesters clashed near Pershing Square..

"Who caused the escalation?" said Occupy protester Michael Paz Soldan. "Was it provoked by the Occupiers? Was it provoked by the bottle throwers? Maybe it was helped out by the bottle throwing, but the Occupiers had nothing to do with it."

The clashes disrupted the monthly downtown event known as Artwalk L.A.

Artwalk executive director Joe Moller praised police for their actions.

"I think their response was admirable, I think it was appropriate," said Moller, "and I take my hat off to the guys who put on the riot gear and go out there and deal with these people who are throwing rocks and bottles."

One officer was hit by a bottle and reportedly suffered a concussion. Three other officers suffered minor injuries.

Witnesses and victims reported police shooting objects into the crowd, which amassed near the intersection of Fifth and Spring streets around 8:40 p.m. Officers say rubber bullets and bean bags were used. 

Shortly after 11 p.m., police ordered the crowd of protesters to disperse from the area.

"This kind of took us by surprise, we were not expecting them to show up tonight," said Officer Karen Rayner with LAPD.

Click here to see photos of the demonstration

The demonstration was linked to an Occupy LA event scheduled for Thursday night.

The protest group posted the following notice about the demonstration on their Facebook page Thursday afternoon:

"Tonight, #ArtWalk in #DTLA becomes #ChalkWalk! Occupy Los Angeles has had a laughably ridiculous 12 arrests the past 6 weeks for children's sidewalk chalk. Tonight from 7-9pm, occupiers, artists, enthusiasts, rebels, and the intrigued will defend the First Amendment and freedom of speech."

During the first hours of the demonstration, the street -- which was dotted in chalk markings -- was flanked by skirmish lines of riot police. At times, crowds and police could be seen running from the area.

Messages written in chalk covered the downtown intersection.

"You wouldn't shoot your kids for this, why shoot us?" and "Chalk the police" were among the notes.

A man says he was visiting ArtWalk when he was struck in the ribs with what may have been a rubber bullet.

"I was walking down the street and I saw a group of people. I was just here for ArtWalk, I didn’t know anything was gonna happen," Charlie Shepherd said.

Aerial views of the scene showed demonstrators throwing objects at police. A member of the crowd threw a traffic cone at an unmarked police car driving by and some people could be seen dancing in front of police lines.

Pockets of people in the crowd could be heard encouraging their peers to remain peaceful.

During the disperal orders, police told media outlets to stay at least 40 feet away from the standoff between the crowd and officers in riot gear.

The nationwide Occupy movement grew out of contempt for what members called corporate greed and the nation's severe budget slashing which typically targeted education and social services.

Occupy LA set up a campsite outside City Hall for about two months last fall before some 1,400 police officers swept demonstrators off the lawn.

As many as 500 men, women and children were estimated to have participated in the encampment.

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