These US police officers are responding to a gun threat, not evicting the homeless
A video circulating on social media claims to show American police in Venice Beach, California, armed with assault rifles evicting a tent full of homeless individuals. The video, filmed on July 25, actually shows Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers responding to reports that a man was brandishing a firearm. The homeless in the video were neither arrested nor evicted from their shelter that day.
This video, published on Twitter on August 3 and viewed over 3 million times, claims to show police officers at Venice Beach, in Los Angeles, California who are armed with heavy weaponry in order to evict homeless people from the beach. The post was shared nearly fourteen thousand times, and the video was reposted on social media networks including Facebook and Reddit.
Cops bring assault rifles to evict the homeless off of Venice Beach pic.twitter.com/19I0veJcbS— OccuWorld 🏴 (@OccuWorld) August 3, 2021
The same video has been posted with captions in French and Spanish, all denouncing America’s “war against the poor.” The original video was published on TikTok on July 27, with an ambiguous caption: “Best performance I’ve seen so far here at Venice.” The videos were posted without the original audio of the scene, making it impossible to hear what the police are saying.
The video sparked a debate on Twitter, with many users condemning the police’s use of this type of firearm to conduct a homeless sweep.
Why it’s false
Although police use of force to evict unhoused populations is nothing new in Los Angeles, this video does not show a homeless camp eviction.
By looking through the Tweet’s responses, it’s possible to find the real story. Some people shared an article from American tabloid TMZ, which explains that the police were responding to a report of a man with a gun.
Other videos of the incident, taken from different angles and including the real audio, were also shared online. The FRANCE 24 Observers were able to confirm what happened using extra details in these videos, as well as eyewitness testimony.
Fabian Lewkowicz, who runs Santa Monica Closeup, a photo blog documenting everyday life in Santa Monica, California, showed up at the scene after the police had arrived and filmed the incident, which he posted on YouTube. He also spoke to the accused parties. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers what he learned:
What happened was that one of the homeless guys in that tent had pulled a BB gun, which looked like a real gun, on someone who was trying to steal a bicycle. He pulled a BB gun to scare them off. The gun was empty, he was just trying to scare off this girl trying to steal the bike. So I guess someone called the police saying that someone had a gun. The police responded, he told them what happened and they didn’t arrest him.
In the video of the event below, police handcuff the residents of a tent as they search inside. At 1:08, a young man explains that he “had [the BB gun] out because she was trying to steal my bike.” The police confirm the statement with another woman who is handcuffed. At 1:41, the man affirms that the weapon was a BB gun and wasn’t loaded.
At 8:40 minutes into the video, the police begin removing everyone’s handcuffs before they leave the scene.
A police spokesperson told The Independent the same version, namely that this video shows the police response to a call reporting an “assault involving a deadly weapon” on July 25.
Venice Beach grapples with homelessness
It’s not uncommon to see police and other outreach workers out on Venice Beach cleaning up homeless encampments, but according to Lewkowicz, they’re never wielding assault rifles:
There have been people out here for six weeks, clearing homeless tents, cleaning up and getting people help. They have a homeless outreach team, they’re never armed like this. They build relationships, they’re very respectful. This incident was not that.
California is home to more than one-quarter of the United States’ homeless population, and homelessness in the district including Venice Beach increased 40% from 2019 to 2020, the last time this data was collected.
Tents and homeless encampments have become a more common sight on Venice Beach, a popular tourist destination, since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Previously, authorities required Venice’s homeless population to take down their tents during the day, a rule that was lifted to limit the propagation of the virus.
Since late June, authorities and local associations have been conducting an outreach program to offer homeless people living on Venice Beach a road to permanent shelter, as a way to clean up the beach. Residents were given a final warning and were told they could either move into a provided shelter or leave the beach by the deadline of July 30. Around 200 people have been moved from Venice Beach into housing under this program.
This latest incident with police took place on July 25, before the deadline when homeless individuals were required to leave the beach.