LAPD's Militarized Response to Peaceful Abortion Protests Makes the Case for Police Reform—Again

Reforms promised after Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 are not being followed by Los Angeles police.


Despite promises of reform after the city's poor response to Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, video of police violence at recent pro-abortion protests in Los Angeles shows that Los Angeles police have not yet changed their practices.

After pro-abortion activists took to streets around the U.S. to protest the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in late June, videos have circulated on social media showing police in Los Angeles treating protesters like enemy combatants.

Armed with riot gear and brandishing rubber-bullet guns, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) mobilized rapidly in response to pro-abortion protests near the city's federal courthouse from June 24–27. Activists and journalists claim excessive use of physical force was rampant, with officers using batons against peaceful protesters.

The LAPD has maintained that it did not use force against peaceful protesters. "The vast majority of those involved [in pro-abortion protests] were peaceful and law abiding, however, a much smaller group of individuals took to the streets with the intention of creating chaos and destruction," the LAPD said in a June 27 statement. "The Los Angeles Police Department has the distinction of facilitating First Amendment Rights for all Angelinos. Equally the Department will enforce the law when individuals engage in violence," the statement continued.

While there were violent actors present at the protests, including one man who attacked police with a torch, videos shared online appear to show police using force against nonviolent protesters, including those trying to deescalate the situation. In one clip that received particular attention on social media, LAPD officers seemingly shoved Full House actress Jodie Sweetin to the pavement as she tried to defuse a confrontation between police and protesters on a Los Angeles freeway.

In another video, LAPD officers appeared to keep bystanders from providing water to a protester who had his head and arm repeatedly slammed into the ground by police.


Police also reportedly targeted journalists, even when they presented their press credentials and explicitly identified themselves. One clip seems to show police officers hitting reporter Tina Desiree Berg and shoving her to the ground, even after she showed her press badge:


Back in May, when Politico released a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, protesters were also met with violence from LAPD officers.

The LAPD's response to Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020 was also subject to criticism over poor planning, disorganization, and several instances of excessive force. An investigative report commissioned by the Los Angeles City Council found that "those arrested for curfew were detained and handcuffed for hours, without water or bathroom breaks, before being transported to the jail facility for booking."

City officials promised reform following protests in summer 2020. In response to public outcry, the LAPD updated many of its policies on managing crowds and respecting protesters and journalists. Police reform has also remained an important issue in Los Angeles elections, with both major candidates for Los Angeles mayor, businessman and former president of the Los Angeles Police Commission Rick Caruso and U.S. Representative Karen Bass (D–Calif.), promising to implement further changes to the LAPD's practices without "defunding" the department. The Bass campaign includes police reform as a key tenet of her public safety policy. 

For activists and local observers, the police department's approach to these recent protests shows the failure of reform efforts. "It's a little less than two years since [the LAPD] changed its policy on how it treats non-city credentialed press after they roughed up [reporter Lexis Olivier-Rey] in 2020," tweeted James Queally, a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times. "Pretty clear from this video they're not following it."