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Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino launched his run for mayor at the Venice Beach boardwalk on Monday morning, but the event was cut short after a homeless woman with a knife was seen a few feet away from the Democratic politician.
Buscaino spoke at a press conference laying out his “Plan For A Safer Los Angeles,” which emphasized banning homeless encampments at beaches, in parks, and on sidewalks. When Buscaino was shaking hands with supporters afterward, a local resident said he saw the unhoused woman standing behind the mayoral candidate with a knife in her hand.
Nico Ruderman, who lives in Venice, told Spectrum News 1 SoCal reporter Kate Cagle that he “was keeping an eye on her because she seemed a little off.”
Ruderman is part of a drive to recall Mike Bonin, a progressive L.A. councilman whose district includes the Venice neighborhood. Critics say Bonin has allowed homeless encampments to take over the area.
“All of the sudden, I see her, out of the corner of my eye, pull a knife out,” Ruderman continued, adding that the blade was six to eight inches long. “I look her in the eye, and she says, ‘I’m going to start killing people,’ and I jumped forward and grabbed Joe.”
Two private security guards then drew their handguns and escorted Buscaino to a black SUV waiting nearby. LAPD officers quickly disarmed and detained the woman. A police captain reportedly sustained minor lacerations to his hand while wrestling the knife away from the individual. The woman yelled that she carried the weapon for protection and to cut fruit, according to a Los Angeles Times reporter at the scene.
Breaking: Private security working for @JoeBuscaino interrupted the event when they noticed this woman holding a knife near the mayoral candidate. LAPD officers detained her and you can clearly see the weapon in this video. Buscaino has been told it’s unsafe to stay here and left pic.twitter.com/tuLDRTZPWV
— Kate Cagle (@KateCagle) June 7, 2021
In the background of this clip, you can see mayoral candidate @JoeBuscaino jump onto and then over the wall surrounding the Venice beach parking lot and then take off running while @LAPDHQ officers detain the woman holding the knife. pic.twitter.com/KIXg10exYu
— Kate Cagle (@KateCagle) June 7, 2021
Police identified the suspect as Alaia Smith, a 19-year-old resident of Washington state. Known on the boardwalk as Angel, she was arrested around 7:50 a.m. on suspicion of carrying a concealed dirk or dagger, booked on a misdemeanor charge around 3:18 p.m., then released on her own recognizance later in the afternoon. She has a court date in October.
“I am grateful for my safety, the safety of the public, and the quick action of the Los Angeles Police Department,” said Buscaino in a statement released about an hour after the incident. “This is exactly why I was in Venice Beach today, charting a new course for our city, and I am convinced now, more than ever, that bold action is needed to make our city safer for everyone, regardless of housing status.”
Buscaino is a former police officer who served 15 years with LAPD. Since he was elected to the city council in 2012, homeless encampments have sprouted up throughout the region. As homelessness has emerged as the cornerstone of his mayoral campaign, progressives have attempted to brand Buscaino as right-wing.
People’s City Council-LA, an ally of Black Lives Matter, called Buscaino “LA’s Donald Trump.” The group is part of a larger coalition of progressive activist organizations that equate Buscaino’s platform to dehumanizing homeless people. Some attended the press conference and claim witnesses said the knife fell out of Smith’s clothing. They say Buscaino’s camp exaggerated the threat for publicity, describing the incident as “a setup.”
“Joe Buscaino brought his hate-filled rally to an encampment at the Venice boardwalk and then tried to frame a knife falling out of an unhoused woman’s pocket as a threat to further justify his pro-police and pro-criminalization agenda,” tweeted Jane Nguyen, co-founder of a homeless advocacy organization called Ktown for All.
A cybersecurity expert allied with the homeless advocates analyzed images from the press conference and asked for the public’s help in identifying Buscaino’s supporters, some of whom displayed signs with messages like “Save Us Joe.”
He claimed several were elected members of the Venice Neighborhood Council, raising questions about whether they might have accidentally formed a quorum by attending.
Buscaino and L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, another Democrat, are the only candidates who have entered the mayoral race so far. Mayor Eric Garcetti is termed out in December 2022.