L.A. POLICE GO ON RAMPAGE AT PEACEFUL RALLY
By Jim Smith L.A. Labor News
Shortly after an 8-year old boy sang the National Anthem to open the
Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, an 11-year boy was shot in
the back, nearby, with a rubber bullet by L.A. Police Officers.
Abraham Mejia was one of scores of innocent people who were hit as police
fired volleys of cork-like rubber bullets into the crowd that was attempting
to leave the official protest center across the street from the convention
site. The two locations are separated by a 13-foot high fence. Others who
were hit included an L.A. Times reporter; Carol Sobel, a lawyer with the
ACLU, Ted Hayes, a well-known homeless activist; and Karl Manheim, a Loyola
Law School professor. After firing the rubber bullets and using tear gas and
water cannons, the police - on foot, motorcycles and horseback - went on a
rampage chasing protesters for blocks through downtown Los Angeles.
I interviewed two young environmental activists who were shot while
attempting to exit the rally and concert site. They were completely
different in demeanor and dress (they wore white) from the black-clad
anarchists that police say provoked the incident. The man was hit twice. A
large, red bump protruded from his forehead, scarcely an inch above his left
eye. They said police opened fire without warning. The rifles the cops used
shot multiple rubber bullets with each volley, making it impossible to
target alleged troublemakers. The police did not wait until the rally could
be cleared of the overflow crowd, which had swelled to 15,000, before
A hastily assembled coalition is calling for an independent investigation
of the LAPD because of ³the indiscriminate use of force and subterfuge
against peaceful demonstraors, journalists, activists and conference
participants.² Signers of the call include the D2KLA coalition, ACLU,
Global Exchange, the Ruckus Society, State Senator Tom Hayden, U.S.
Senatorial Candidate Medea Benjamin (Green Party), the Shadow Convention and
the Independent Media Center.
A few minutes before police attached, I had gone up to the fence between
the rally and the convention center. Police were lined up in military ranks,
each one clutching a rifle with both hands. As I observed, police were given
an order to move up from approximately 20 feet away from the fence to barely
10 feet away. I saw hatred and contempt in the faces of the police. Several
were massaging the trigger area of their gun as if they were about to open
fire. Later, police said anarchists were attempting to climb over the fence
or tear it down. Both of these activities are very unlikely. It is possible
to climb a few feet up the chain link fence, but the last several feet of
the fence curve inward toward the demonstrators at a 45 degree angle. The
fence runs for blocks around the convention center and is extremely sturdy.
It would probably take an armored vehicle to knock it down.
Most demonstrators I talked with believe the real reason for the timing
of the police assault was to clear the area before delegates left the hall.
Shortly before the convention recessed, police swept north on Figueroa
Avenue, chasing everyone in site. The proprietor of one of the few open
restaurants, which was already full of dining protesters, yelled to everyone
running from police to get inside. Police, looking disappointed that their
prey had gotten away, ran up to the door of the restaurant, which was
quickly locked. Down the street, others were not so lucky and were hit
repeatedly with batons.
A statement issued by the D2KLA coalition said, ³The protesters believe
that the LAPD provoked an attack in order to subordinate the political
message of the protesters and clear us out before the delegates streamed
past the protests. The theme of yesterday¹s protests was ³Human Need, Not
Corporate Greed,² because the protesters feel that politicians serve
corporate interests and do not serve the interests of the vast majority of
The police violence capped what had been the biggest day of protests so
far. About 10,000 assembled at Pershing Square for the big march, which was
the third one of the day. As marchers arrived at the rally site, a number of
people noted that it looked like a trap. The rally site, that was won
through the legal efforts of the ACLU, is surrounded by the 13-foot high
fence on three sides. The only side open is on Olympic Blvd. on the north.
Hundred of police were already lined up on Olympic only a few feet away from
the route of the march. Organizers had to plead with marchers to continue
into the rally site.
Once there, however, most people forgot about the logistics as Rage
Against the Machine articulated the feelings, slogans and causes of the
protesters. The well-named band probably best articulates in music, the
vigor and the attitude of the new movement. Their latest album is entitled,
³The Battle of Los Angeles.²
³BOMB THREAT² CLEARS PATRIOTIC HALL
About the same time, police were wailing on demonstrators, other officers
were demanding the evacuation of the Patriotic Hall, a few blocks away. A
packed audience at the Shadow Convention, which was being addressed by Al
Gore¹s cousin, Gore Vidal, streamed out into the street. Vidal continued
speaking to the crowd until hundreds of more police arrived, claiming they
had been informed that a riot was underway. Meanwhile, Amy Goodman and other
staff from ³Democracy Now,² were locked in on an upper floor and not
allowed to leave. Conveners of the Independent Media Center, which is also
housed in the building and was shut down while broadcasting via satellite,
were dubious that police had received a legitimate bomb threat.
³Democracy Now,² which is broadcasting daily radio and TV shows about
the protests, is also wrestling with problems from another quarter. Shortly
before the convention began, their parent group, the Pacifica network,
pulled their convention credentials. Sources say Pacifica, which has been
the target of protests and demonstrations because of its numerous firings
and the perceived rightward drift of its programming, was apparently miffed
because Goodman had used her credentials to get Ralph Nader on the floor of
the Republican convention for an interview. Pacifica called it a ³prank.²
Staffers were able yesterday to use donated passes from other alternative
media to enter the convention.
TENSIONS CONTINUE TO INCREASE
Already high tensions and paranoia have escalated following the police
violence. While visiting the Convergence Center headquarters of D2KLA and
the Direct Action Network late last night, we were twice ³locked down² as
jittery security staff responded to what turned out to be false reports of a
In spite of the problems with the LAPD, protest leaders are mostly
pleased with the large turnout in spite of the police and media campaign to
scare people off. The composition of the marches is much more multi-ethnic
that was the case in Seattle. This probably reflects the large turnout from
the city of Los Angeles of Latinos, African-Americans and Asians.
Protest critics claim they ³don¹t get² the variety of issues at the
demonstrations. Bill Press of ³Crossfire² said yesterday, ³when we
protested the Vietnam War, we know what we were demonstrating against, but
now many people don¹t know why they¹re protesting.² In fact, most
protesters I¹ve talked to seemed well informed on issues ranging from
third-world debt to the prison-industrial complex. What unites the
protesters is a common source of the problems - neoliberal globalism.
The result of the Los Angeles protests will probably be a widening social
chasm between those who believe with the protesters that our capitalist
society is hopelessly corrupt, and those who cling to the hope that reform
is possible through vehicles like the Democratic Party.
L.A. Labor News, <http://www.lalabor.org>, is reporting daily on
the Democratic Convention protests. Check the website for articles, photos