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 attacking.
A hastily assembled coalition is calling for an independent investigation of the LAPD because of the indiscriminate use of force and subterfuge against peaceful demonstrators, journalists, activists and conference participants. 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, The 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 yesterdays protests was Human Need, Not Corporate Greed, because the protesters feel that politicians serve corporate interests and do not serve the interests of the vast majority of people.
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, The Battle of Los Angeles.
BOMB THREAT 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 Gores 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 Democracy Now, 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.
Democracy Now, 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 prank. 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 locked down as jittery security staff responded to what turned out to be false reports of a police raid.
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 don't get the variety of issues at the demonstrations. Bill Press of Crossfire said yesterday, when we protested the Vietnam War, we know what we were demonstrating against, but now many people don't know why they're protesting. In fact, most protesters I've 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 and links.
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