WSWS : News
& Analysis : North
Los Angeles police attack protesters at Democratic convention
By Jerry White
17 August 2000
this version to print
A spokesperson for
the American Civil Liberties Union has denounced Monday night's
attack by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on protesters
and others outside the Democratic Party National Convention as
nothing less than an orchestrated police riot. In
a letter to the city attorney, Daniel Tokaji, staff lawyer for
the Southern California ACLU, said, The LAPD has not merely
failed to protect demonstrators' right to free speech, it has
run roughshod over them.
On Monday evening, while President Bill Clinton was delivering
his speech to party delegates inside the Staples Center, hundreds
of riot police outside were firing rubber bullets and beating
people with batons across the street in an area cordoned off for
As many as 10,000 people had gathered to listen to several
music groups, including the Los Angeles-based band Rage Against
the Machine. The concert followed a day of protests denouncing
the corporate control of the Democratic Party. Band members have
been the target of protests by police groups because of their
defense of US political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Last week LAPD
Chief Bernard Parks had expressed his opposition to the event,
saying, We shouldn't have a concert that inflames the crowd.
The night before the show a police spokesman said, We're
The concert was held in a Public Assembly Area
set up by city authorities after attorneys for various protest
organizations won a legal battle against the attempt to prevent
protests anywhere near the Staples Center. The area is surrounded
by a 14 foot-high chain-link fence erected to separate protesters
from the Democratic convention.
The concert attracted
thousands of mostly young people, including college students involved
in the protests and local working class youth, many who had simply
come to hear the music. During the concert police helicopters
circled overhead and riot-equipped police surrounded the event.
In at least one incident, police, who were there in force, used
pepper spray against a person they claimed tried to scale the
At around 7:35 p.m., nearly an hour into the event, police
swept into the area to shut down the concert and attack those
present. Police officials later claimed that anarchists
in the audience had thrown glass, concrete chunks and plastic
bottles filled with noxious agents at them.
However protesters, civil liberties attorneys and other spectators
rejected police claims. There were a couple of dozen young
people throwing rocks, bottles in the direction of the Staples
Center, said James Lafferty, director of the National Lawyers
Guild, who himself was struck twice by rubber bullets. They
could simply have taken care of them. But they made no effort
to do that. Without notice, they shut off the electricity and
then took the stage and said you have 15 minutes to disperse.
Shortly after 8 p.m., with the band Ozomatli playing, police
shut down the lights on stage and LAPD Commander Gary Brennan
declared the gathering an illegal assembly and ordered the audience
to leave. Ten minutes later 400 police officers, most on motorcycles
or horseback, began to wade into the crowd. Another group of police
began firing non-lethal munitions into the crowd,
including rubber bullets called stingers that police supposedly
aim at ankles and legs, small bean bags fired from shotguns and
According to an account in the Los Angeles Times, police
on Olympic Boulevard and Figueroa, two major downtown thoroughfares
closed off by police, attacked people with batons as they left
the assembly area. Several concert fans were pushed over or struck
by rubber pellets during the attack. Many tried to flee west along
Olympic Boulevard but they were chased by police firing rubber
pellets and beanbags.
A crowd of about 400 was caught between pellet firing police
on one side and mounted police on another. After a two-minute
standoff the crowd was directed to move down Olympic, but before
they were able to move, the police fired more rubber bullets at
Protest leaders and lawyers said Tuesday that as many as 150
people were injured by police, either with batons, horses or rubber
bullets. Among those sustaining head injuries were a news photographer,
a civil rights attorney involved in a lawsuit against police harassment
of protesters, and a well-known homeless advocate from Los Angeles.
Police said no officers were injured.
Many of those attacked later complained that they were unable
to disperse because crowds had to leave through a single entrance
from the public assembly area. Police moved the crowds away from
the Staples Center and into the poor, mostly immigrant neighborhood
of Pico-Union and the LAPD Ramparts Division, made notorious by
the recent revelations of police brutality and frame-ups.
In all, police said six people were arrested in the attack.
On Tuesday police arrested 95 people involved in various protests.
This included 15 juveniles who were among 45 animal rights protesters
arrested after entering a fur store. As of Wednesday afternoon
the youths' parents were continuing to await word at the police
precinct on the fate of their children, who police say were charged
with felony offenses.
One parent told the World Socialist Web Site, We
haven't been able to talk or see our children for 12 hours. Police
officials have yelled at us, saying if we didn't sit down it would
take even longer to see them. First they said our kids would be
released at 3 a.m. , then they said at 8 in the morning. When
they finally get out, they are going to be under house arrest
and have to wear an electronic tether on their leg. My kids are
working kids, they are going to lose their jobs because of this.
Another parent, who was downtown for a teachers' protest for
higher pay, said, They have the First Amendment right to
freedom of speech. But there is a crackdown because of the DNC.
They're labeling everybody anarchists and taking away our freedom.
On Wednesday thousands of demonstrators participated in protests
against police brutality and the growing prison population. They
were met at Staples Center by over one thousand police officers,
motorcycle and bicycle contingents. The police were heavily armed
with tear gas and other equipment. The marchers were forced to
proceed across town through an eerie route passing by stores shuttered
by orders of the police and each intersection blocked by helmeted
officers. At the fenced-in public assembly area, protesters were
literally herded in. Some who complained of being crushed were
prodded with nightsticks, as other police contingents methodically
closed off the rear of the march, leaving only narrow escape routes.
Sarah, a 26-year-old white-collar worker from San Francisco
who was shoved to the ground by police, told the WSWS.
I am not an anarchist. In fact I was trying to cooperate
with the police by asking others to step back. Just then I was
hit by a nightstick from the back and flew to the ground. People
panicked and began to run. All along the march the police were
being provocative while my sister and I held up our hands in a
peace sign. I oppose brutality, and a government that spends more
on prisons than on schools.
It is likely that the police and other agencies have provocateurs
among the protesters whose actions have provided a pretext for
the police crackdown. At the same time, the middle class radicalism
and political limitations of those involved in the protests provide
fertile ground for such provocateurs.
For weeks, however, Los Angeles city and police authorities,
as well as the news media, have sought to create the political
atmosphere for a crackdown on democratic rights. LAPD officials
are reportedly determined to show they are far more prepared to
deal with civil unrest than in 1992, when they were sharply criticized
for failing to prevent the massive riots that swept the city after
the acquittal of police who beat black motorist Rodney King.
Police commanders are using new hi-tech equipment, including
live video feeds from helicopters and rooftop cameras to make
real-time decisions at the unified command center
they share with the FBI and other police agencies.
City and police authorities have reviewed films of the police
crackdown at the Republican convention in Philadelphia. LAPD Cmdr.
Dave Kalish said the high-profile tactics of the police had two
goals: to deter demonstrators and to offer a calming effect
on delegates at the convention and city residents. While many
Los Angeles residents have been disturbed and angered by the trampling
of democratic rights, organizers of the Democratic convention
and city officials were quick to defend the actions of the police.
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The WSWS invites your comments.
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[16 August 2000]
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