Police riot in Los Angeles

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Tue Aug 15 12:01:45 MDT 2000


LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 - Police used pepper spray balls and foam rubber
bullets Monday night to control an unruly crowd near the scene of the
Democratic National Convention. Police defended their action as "measured"
but the American Civil Liberties Union claimed police didn't give the
protesters enough time to clear the area.

Paramedics said they treated at least three dozen people and police said 10
people were arrested, bringing to 38 the number of demonstrators taken into
custody so far during the convention. The confrontation began as a crowd
estimated at 10,000 began to leave a concert by the rock band Rage Against
the Machine, held in a protest area near the convention center.

Some people picked up chunks of dirt and threw it over the fence at
officers. Others used slingshots to fire steel balls at police.

Officers responded by firing balls of pepper spray from paintball guns and
rubber bullets, then moving in on horseback to push people through a narrow
exit. The confrontation involved only about 300 people, who began
dispersing as the nose- and throat-irritating spray spread through the crowd.

Police Sgt. John Pasquariello told MSNBC.com that two people climbed a
fence separating the protest area from the Staples Center, and refused to
come down. When they and others refused to leave, police decided to move
in. Most people left on their own, but some began throwing rocks and
ripping up metal poles and asphalt to heave at the police. "There was this
element bent on destruction," Pasquariello said.


Police Cmdr. Dave Kalish defended the department's tactics as "strategic,
measured and appropriate to the situation."

Dismissing criticism that police moved the crowd too quickly through the
narrow exit, Kalish said the crowd was warned that the concert had become
an "unlawful assembly" but did not obey commands to disperse. Some
protesters said they could not get out of the way fast enough and were
knocked to the ground or nearly trampled by officers on horseback. Kalish
said about 400 officers participated in the sweep.

Dan Tokaji, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern
California, said in a statement that police had shown "incredibly poor
judgment," adding that concert organizers had already agreed to end the
event early.

"Had police cooperated with rally organizers, the night could have ended
calmly and smoothly," Tokaji said. "Instead the police response created
huge risks: When people see batons raised, riot gear and mounted police
clearing an area a tense situation becomes a volatile one."


One of the convention delegates, Miguel Contreras, secretary-treasurer of
the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, was caught in the melee. He
said officers shoved him and refused to let him through though he
identified himself.

One of the protesters, holding a black flag in one hand, clung to the fence
about 8 feet up as police barraged him with balls of pepper spray, some
striking him directly in the face. A second man made it to the top of the
fence, grabbed the large black flag and waved it.

Some in the crowd wore bandanas over their faces to protect against pepper
spray. Many people carried video cameras to document police tactics.

The post-concert confrontation capped a day of protests that were largely


Earlier in the day, hundreds of activists angered by Al Gore's ties to an
oil company that plans to drill near a Colombian Indian reserve clashed
with police after blocking a street six blocks from the site of the
Democratic National Convention. Ten people were arrested then. The protest
had moved downtown from Pershing Square to the Staples Center. Police
warned the demonstrators to disperse, then charged the crowd and started
pushing people back with clubs. As the clash erupted, the smell of vinegar
permeated the air. Demonstrators poured it on rags to withstand tear gas,
although none was fired.

"This is what a police state looks like," protesters shouted at the police.

"The police are acting in a very aggressive way," said Medea Benjamin, a
Green Party activist and founding director of the San Francisco-based
activist group Global Exchange.

Police defended their response. "If you were here, you saw there was a lot
of restraint and that all the training has paid off," Sgt. Michael Barela
told a reporters at the scene. Police handcuffed about 10 protesters and
booked them on charges of failure to disperse. With their hands tied with
plastic binding, they chanted, "Al Gore cut your ties, stop the drilling,
stop the lies." Protesters mocked police with taunts amplified by a bull
horn, and some danced in front of them.


During his campaign, Gore has been dogged by protesters upset about his
connection to Occidental Petroleum Corp. His father, the late former Sen.
Albert Gore Sr., served on Occidental's board, owned stock in the company
and was chief executive of a subsidiary. Protesters have urged Gore to
divest his family of the stock, worth as much as $500,000, which was among
the elder Gore's assets when he died last December. Colombia's government
has granted Occidental the right to conduct exploratory drilling a few
miles outside the legal boundaries of the U'wa Indian reserve. The U'wa
believe oil exploration would bring violence and destroy their culture. In
1997, the group threatened mass suicide to discourage drilling.

Among those at the protest was Alli Starr, a street theater specialist and
organizer from San Francisco. "It's important that people understand that
Gore's family has the power to affect this," Starr said. "He has ignored
the issue despite years of pleas."

Another protester, Michael Mossberg of Seattle, said, "Al Gore bills
himself as an environmentalist, but he's not putting his money where his
mouth is. What I'd want him to do today is use his power to get Occidental
to stop drilling on U'wa land."

Demonstrators carried picket signs that read "Gore, Oxy Out of U'wa Land."
The protest at Staples Center ended after about an hour.

Until Monday night, the protests at the convention had been raucous but
largely peaceful. Over the weekend, no major incidents were reported in a
downtown area swarming with officers - many in riot gear - who patrolled on
foot, on horses, on motorcycles and in squad cars and helicopters.

A 12-foot-tall fence separated the official protest area from the Staples
Center. On Sunday, in the first sizable protest of convention week, about
3,500 people rallied in support of Pennsylvania death-row inmate Mumia

Scores of uniformed police on motorcycles circled the various protests
Sunday, and police began working 12-hour shifts, sending out hundreds of
additional officers to gird for a week of demonstrations.

Louis Proyect

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