Secret Police Round-ups in L.A.

Revolutionary Worker #1200, May 25, 2003, posted at

The headline blared: "Terrorist links to L.A. actively hunted by LAPD." The April 30 article in the Los Angeles Daily News reported that the cops were trying to "root out terrorist cells suspected of operating in Los Angeles." The LAPD said 180 people had been arrested. John Miller, long-time associate of LAPD Chief William Bratton and head of the Counter Terrorism Bureau (CTB) said they had identified "associates affiliated with al-Qaida."

The few details available behind the headline tell another story of Homeland Security Ashcroftian madness in the name of America's "war on terrorism." Another roundup of immigrants and maybe others. People held indefinitely. No one charged with anything relating to "terrorism."

An LAPD spokesman said some people were charged with things like perjury, credit card fraud and forgery and that most cases were turned over to immigration officials--indicating that most, if not all, of those rounded up are immigrants. News reports said people are being held "while the FBI and others try to build federal cases."

This mass roundup of immigrants was initially kept quiet--and only became public when police officials went to the L.A. City Council to ask for more money for their police spying operations. And the police have refused to give any information on those detained--their names, how many are still in jail, whether any have been prosecuted or convicted or what their supposed "links" with "terrorist cells" are. As a result, many people have not heard about these detentions, including people active in promoting civil liberties and immigrant rights.

Special Order 40, a Los Angeles City Council resolution, forbids the LAPD from enforcing immigration laws, which is exactly what the CTB has done. This comes at a time when U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has been calling on states to encourage police to act as immigration agents. Right now there are only a couple states where this is done. The U.S. Attorney in L.A. recently said that the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which replaced the INS in the new Department of Homeland Security, is working much more closely with local law enforcement, another indication that the police are ignoring Special Order 40.

The few details that have come out show that, far from an "active hunt" for "terrorist links," the 180 arrests are a classic police "fishing expedition." An LAPD commander said one goal was to "obtain evidence as a result of the arrest"--in other words, kick in a few doors and see if anything turns up. He also said people were being held while the authorities try to build a case against them--in other words, find something to hold them on while you try to frame them for something more serious.

John Miller of the Counter Terrorism Bureau was equally vague: "We've taken out a lot of people who we have high suspicions of, or were involved somehow in terrorist funding, or support." Police officials also signaled that this is only the beginning, saying the 180 arrests so far, "may lead us in other directions and to other people."

"This is a dangerous situation," said Stephen Rohde, a civil liberties lawyer who is the past president of the Southern California ACLU. "It creates a Guantánamo L.A. We have 180 people in custody as far as we know. We don't know the charges; we don't know if they have access to lawyers. In the context of Los Angeles it's the same kind of threat to due process and to constitutional rights that we see with other American citizens like José Padilla and Hamdi that are being held and in a sense the example of the men in Guantánamo Bay that are being held incommunicado."

These arrests are one part of a broad range of repressive actions taken by the CTB under the name of "counter-terrorism" and "homeland security."

When the Anti-Terrorism Division (ATD) was created in 1983, the former Public Disorders Intelligence Division was abolished. The ATD was supposedly under strict control to avoid spying on a broad range of political and religious activists. But in fact, as former LAPD chief Bernard Parks put it, the ATD had broad powers to carry out surveillance of "organizations known to advocate violence as a means to accomplish their goals." This broad standard could include urging non-violent action that might damage property.

After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the ATD no longer had to have a suspicion of criminal activity to investigate any organization. And after September 11, 2001, the activities of the ATD were expanded. Police say they have doubled their "surveillance activities." Now the new CTB has been formed, and police officials are trying to increase its size.

Last December John Miller, an ABC news personality, was brought to L.A. to be embedded as the LAPD's "anti-terrorism czar." His actual position shifted from the Bureau of Homeland Security to the newly formed Counter Terrorism Bureau . This replaced the Anti-Terrorism Division, which had been the main form of the political police in L.A.

In January the LAPD launched a "terrorism hotline," a snitch line for people to turn in any "suspicious person in a suspicious place." John Miller gave an example of apartment managers turning in people who have a lot of electronic equipment. The cops say they have received over 1,000 calls to this snitch line, and some of those tips led to the 180 arrests of immigrants and others.

All this has added to and enforced the increasingly repressive climate and threats against dissent. The U.S. invasion of Iraq unleashed a storm of determined protest in the streets of Los Angeles. In the middle of all these sit-ins and marches, the Oscars were held in Hollywood. Hundreds of riot cops were mobilized to keep protesters blocks away from the entrance to the Oscars, in the name of "anti-terrorism." Demonstrators who tried to break out of LAPD encirclement were beaten and arrested.

At the same time, the CTB arrested 15 people for having pilot licenses or hazardous materials permits. Again, the police refused to say who they were, whether they were charged with anything, and if they are in or out of jail.

Speaking of the expansion and increased activity of the CTB, Stephen Rohde told the RW , "It's dangerous because of the lack of accountability when it comes to the police--and when it comes to the LAPD surely, given its history of involvement in surveilling peace groups and religious and political organizations. This is a police force that has a record of this."

The expansion of the CTB is part of a long-term strategy that includes installing William J. Bratton as police chief (see RW #1182, "New Commander in the War on the People"). L.A. City Council member Jack Weiss, a leading advocate of increased police spying, has been going around saying stuff like, "What I want to do is go from having a counter-terrorism unit worthy of a small Midwestern town to the big leagues." He put out a report last fall calling for a much larger spying apparatus and more integration with the FBI and other federal agencies.

The LAPD has hardly been in the minor leagues when it comes to developing new ways to repress the people, or in working with the feds. It is part of the Los Angeles Task Force on Terrorism, started at the time of the 1984 Olympics and never disbanded. ATD personnel have been working with the L.A. FBI office on a daily basis. The LAPD has trained cops all over the world, and advised many U.S. police departments on how to set up their own police spy departments.

And now the authorities are taking steps to increase the size and integration of their various repressive agencies even more. For example the federal government is sending more ATF and DEA agents to L.A.

180 immigrants are arrested and dis
appeared. There is no mention of the criteria used to round them up. Will they be deported, their families broken up? Will they be forced to plead guilty to something and accept long prison terms? And the political police say there is more to come.

This is a time to resist. As C. Clark Kissinger of Refuse & Resist! recently said, "We have an enormous task of sounding the alarm.... People do not know the extent of the surveillance, secret warrants, roundups, and detentions. All this is not yet the major issue in society that it has to become."

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