LA: Clampdown for the Convention
By Michael Slate
Revolutionary Worker #1066, August 13, 2000
I have a friend who is always talking about force and counterforce, about repulsion and attraction, about worlds colliding. I wish he could see what's happening in Los Angeles right now. I think he'd love the poetry of the moment. All over the city, a new generation of rebels, many veterans of the Battle of Seattle, are getting ready to demonstrate at the Democratic Party's National Convention. People are getting ready to protest against all the suffering, injustice and oppression of the system the Democrats represent.
Just south of the 10 Freeway, in Watts, Crenshaw and other parts of South Central, proletarian youth, together with the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, the Youth and Student Network of the October 22nd Coalition, and others are getting ready to march against the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and against police brutality. On the East Side, Chicano students in MEChA and other Chicano activists are calling on people to march the weekend before the convention starts. Somewhere else in the city anarchist youth are figuring out how to make their voices heard.
And smack in the middle of Pico Union, the largest Central American barrio in the U.S., and just two blocks from Damián García Park, is the D2KLA convergence center. Beautiful red and black striped flags whip around in the wind that blows across the rooftop of the building. This is one of the big organizing centers for the demonstrations. By the time the Democratic Convention begins many more, from all over the country, will join all of these rebels in the streets of Los Angeles.
A mile or so from the convergence center there's a new noise in the night air over parts of South Central, downtown and Pico Union. Sometimes you can hear it in between the thwop, thwop, thwop of the endless police helicopter patrols. It's the sound of people working late into the night and through the dawn. They're setting up concrete barriers two-feet high and attaching 10-foot poles to the top of the concrete. Soon they will attach miles of cyclone fencing and barbed wire to the poles. This ugly wall will enclose a 186- acre compound, with the Staples Center-where the Democratic Party's National Convention will take place from the 14th to the 17th of August-in the middle.
There will be a 10-block radius between the Center and most of the wall. This is what they call the "secure zone." Only one part of the wall will be within 100 yards of the Staples Center and that's the officially designated protest pit. No one will be allowed inside the wall without the proper ID. People who live in the neighborhood -mostly Central American and Mexican immigrants and many of them without papers-will be forced to show their identification to the police to prove they live in the area. The police are also trying to set up a 40 block "restricted access area" as an outer ring moat around the DNC. Anyone driving in this area must display a local access pass on their car or be prepared to be stopped and questioned about their residence or the business they are conducting in the area. The police have also set up a 1.5-mile "no fly zone" over the area.
Once the convention begins, thousands of convention delegates will put on their donkey ears, star-spangled glitter jackets, red, white and blue clown make-up, and Uncle Sam hats to wallow around in their own filth as they nominate Al Gore for president. All of this will be duly recorded by the thousands of international media hounds gathered at the free food and drink tables inside the convention. Back at the wall, out of the camera spotlights, thousands of helmeted and heavily armed cops will stand guard 24-7, ready at all times to clamp down on any protests.
In the wake of the L.A. Rebellion, the Battle of Seattle, and the 2000 Lakers championship celebration, Welcome to Democracy 2000! Welcome to Fort L.A.!
L.A. concentrates everything that is wrong with this society. It is their city of the future. It is globalization and all its evil impact come to life as many, many thousands of immigrants make their way to the city each year to escape starvation and suffering at home, only to end up enslaved in the sweatshop factories of the garment district, constantly living under the threat of La Migra. It's a place where the differences between the rich and the poor, between Bel Air and Watts, are so stark they hurt. This is where the LAPD is infamous for the inhuman brutality it uses to protect and preserve the wealth and power of those who own and run everything. It's a city where cops use tear gas and rubber missiles to break up block parties simply because there were "too many Latinos" gathered up in one spot. It's the city that squashed their own Y2K New Year's celebration under a massive police presence because they feared the possibility that people might get out of control.
On the other side, L.A. concentrates a spirit of resistance and rebellion. This is the city that burned in mass rebellion in 1992. It's a city where the people hate the police, have seen them exposed as murderers, thieves and drug dealers-where many seize every opportunity they can to go up against the cops. It's the city that celebrated the Lakers NBA championship win by burning two cop cars when hundreds of cops tried to stop the celebrations. It's a city where huge sections of the people have come directly out of hellhole countries ruled by dictatorships supported by the U.S. and who have brought the experience of fighting against these dictatorships with them into the barrios and ghettos of L.A.
The rulers want a successful-"trouble-free"-Democratic convention to show the world that L.A. is back from the days of the 1992 Rebellion and ready to roll in the new world order. They can't afford demonstrations mucking things up. They are scared of the demonstrators coming into the city. And they are scared that if they lose control then things could very quickly spread. One cop told the press recently, Los Angeles is a city where "anything can erupt anytime and anywhere throughout the city." The rulers know a situation could erupt in which their resources could be stretched thin, so they can't let the people get out of hand. They are determined to do whatever is necessary to maintain law and order. At the same time the LAPD is going to be operating under a microscope as a result of the ongoing Rampart scandal and the standing threat of a federal takeover of the LAPD.
Mayor Riordan recently fired off an op-ed article that demonized the demonstrators coming into the city as "international anarchists" who "will try to make the police look unnecessarily brutal in counteracting them." Then, a few breaths later, Riordan makes clear that the city will back the police in doing whatever is necessary to keep control. "The police surely will face larger crowd control and other challenges during the convention. They and other law enforcement agencies will be confronted with demonstrators trained in violence, and the police will have to be tough.... It is important that city leaders not play into the hands of anarchists. We must not handcuff the police in their use of nonlethal weapons, such as rubber bullets and pepper spray when necessary."
The LAPD has been preparing for the battle for over a year now-meeting regularly with the L.A. sheriffs (LASD), California Highway Patrol, the FBI, the Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and other local, state and federal agencies. The head of the L.A. office of the FBI makes no secret of carrying out surveillance against some of the groups coming to Los Angeles to protest, and sharing what they find with the LAPD. The LAPD sent top officials to observe the demonstrations in Seattle in November 1999, in Washington, DC in April 2000 and, most recently, to the demonstrations at the Republican Party Convention in Philadelphia. They left Philadelphia saying that, while they admired things like the pre-emptive police raid on an organizing center in Philly, they felt that in L.A. they had more pressure to take tough measures and not be "as restrained" as the Philadelphia cops in how they dealt with the demonstrations. When they made these statements, hundreds of protesters in Philly had been beaten and arrested and brutalized in jail.
The LAPD has been generally closemouthed about its specific plans for dealing with the demonstrations except to say that their response will be huge. They have let it be known that all 9,346 cops will be on duty during the convention and pulling 12-hour shifts. All vacations and leave time for cops and civilian employees have been canceled for two weeks before and during the convention. Prosecutors will not call any L.A. cops as witnesses during the convention time and they will try to schedule preliminary hearings and other court hearings with the convention schedule in mind. According to a memo from the Chief Deputy District Attorney, Robert Helfin, the LAPD predicts a high probability of going on "Tactical Alert" or "Mobilization." The LAPD has also let it be known that they will not hesitate to call in assistance from neighboring police agencies if necessary. Already, the LASD is mobilizing a field booking team and transportation to the jail in the event of mass arrests. The LASD will also handle all the transportation of delegates to and from the convention and will have two tactical response teams-made up of 75 cops each-on stand-by and ready to roll out if the LAPD needs them. The California Highway Patrol is also working the convention and demonstrations. And, if necessary, the sheriffs are prepared to seek the assistance of police agencies in 42 neighboring municipalities and then go on out to cops in Orange County, Ventura County and Santa Barbara. The LAPD has also stated that, if necessary, they will ask the governor to mobilize the National Guard.
The LAPD and the federal police agencies have also begun to spread the idea that "terrorists disguised as protesters" may unleash a biological or chemical attack on the city. Many city hospitals in the area around the Staples Center have been put on alert and told to prepare for these attacks. Some hospitals have been given antidotes and decontamination training and equipment.
The LAPD is well known for its arsenal of brutality, well stocked with tear gas, pepper spray, gas guns, rubber bullets, bean bag projectiles, stinging grenades and pepper balls. But in the build-up to the convention a very curious little scam was revealed. Apparently the LAPD tried to hide a $1 million convention security equipment request in the middle of a $4 million California Highway Patrol budget proposal to the governor. No one could actually identify exactly what equipment the LAPD was trying to get. Finally, a list was leaked and it showed that the LAPD wanted $125,000 for pepper spray, tear gas and gas guns-including 40 semi-automatic launchers to fire 20,000 pepper balls and twenty 40 mm gas guns-in order to help the CHP keep traffic moving. LAPD also wanted $60,000 for surveillance cameras, $19,000 for bolt cutters and $263,000 in bomb detection and mountain-climbing equipment. And last, but so fitting for the LAPD, was a request for $2,400 to purchase a super paper shredder. When the story of this request leaked out the CHP commissioner immediately said that he never saw an equipment list from the LAPD. He also noticed when he did get a list that the money equipment on the list actually added up to only $470,000. The LAPD equipment request has supposedly been drastically slashed but no one is willing to say what the other half million the LAPD requested would've been used to purchase.
While the police won't talk about specific plans for the demonstrations, they are doing certain things to try and intimidate people and show how prepared the LAPD is. In early July the LAPD staged a mock confrontation between cops and cops dressed as demonstrators. The mock demonstrators were quickly subdued by the LAPD and obeyed every command barked at them. The whole deal was filmed and dutifully broadcast on every local news show. Then, on August 3, 200 cops, armed to the teeth with shotguns and gas guns, swarmed all over a peaceful demonstration of 400 hotel workers in downtown L.A. This massive show of force was wildly praised as proof of the LAPD's readiness for the convention.
On July 15, just hours after the D2K convergence center opened up, 10 cops from the infamous Rampart station showed up at the door and demanded to be let in. They wanted to be shown a copy of the lease and proof that the place had been inspected by a fire inspector. The cops originally claimed that they became concerned when they saw people in the building because as far as they knew it was an empty building. Later, the police stated that they came to the center because "we've heard a lot of disturbing rumors that things are going to happen to police officers and that there's a lot of anti-police sentiment out there...especially after what happened at the WTO thing. You know, we don't want that to happen here."
As the convention and demonstration dates draw closer, a tit-for-tat battle is being waged in the courtrooms and for public opinion. When an argument erupted in the City Council over whether to grant the demonstrators the right to use Pershing Square, a public downtown park, as a gathering spot for the demonstrators, the police opposed the move and showed the City Council a bizarre movie the LAPD had put together off of the Seattle and DC demonstrations. The film tried to portray the demonstrators as mindless destroyers and didn't show any of the police attacks on the people. At this meeting the City Council voted to revoke the earlier permit they had granted to the demonstrators to use Pershing Square.
Demonstration organizers, including the ACLU, D2KLA and the local Mumia Abu-Jamal coalition, took the city to court and got most of the restrictions on the demonstrations overturned. A federal judge ordered the city to resketch the official protest assembly area so it was closer to the entrance to the Staples Center and told the City Council that the demonstrators had a right to use Pershing Square. The judge also told the city that its requirement for 40 days advance notice for any permit to demonstrate was unconstitutional and its overall process was unconstitutionally vague. By August 5, the city had been forced to issue full permits for no less than 13 marches through downtown L.A. during the DNC.
The stage is set. The people are surrounding the walls of the dying empire. People around the world are watching to see what will happen. And hundreds are ready to hit the streets.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)