Busted at the DNC
Revolutionary Worker #1070, September 17, 2000
Throughout the week of protests during the DNC in Los Angeles, the power structure relied on a highly orchestrated show of overwhelming numbers and brute force to attempt to intimidate people and keep protesters off the streets. On the opening night of the convention, as President Clinton addressed the delegates, outside, the LAPD staged a brutal attack on a concert by Rage Against the Machine and Ozomatli, riding into protesters on horses and firing rubber bullets and pepper gas into the crowd. Unlike the police in Philly and Seattle, the LAPD did not, in the main, resort to preemptive or mass arrests. Yet, by the end of the week, almost 200 people were in jail on a variety of bogus charges. According to the Los Angeles Daily Journal, 135 people were arrested on misdemeanor charges and 59 on felonies. As of press time, all but 5 of the felony charges have been reduced to misdemeanors or infractions, or have been dismissed entirely.
Charges range from the ridiculous to the outrageous. Tuesday evening, 71 Critical Mass bicycle riders were directed through two red lights by their LAPD escorts, then arrested for felony and misdemeanor "reckless driving" for going through a red light! The very next day, a smiling Mayor Riordan sponsored a "Ride Your Bike to Work Day," leading a contingent of bicyclists through the same section of downtown where the arrests had occurred the night before. On September 1, according to the Los Angeles Times, the City Attorney agreed to drop all charges against all bicyclists "in the interest of justice."
Forty-five "felony vandalism" arrests were made at a protest by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and other animal rights activists for allegedly kicking the door of a furrier’s shop. At a hearing on these charges, a court commissioner ruled that there was no probable cause for any of these arrests, and 43 of the 45 defendants walked away with no further legal action pending against them. Yet, even though there was no "probable cause," the District Attorney is still proceeding on felony vandalism charges against two protesters. Why were these two youth singled out? John Doe #1 had an outstanding warrant and John Doe #3, in a solidarity action, refused to leave jail until all the protesters, including John Doe #1, were released from jail.
Other people were arrested on misdemeanor charges in actions ranging from a demonstration to protest Gore’s connections to Occidental Petroleum—the California-based oil giant that threatens to destroy the U’wa people and their ancestral lands in the Colombian cloud forest—to a civil disobedience action to protest police brutality in front of the Rampart police station. Four youth were arrested when LAPD riot cops randomly plucked them out of a crowd of hundreds of protesters who were packed onto the subway after the final march and rally of the week outside County Jail.
According to news reports, 10 people were arrested in the middle of the LAPD attack on the Rage concert. Three days later, in the parking lot of the church where he was staying, another youth was arrested for "felony vandalism" for allegedly poking a hole in the fence surrounding the Staples Center.
On his way to the downtown protest against police brutality, a performance artist was arrested on a felony charge of wearing a costume! He was dressed as "Piggus Erectus," a filthy and decrepit visitor from a future time, where his species, "Policus Brutalis," is extinct.
Later that night in the Pico-Union barrio, the police arrested three youth outside the Convergence Center for jaywalking. Then they called for backup. When a small army of LAPD invaded the street next to the Center, it looked as if the cops might be preparing to raid it. Instead, they got an angry response from the immigrant proletarians in the neighborhood. Dozens and dozens of residents poured out of their apartments onto the street corners, balconies and roofs, cat-calling and yelling at the cops. Some rocks and bottles were allegedly thrown. As they beat a hasty retreat, the police released the alleged jaywalkers and arrested a proletarian youth from among the angry crowd, charging him with "felony assault on a police officer." This youth is now out of jail after thousands of dollars of bail money and other forms of support were raised among people from all walks of life by activists and protesters from a variety of social movements.
After people were arrested, many of them refused to cooperate with the authorities, withholding their names and other personal information. 50 were booked into County Jail as Johns and Janes Doe. Once arrested, many went on a hunger strike as a continuing form of protest. They talked to other inmates and began to build bridges of mutual respect and concern with them.
A solidarity camp was set up by the self-named "Jail Vigil-antes," protesters and community supporters who camped out on the sidewalk in front of the jail. Many of them began a solidarity hunger strike. They held daily press conferences and nightly marches, vowing to stay until everyone arrested during the week of protest was released.
Inside the jail, both protesters and non-protesters tapped on the jail windows—at great personal risk—to let people outside know they knew they were there. The arrested activists sent out John and Jane Doe statements to their supporters outside.
One of the statements reads in part:
"Greetings sisters and brothers. This is a statement from 22 women in solidarity in 231-C-Pod of the L.A. County Jail, 19 of whom are on hunger strike. We are local women and women from around the country. We are in high spirits and feel good about what we’re doing.
"We are here because we believe in standing up for justice. `Business as usual’ in our capitalist system inevitably leads to genocide and ecocide, and must be resisted through the power of nonviolence. The real crime here is that peaceful activists go to jail and do time while murderous corporate criminals, corrupt politicians, and brutal racist police walk the streets with impunity. We refuse to be intimidated or silenced despite increasingly harsh and repressive attempts to suppress dissent.
"During the Democratic National Convention protests and our time in jail, we have witnessed and experienced unprovoked aggression by police, and unfair and intimidating treatment from jail guards. Our experiences pale in comparison to our sisters in the jail’s general population, the majority women of color. They suffer terribly under racially disparate ‘three strikes’ laws, bogus charges, brutality, lack of competent counsel, poverty and numerous other barriers to reentering society. We categorically deny that our general population sisters are ‘the real criminals,’ and reject the system’s attempts to divide us. Since we have been here, general population has suffered from lockdowns, denial of access to medicine, denial of privileges, and other extraordinary hardships. For this reason, 19 of us are fasting to protest the dehumanizing conditions that our sisters live under every day, and to show solidarity with all those abused and silenced by the criminal in-justice system."
The authorities were anxious to get these protesters out of the system. After holding many people for nearly a week, the city suddenly struck a quick deal. The authorities agreed to what the Los Angeles Times called "an innovative deal" to drop the misdemeanor charges against approximately 120 activists, replacing them with infractions and "time served" in lieu of any fine. By late afternoon Tuesday, August 22, the final John and Jane Doe walked out of jail with no further penalties pending.
Earlier in the week, on one of the nightly marches outside the jail, the RW talked to one of the youth who’d been released from jail earlier that day. He’d been busted at the youth march against police brutality on Wednesday. He’s 19 years old, white, from the Midwest. "I got arrested on Wednesday for marching against police brutality. We were marching to the Staples Center and we all stopped in the middle of the intersection because, you know, they were our streets and we just decided that we weren’t gonna go in some cage so they can muffle our voices and shit. We were gonna stand out in the middle of the street and speak up. And the cops came in and started pushing people around, hitting people with their nightsticks. The police grabbed me from behind, pulled me into a big circle of them, and about 15 of them jumped on me.
"But you know what? The cops tried to harass me and shit, saying, ‘You got your ass beat! You got your ass beat! I bet you’ll think about that and never come back to Los Angeles again.’ But I’d do it over again. I’ll come out here every single day and fucking do this if that’s what it takes. I’m dedicating my life to this. I love all my brothers and sisters out here. Everyone I know told me to expect this when I came here. I just did what I had to do. I stood there and I’m proud of it. I’d do it all over again."
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.)