Rage Against Police Brutality

Rage and Ozo at L.A.'s Grand Olympic

Revolutionary Worker #1072, October 1, 2000

It was in the air. These were not concerts to be missed. Rage Against the Machine and Ozomatli were coming back, finishing up the concert they started at the protest outside the DNC. Less than a month after the police pulled the plug at that concert, the two bands played two nights at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in downtown L.A.-blocks away from the Staples Center parking lot site of the last concert. The word spread quickly, and the concerts were sold out minutes after the tickets became available.

I hit the Wednesday night show. As I entered the theater, I noticed that a significant section of the audience had been at the concert outside the Staples Center and they were eager for an encore. Once again these two incredible bands gave all 7,000 people packed into the auditorium an amazing musical experience. But before this could happen we were all reminded of what came down the last time these two bands played together-where 15,000 people were trampled by horse cops, sprayed with pepper gas and clubbed by riot-geared police for the crime of attending this concert at the opening night protest rally outside the DNC.

This time, getting into the concert at the Grand Olympic was like being processed into prison-concert security, many of whom are off-duty cops, yelled, pushed and shoved us, as they had us "assume the position" while they patted us down before we could go through the doors. I was thinking about how this police-state atmosphere-where the audience is treated like criminals-is so common at these concerts (and so awful) when a young Latino guy in front of me turned around and quipped, "Hey, I went through this same thing a year ago, only then I was in prison." But nothing the police did could break the spirit of the night.

Ozomatli opened things up with their big drum, horn and percussion Samba line. They immediately won over the hearts of many Rage fans when they moved to the stage by taking the Samba right through the middle of the mosh pit. Anyone who has ever seen the mosh pit at a Rage concert knows that this is one intense spot-and very partisan to Rage.

For the next 40 minutes, Ozo rocked the house with a combination of songs from their last album-bringing their rebel spirit and the international mix of Los Angeles together in their music. And they did a lot of really interesting and powerful new pieces I had never heard. From the moment they hit the stage until they took the Samba line back through the pit and out into the lobby, Ozo had everyone up and dancing. Midway through their set, Ozo asked how many people had been at the DNC and then invited everyone to stand up against police brutality by taking the streets and wearing black on October 22.


You could feel the tension building between sets as we all waited for Rage to take the stage. The Olympic is an old boxing venue, and Rage came out with all the energy and heart of a young boxer fighting to win-hitting hard at the system. The two Rage sets were recorded for an upcoming live album and a video. On Wednesday, incredible energy filled their music. Anyone who has ever been to a Rage concert knows how physical the whole thing is. In the pit and in the seats, we became the music, a pounding swirl of bodies and notes. Thousands shouted out the lyrics along with Zack de la Rocha, who gave one of the most passionate performances ever. Tom Morello was incredible, literally leaping to impossible heights, pouring sweat, and never missing a note. The line between Tom and his guitar vanished as he made it speak in screams, wails and, at times, surprising sweet melodies.

The set began with Bulls On Parade, ripping into the reactionary political agenda of family values and unjust wars: Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes/ Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal/ I walk tha corner to tha rubble that used to be a library/ Line up to tha mind cemetery now.... They rally round tha family with a pocketful of shells/ They rally round tha family with a pocketful of shells. And when the first few chords erupted, two large black curtains with giant red stars dropped down behind the stage.

Rage turned out a 13-song set and a four-song encore. The band also tripped out on a couple of tight hip-hop covers -Eric B. and Rakim's Microphone Fiend and EPMD's I'm Housin'. B-real and Sen Dog from Cypress Hill joined Rage on stage for a cover of Cypress Hill's piece, How I Just Kill a Man. About halfway through the set, at the end of War Within a Breath (their anthem connecting the Zapatista uprising in Mexico with the Latino youth of L.A.), Zack blew everyone's mind as he took a running dive off of the stage, over the heads of the truck-size security guards ringing the stage and across a ten-foot gap into the arms of the people in the pit. It's rare for Zack to stage-dive and when he does, it really makes a point about the connection-the trust, love and respect-between this band and their audience. It was very cool to see the folks in this pit-many of whom were tough, tattooed Latino youth from the barrios of L.A.-gently catch Zack and pass him back up onto the stage.

A Rage concert is always an intense experience. I know we don't agree on a communist view of things, but I am always moved by how their music fills people with a great hatred for injustice and inspires people to stand up against it.

When Zack stepped up to introduce the next song, his words brought a sudden quiet in the house. He asked how many people had been to the concert outside the DNC and then said that everyone needed to be clear on what happened there. He told people that no matter what the TV news stations said, the police were responsible for all the violence at the concert. "Those muthafuckas unloaded on the crowd. None of us had rubber bullets. None of us had M-16's. None of us had billy clubs. None of us had face shields. All we had was our fists, our voices, our microphones, our guitars, our drums, our minds and that's it. And anytime we get beaten in the street for protesting we try to take it to the court system and the court system don't want to hear it. Look at what happened to Amadou Diallo in New York. They shot that brother 41 times and let all four officers go. It's time for some new type of action in this country." Zack ended by telling people that they had the right to defend themselves against brutal police and called for stepping up the resistance to this brutality. The auditorium shook as the audience cheered and the band lit into their fierce tune about racist police Killing in the Name: Some of those that were forces are the same that bore crosses/ Killing in the name of! Killing in the name of? And now you do what they told ya.... Those who died are justified, for wearing the badge, they're the chosen whites.... Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!

The four-song encore included covers of MC 5's Kick Out the Jams and a surprisingly sweet and mellow cover of Devo's It's a Beautiful World which ends with "It's a beautiful world for you, but not for me." Rage also played Testify- juxtaposing images from the horrors of the Gulf War and the system's gravediggers "right outside your door" in L.A. And they closed out the encore and the show with a heart-stopping version of Freedom where Zack called out "Freedom for Mumia" and all 7,000 people in the house took it up. As the audience continued to cheer, the band ended the song and all four musicians stepped out and gave the audience a long, silent, clenched fist salute before leaving the stage. The audience, cheering and yelling their hearts out, returned the salute to the band.

As we left the auditorium we all knew something really amazing had just happened. But when we walked out the door we ran smack back into the ugliness of this world as about 20 riot-geared cops- clubs and helmets ready to go-lined up directly across from auditorium exits. (A few dozen more were hiding under a freeway overpass a block away from the auditorium.) Police helicopters circled overhead.

It was clear the police were trying to strut their stuff and intimidate the hell out of people. People were angry but far from intimidated as they shouted insults out to the cops. Youth-who had been dancing and singing just minutes earlier-went straight up in the face of the police shouting "Fuck tha Police!" Many of the youth-who live under the guns of Ramparts and other LAPD precincts-showed their contempt for the police and all the LAPD brutality and crimes that have been exposed by the Ramparts scandal by warning each other not to get too close to the cops because "you might find some cocaine planted in your pocket."

And then something happened in the shadows. The LAPD surrounded an immigrant hot dog vendor who was selling food from his cart on the corner where the riot cops had decided to take up their positions. The cops bullied the vendor to pack up his cart and get out of the area. This made the youth mad and many of them shouted back at the cops. Then, the youth just started to line up and buy hot dogs from the vendor-defending him and his right to be there and daring the police to move against him. In the big picture of the class struggle it was only a moment, but it shined a light on the sense of righteousness and hatred for injustice-as well as the bonds between the youth and the poor-that come out of a concert like this.

The next day, the morning drive-time dj's on KROQ, L.A.'s biggest alternative rock radio station, talked about how much they liked Rage's music but ranted about how Zack's comments about the police during the concert on Wednesday night showed that the band had gone "over the edge." While they droned on, I thought back to the incredible passion, beauty and power of the band's music and the concert the night before. I thought about Zack's words and what a difference it makes for an artist like that to stand up for the people that way-as Rage has done so often.

And then I flashed on the riot police lined up outside the concert and on all the police threats Rage has faced over the years. I thought about how many progressive musicians and other artists have faced similar threats and attacks. And how many have been ruined by the brutality and dog eat dog of this system.

We have to be ready for this. Rage is out there on the cutting edge, looking straight into the firestorms. They belong to the people, their art stands with the people and our struggles. And it is only the people who can defend and protect Rage, and all revolutionary and progressive artists, when they step out like this. Now, more than ever, I think we need to make sure that we've got Rage's back.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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