Revolutionary Worker #1111, July 22, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
Long Beach is a medium-sized city at the southern end of Los Angeles County. It's an industrial city, with oil production and a port. In the last couple of decades, the city has transformed the downtown area along Ocean Avenue with a performing arts center and the "Aquarium of the Pacific." It's in this area that protesters gathered on May 1, 2001, in the promenade area of shops and restaurants.
The Long Beach police violently attacked this May Day celebration, arresting about 100 of the 150 protesters. Many demonstrators were wounded by rubber bullets, bean bags and other "non-lethal" weapons. Almost all the people who were shot were not resisting--after the police surrounded the crowd.
Most of the cases of those arrested have now ended with plea bargains which include "community service" and probation, but a few people are going to trial. And two men have been deported. The first was deported within a week. The second to be deported was Javier Perez. He wrote back from Tijuana: "I was one of the many peaceful protesters who was attacked and arrested by the Long Beach Police Department on May 1, 2001. At school someone mentioned to me about a demonstration in Long Beach celebrating International Workers Day on May 1st. As an activist who supports human, animal, and environmental rights, I figured it would be another opportunity for me to participate in another demonstration."
After almost a month in jail, Javier was offered a "deal": plead guilty to two misdemeanors and get released for the time he had already served. The plea agreement was a setup. As soon as he pled guilty, he was sent to the INS. He had been going through the bureaucracy for the past six years, trying to get his immigration status resolved. But at the INS Detention Center, he was forced to sign a "voluntary departure" and dropped off at the Mexican border in Tijuana.
"It is as if I was given the death penalty. I came to the United States when I was three months old, I am 22 now and I don't have any family here in Mexico. How do they expect me to survive? I was raised in the U.S. I am proud of my culture, but realistically, I don't know Mexico. I don't understand how the U.S. can do this to me. They ruined my future." Javier used to give most of his paycheck to his mother and younger sister in the U.S., so things are much harder for them.
The police attack on the Long Beach May Day demonstration was calculated and vicious.
A leaflet had called for "May Day 2001, Carnival Against Capitalism"--at "a place to be announced." If you logged on to a special website on the morning of May First, you found out that the action was going to be in downtown Long Beach.
As people started gathering for the demonstration, they started noticing a huge presence of Long Beach police. In addition to the usual arsenal of rubber bullet guns, bean bag guns, Darth Vader looking cop uniforms, clubs and guns, the LBPD had an armored personnel carrier. Cars full of youth were pulled over by the cops even before they got to the protest site.
The May Day marchers were overwhelmingly young--most were part of a black bloc of anarchist youth. Black blocs have been in the front lines of protest in the L.A. area since the Democratic National Convention in August 2000. There were other groups present, including the Orange Bloc (another anarchist group) from Orange County near L.A., with orange bandanas and an orange flag.
At about 3:30, the Carnival Against Capitalism took to the streets, marching down the middle of First Street, which had been cleared of traffic by the cops. At the head of the march was a huge banner: "Capitalism Stole My Life."
When the marchers were blocked on First St., they turned around and found their way onto Ocean Avenue, where they were stopped by a huge number of police --more than the 150 protesters. The cops completely surrounded and blocked off the march, as well as surrounding people on the sidewalks, including independent media, pedestrians, and other demonstrators.
"Barely more than three or four tension-filled minutes since we had all turned onto Ocean," an L.A. Indymedia Center (IMC) reporter wrote, "An undercover cop in a light-purple shirt grabbed hold of one of the protesters, and in a motion like a linebacker in football, drove him through some yellow police tape and slammed him to the ground, at which point two other cops joined in beating him, before throwing him into an adjacent squad car."
When other demonstrators moved to see what was happening, the cops unleashed a full-on assault, clubbing people, firing bean bags and rubber bullets. The march broke into two parts as people tried to retreat. The smaller group was surrounded by cops, who clubbed them and shot them at close range with rubber bullets and other projectiles. They shot at people who were running away. They beat people who were lying on the ground. They shot a Long Beach resident in the face as he walked out of a building in the area.
The larger group was trapped against the front of a building. The cops pushed people away, out of view, except for some that they pushed into the crowd of demonstrators. Then, as protesters held up their hands with peace signs, attempting to surrender, the cops lined up like a firing squad and unleashed a minute or two of rubber bullets.
The L.A.-IMC website was full of accounts of people with eight or nine wounds from projectiles. People were bleeding and spitting up blood. One man who spent most of a week in jail had a penetration wound in his calf that bled constantly and could not be cleaned without surgery.
Police arrested about 100 protesters, including 25 who were under 18. The cops continued to run amok, following people as they left the area and harassing them.
At the jail, one young woman was separated from the others and interrogated for five hours. People were hit with felony charges (which were later reduced). When people tried to go to arraignments, the cops prevented them. Long Beach Police also stopped people from picketing outside the courthouse during court appearances.
The Long Beach police attack was given extensive time on TV news and continuing coverage in the independent media. People in L.A. and Long Beach stepped forward to join the protesters in organizing legal and political support. On May Day itself, right after the police attack, some who escaped came to an immigrants' march of over 3,000 in the Pico-Union barrio of L.A. to expose what the cops did, and to connect with and support the immigrants.
A jail vigil was organized immediately, and people have come to show support at trials and other court appearances. There have been community meetings to let people know about the continuing legal battles. People have called the mayor of Long Beach and other officials to denounce the police attack. During a recent march in Long Beach on July 4 protesting the California electricity crisis, dozens of marchers wore black armbands in solidarity with the people arrested at the May Day protest.
There have been various benefits to raise money for legal defense. One of these was shut down by the LAPD in mid-May. The cops got hold of a flyer and showed up with a fire marshal 20 minutes into the show. People were videotaped as they left.
The cops put out their "official story," that marchers threw rocks and bottles at them, even though their own video showed this was not true. The cops also put out the story that protesters were carrying "bags of urine." In fact, some people had bags with vinegar-soaked cloths, in case of a tear gas attack. The City of Long Beach announced that they were going to give the people who were arrested a bill for $93,000. They want the people to pay for getting beaten and shot by the cops.
Many people have written to the Indymedia website to express their defiance and talk about plans to continue and step up the struggle. One of the messages was from a young woman who was shot by rubber bullets and arrested. "I have a different outlook on life now after being in jail for two days for no reason," she wrote. "I don't feel the need to obey the 'authorities.' I simply did nothing wrong. I did not 'learn my lesson.' I feel the only lesson to be learned is that this system is even MORE screwed up than I had thought!"
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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