The Coming Showdown: Police, Protesters Prepare for Conventions

by Rafael Renteria Monday, Jul. 24, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Examines the efforts of police and other authorities to isolate and discredit protesters in LA and Philly and to create a basis for pre-emptive strikes designed to shut down protests before they begin

" Massive security preparations, however, are merely a last

line of defense, according to demonstration organizers. The preliminary

crackdown, they say, is aimed at keeping protesters from making it to the

streets in the first place."

The Village Voice


The Coming Showdown: Police, Protesters Prepare for Conventions

by Rafael Renteria

Although the Democratic and Republican Party conventions -and the protests-

are still weeks away, on the public relations front the "Battle of Los

Angeles" has already begun.

World leaders were deeply stung by the mass demonstrations in Seattle late

last year, and since last summer local and federal law enforcers have been

preparing to suppress protests at the Democratic and Republican national

conventions. They are routinely spying on protesters activities, reading

their emails and targetting their leaders.

When the national political conventions come to town, it's likely that the

protesters will sieze the attention of the thousands of journalists expected

in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, as they did in Seattle during the World Trade Organization

meeting. Demonstrations will call attention to resurgent racism, global

economic injustice, the death penalty and the case of imprisoned journalist

Mumia Abu Jamal.

Meanwhile, police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia have additional reasons to

want to silence demonstrators. In the wake of the Rampart revelations in LA

and the videotaped, brutal beating of a black man by Philadelphia police, the

protesters will also be marching to end police brutality.

Following the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization , the

authorities seemed to learn a lesson. When the movement showed up in

Washington DC, they shut down the demonstrater's nerve center- called a

"Convergence Center" -on the opening day of the the World Bank / IMF

conference the protesters were opposing.

DC police used the pretext of building code violations to close the place-

never mind that police don't normally inspect buildings or enforce such codes- and

claimed that open cans of solvents being used in artist's puppet making and

painting were really something else entirely- bomb making materials.

The LAPD, of course, is following suit. Not one or two but ten Rampart

Division officers in as many as five squad cars rolled up on the

demonstrater's LA "Convergence Center" near Mac Arthur Park, not on the day

it opened for action, but on the night the newly leased building was opened

for cleaning and renovations.

Police demanded to see a copy of the lease, in a clear effort to intimidate

the people working in the building.

This is the latest twist in an effort by the mayor, the LAPD and

federal agencies like the FBI , with whom the LAPD is working in close

consultation, to lay the groundwork in public opinion for a full scale effort

to shut down the protests here before they ever have a chance to begin.

It began with the hysteria over the Laker's NBA championship victory celebration downtown.

City Council members and others tried to tie in the burning of a couple of

police cars there with the question of granting or denying permission to

demonstrators to use Pershing Square downtown, the oldest public space in LA,

one used for decades as a rallying point for all kinds of free speech activities.

Remarks by LAPD spokesman Lt Horace Frank were blunt. He estimated the size

of the crowd following the Laker's victory at five to eight thousand. The LA

Independent's interview with Frank, in which he compared the post-Lakers

scenario with the DNC protests, is revealing:

"There was no way we could charge into a crowd of 8,000 people with

batons blazing," he says. "That would have been both unwise and


"The plan for the convention, he says, is never to allow a crowd of

that size to gather in the first place."

Protest organizers in Philadelphia have reached the same conclusion.

According to the Village Voice " Massive security preparations...are merely a

last line of defense, according to demonstration organizers. The preliminary

crackdown, they say, is aimed at keeping protesters from making it to the

streets in the first place."

The LAPD has promised a hands off approach to legal demonstrations, but if

the majority of march permits are denied by the city and the appeals courts,

there may, in the end, be no practical and legal place for protesters to gather in downtown LA

during any number events, and many marches may become technically "illegal"

and a target for authorities.

Above and beyond these considerations, however, with the LAPD itself

predicting as many as fifty thousand protesters in the streets, it's clear

that many demonstrations may be quite a bit larger than the LAPD means to

allow- most especially the "legal", permitted mass marches planned for each

day of the convention.

The Catch 22 is this. The police will allow "legal", "peaceful" marches

( meaning those where civil disobedience isn't practiced)

but will not allow any marches to reach a threshold of, say, five thousand

people. This means every key march during the DNC will be subject to police

suppression, no matter what face the LAPD puts on it.

These new angles on the "pre-emptive strike" strategy might be just what the

city's spin doctor ordered, but it doesn't stop there.

The Associated Press reports the FBI and other agencies are gathering

information about protest leaders, and authorities admit they are watching

the Internet to spy on protesters and their plans. The data could be used in

pre-emptive strikes aimed at the arrest and jailing of key activists before

the protests can begin - a path followed in Washington, DC and elsewhere.

Meanwhile a new "email wiretap" law is being considered in Washington.

The Village Voice noted that " Longtime organizers tick off a list of what

they call common tricks of law enforcement's preemptive strike trade: online surveillance,

plants in meetings, phone taps, mail tampering, stolen documents, and

photo and video surveillance. What agents are looking for, activists

say, is evidence to justify a predemonstration arrest. Or, they are simply

looking to intimidate."

As to whether protest leaders might be arrested before any demonstrations

could occur, one FBI agent said "it depended on whether officials thought that

protesters intended to break a law." There's a word for such an "intent to

break a law." The term is "conspiracy," the same charge faced by figures like

Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party and California state Senator Tom

Hayden in the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial following the police riot at the

Democratic Convention in Chicago thirty two years ago.

Meanwhile, true to the script, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's office

recently targetted a high profile activist in D2KLA, an umbrella group for

protesters, in an effort to paint her as a particularly dangerous character.

A Riordan functionary insisted to a local reporter that Margaret Prescod of

D2KLA was seen in video footage with a tire iron, smashing a window and

illegally entering a building in Seattle last fall. Prescod and supporters

note, on the other hand , that she wasn't in Seattle for the

demonstrations there, having just returned from a conference in London to Los


Similar police measures are occuring in Philadelphia in preparation for the

Republican National Convention there.

"There is a good deal of intelligence gathering going on. There's no doubt

about it....We're trying to be prepared." a Philadelphia Police official

said. The key to social control in such situations is "to make sure you get the

right people, you know, the key layers that are involved, the leadership."

Authorities are also trying to confuse public opinion by to painting

protesters as potential "terrorists." The LAPD is erecting a 17 foot fence

around a 10 square block area surrounding the Staples Center so no

protesters,"terrorists" or other unwanted civilians can approach the

Democratic Convention. Authorities say they are preparing for possible bombs and

chemical weapons. News stories claim activists might "infiltrate" the

conventions and a recent FBI training was put forward in the media as "an

exercise to prepare for terrorism or other activities" during the national


Some in Los Angeles may be tempted to take solace in court victories that

limit the scale of the fenced in fortress the authorities are allowed to

construct around the Staple's Center, but it is important to realize the

probable payoff. With the LAPD less secure in its defenses it is more likely

to feel cornered, and to lash out in offensive and preemptive actions all the

more readily, Seattle style..There is no such thing as a rubber bullet or a

pepper spray grenade inscribed with the first amendment.

As we close, word has come that the protester's puppet making center in

Philadelphia has been shut down by the city as a "fire hazard."

This is what 'democracy' in America really looks like.

Original: The Coming Showdown: Police, Protesters Prepare for Conventions