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POLICE RESORT TO VIOLENT TACTICS AGAINST MOSTLY PEACEFUL CROWD

by By Michael Fernandez, IMC print Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2000 at 7:34 PM

A free concert by the bands Ozomatli and Rage Against The Machine was interrupted by tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets Monday evening as delegates watched from the Staples Center balcony.

error

A free concert by the bands Ozomatli and Rage Against The Machine was interrupted by tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets Monday evening as delegates watched from the Staples Center balcony.

It was between sets that trouble started along the southern fence line of the so-called protest pit bordering the convention. Rage Against The Machine had finished their set, spirited as usual with peace punks, 18th St. gang-bangers, activists, and students moshing happily together in the center of the crowd numbering as many as 10,000.

Several political speakers filled the gap between sets to mixed response, which delineated the activists from those there to hear a free concert.

As Ozomatli began to start their set, several people scaled the fence and threw empty plastic water bottles over at the waiting lines of police clad in full riot gear and armed with tear gas guns, pepper spray, and rubber bullets all of which was to come into play within the next half hour.

Two young men climbed to the top of the fence to hang an anarchist flag despite the shower of pepper spray that drenched them. One sat on top of the fence holding the flag, while the other straddled the wire and stood giving the police the finger and generally harassing them.

Black-clad activists donned gas masks and handkerchiefs as gas and pepper spray began to drift into the crowd causing coughing and swearing, but little actual panic.

Ozomatli gamely attempted to play on while the crowd separated into those along the fence line, including almost all of the media, and those moving to the north side of the fenced off protest pit. Moments later, a police officer took the stage and gave the crowd a 15-minute warning to disperse either to the north onto Olympic Blvd. or east onto Flower St.

Those who exited along Flower met with no mishap but the majority of the crowd exited north in an impromptu march complete with banners, signs, slogans, and drums. These were met by a line of more than 50 mounted police moving into the fenced off area just vacated.

It was unclear how many people remained to face arrest. The first gas was fired, along with a volley of rubber bullets, shortly before 8:00 pm. The police, on foot in the wake of the mounted units, charged in full riot gear in a line of over one hundred splitting the crowd into two contingents, one heading north on Figueroa which seemed to disperse, and the second west along Olympic.

They (police) told us to go out to the North and to the West. When we did they were coming at us from those same directions. We ran from side to side, and they were there every time. They blocked us off until there was no way out. They surrounded us, and told us to put our hands in the air, so they could see we werent carrying rocks. Then they pushed out in a line with their horses on both sides, recounted Mara Rosles, 20, of Los Angeles.

The crowd gave ground with great reluctance shouting Shame! Shame! These are our streets! Motorcycle police deployed along all streets and parking lots on the north side of Olympic, which was bordered on the southside by the same fence enclosing the parking lot that the concert had been held.

The police charged several times in an attempt to finally disperse the crowd, pausing only to dress ranks. At the moment that the crowd seemed about to break, they ran head-on into a legal and permitted march starting from the Homeless Convention at Dome Village who marched straight into the melee.

Many in the crowd seemed to take heart at this point and, cheering the marchers, surged back to confront the police. Several more volleys of gas and rubber bullets were fired before a final push by mounted police in conjunction with those on foot pushed the crowd further back west where they began to disperse of their own accord.

There were several injuries, some of which appeared to be serious. I saw somebody get shot and fall down screaming. I was too scared to stop running. I dont know what happened to him, added Rosles, wearing a black t-shirt with the word illegal printed across the front.

Another protester lay bleeding onto an American flag within a circle of media, while the glare of cameras lit up the activist medics work. Friends and bystanders, joined together in the camaraderie of crisis, with welts from rubber bullets and coughing from gas, carried several people. Legal Observers, with their telltale green caps, walked calmly throughout the scene.

Throughout the street melee, delegates within the Staples center on the floor watching Presidents speech were blissfully ignorant of the events outside. When asked what he thought of the nights festivities, one floor volunteer remarked only that he thought that it was a fine speech.

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