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by Jenn Bleyer
Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2000 at 2:20 PM
Organizers from the IMC, Shadow Convention, ACLU, Green Party, D2KLA, Global Exchange and others band together to call for an investigation into last night's outrageous use of police force against demonstrators and concert-goers.
In a joint press conference organized Tuesday afternoon by the Independent Media Center, representatives from the Shadow Convention, the American Civil Liberties Union, Global Exchange, D2KLA and the Green Party denounced the use of force by police against protesters last night as unwarranted and brutal, and called for an independent investigation of the Los Angeles Police Department’s actions.
An estimated 15,000 -20,000 people gathered for a permitted rally and concert next to the Staples Center, which was notably peaceful and lively. At around 8:00 PM, a handful of protesters threw plastic water bottles and other largely harmless objects over the fence that separated their rally from the convention center. Hundreds of police officers responded with measures startlingly disproportionate to the instigation of a few.
California State Senator Tom Hayden, whose own son was injured in the altercation, said at the press conference that the police reaction was the result of months of planning and anticipation. He said that the police were eager to experiment with the “arsenal of exotic weaponry” they had stockpiled in preparation for the Democratic National Convention, including rubber bullets, bean bag bullets, tear gas and OC pepper gas which “people were being hosed with without any sensible awareness of guidelines.” Hayden noted that one burst of pepper spray lasting no more than a second is the maximum allowable amount before risking serious nerve damage, but protesters last night were sprayed repeatedly and consistently.
Shadow Convention organizer and political provocateur Arianna Huffington also spoke out against the “indiscriminate and completely unecessary use of force” last night. She linked the episode to an earlier event in the day when Patriotic Hall, which is hosting both the Shadow Convention and the Independent Media Center, was evacuated by a police bomb squad who claimed that a van beside the building contained explosives.
Six hundred people stood outisde for three hours before they were allowed to re-enter the building, where a hundred riot police appeared at one point and threatened them with tear gas. “It was an indiscriminate use of force,” Huffington said of the incident. “Everyone who is not inside the Staples Center is seen as a threat to public safety. What happened at Patriotic Hall yesterday afternoon was a reflection of the violence last night. It’s clear now that there are two Americas; one that has to be protected at all costs, and one that is a threat to public safety and has to be brought down at any cost.”
In stark contrast to the LAPD’s statement that last night’s events were an “appropriate, measured and strategic use of force,” several protesters told of how they were swept unknowingly into the clash. Garrett Louise, an activist from the L.A. Direct Action Network, was enjoying the concert when the power was pulled and the lights went out. He was soon hit by at least nine rubber bullets. He rolled up his pants to show a red golf ball-sized welt just below the knee, and noted that “this is the response we get for speaking out in what is supposedly a democracy.”
California Green Party Senate candidate Medea Benjamin suggested that the police deliberately provoked demonstraters in order to clear the crowd before hordes of Democratic delegates left the Staples Center. “I am appalled by the excesses of the LAPD and other law enforcement that I witnessed and heard about last night, apparently just to clear a path for the delegates of a political party that claims to be protectors of liberty and human rights.”
In addition to the call for an independent investigation of the LAPD, speakers announced a possible lawsuit and suggested a larger investigation into the systematic police violence that has emerged in the past year at protests against the WTO in Seattle, the IMF/World Bank in Washington, and the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.
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