I have ofen wondered if a large police presence at a protest increases or decreases the likelihood that violent actions will ocurr. On Monday, August 14th at 4pm in Pershing Square,while waiting for the various groups to assemble for our march to Staple Center (I was marching for the Green Party),I decided to ask a police officer his opinion. The obvious problem was choosing one. I chose a male, Officer Rodriguez of the LAPD, who was standing with only one other officer. A cowardly choice-- directly across the street I saw two older men carrying a sign that read "All Government is Bad" walk right into the a herd of fifty officers who were in full riot gear with rifles slung over their shoulders.
But Rodriguez did talk. He informed me that he had no worry that violence would break out today because there were just too many police to let it happen. He stated six tousand LAPD officers were onthe streets in addition to one thousand California Highway Patrol officers and police from all surrounding counties. "We've even got 900 out in Chatsworth" claimed Rodriguez.
I had informed officer Rodriguez that I was writing an article on the police presence at the protests. I took notes during the entire conversation-- and I was clearly a protester, dressed in green party regalia. So why he divulged the following information is beyond me. He said "Weknow which groups are the troublemakers and we have plainclothes guys all around them. We even have guys marching with them, dressed just like them! (chuckle) Yesterday one of our guys was leading them!"
Officer Rodriguez continued to say that the LAPD was expecting larger numbers of protesters and that he did not excpect any thing to get out of hand until the end of the event, outside of Staples Center. "then you might get a few broken windows. Thistimeour strategy is to be prepared ahead of time. We are on duty from Saturday to Friday, working 12 hour shifts. If anything big happens, we won't have to be called in because we are all already here." I asked him if he was geeting paid overtime for the longer shifts and he said yes.
So it was with an eerie feeling of the power of self-fulfilling prophecy that I witnessed the atmosphere turn from peaceful to panicked at 7:45 last night. I now believe that an overwhelming police presence at a large protest increases the chances of violence. Latent distrust was present in the officer's remarks and blatant at every intersection during the march. My question now is, where were the infiltrators when the rubber bullets were fired? How did they get on the other side of the twelve foot fence? How do we know they weren't starting the fires and throwing concrete too? Seriously, if officers are going to admit to infiltration then they have to answer questions like these.
I counted twelve CHP officers on the Metro platform when my friends and I finally reached it. We were told by the officers,that we had to leave our sign with them because no sticks were allowed on the train. Wegave them the stick and kept the sign. After considering the millions of dollars spent on the police presence in Los Angleles this week I am reminded of the saying "you get what you pay for".