Yesterday was another dark day in the history of Los Angeles, and as a citizen and an employee of the City, I feel deeply ashamed. Our city prides itself on its diversity, but the intolerance we have shown for the thousands of visiting Americans who came here to peacefully demonstrate is nothing short of criminal. If Los Angeles is, as Mayor Riordan claims, the Capital of the Twenty-first Century, then the coming century will be one where the wealthy and the powerful silence the poor and the weak at their whim. My colleagues at the Los Angeles Police Department, rather than dealing rationally with the protests surrounding the Democratic National Convention, instead have engaged them with efficient terror. I will refute their version of the truth.
On Monday I went down to the Staples Center with no political agenda, but rather to enjoy a concert by Rage Against the Machine and Ozomatli, and to observe the delightful variety of people gathered there, much like Los Angelenos do every weekend at places like the Venice Boardwalk and the Third Street Promenade. But unlike Venice Beach, this crowd was not simply on display for the tourists. They had come with strong opinions, and for contradicting the vision of unity preached by the Democrats, they would pay a heavy price. Long before a group of black-clothed youth began tossing chunks of concrete and plastic bottles over the fence, we observed a large group of police assembling on the streets to the east of Staples, concealed from the oblivious crowd. My friends suspected that the police were planning a preemptive strike against the demonstrators, but I held out hope that my colleagues truly intended to deal with us fairly. After Rage Against the Machine finished, many people began to leave without incident, and Ozomatli encouraged those remaining to dance peacefully. With the exception of less than a hundred black-clothed anarchists, who posed little threat to the police behind a high fence, the crowd of thousands enjoyed the concert. If the police had allowed Ozomatli to finish their set, most of the crowd would have soon gone home naturally. But instead, the power to the area was abruptly cut off, provoking the crowd unnecessarily and leaving them in darkness. The police then declared an unlawful assembly and gave everyone fifteen minutes to leave.
I witnessed the police action at the Staples Center from an excellent vantage point, just behind the stage, so there is no mistaking what I saw. A group of several hundred demonstrators, defying the order to disperse, remained near the southern barricades facing the arena, obviously expecting to be arrested. At the same time, the other demonstrators, members of the media, the bands, and many people who came simply to see the bands were moving away from Staples to the north and east, as the police had instructed them. Suddenly a group of police on horseback charged into the area *from the north*, the direction we were told to go. The crowd of people trying to leave, numbering in the thousands, panicked and fled in all directions, many of them away from the police and back towards the Staples Center. Some, like me, took refuge on the stage. The police then violently forced the crowd out of the area designated for protest and west down Olympic Boulevard, using rubber bullets and batons. Only the black-clothed anarchists offered any resistance, while most were trampled by horses or shot at in the back trying to escape in panic. As for those of us caught behind on the stage, we were surrounded by police and threatened with arrest for almost thirty minutes, until a group of officers giving contradictory instructions reluctantly escorted us to Flower Street and freedom.
I lay the blame for this incident directly at the feet of Mayor Riordan and Chief Parks. I have been to other demonstrations in major cities, and at no time would the actions of a hundred people be sufficient to incite a police department with any restraint to needlessly provoke, attack and pursue a crowd of several thousand, especially when the police were separated from their antagonists by concrete barricades and a fence over a dozen feet high. By demonizing the demonstrators with Fifties-era phrases, disrupting public transportation and giving my colleagues at the Los Angeles Police Department license to harrass and assault anyone without cause, the Mayor and the Chief have created a situation of civil unrest. In the days to come, instead of a small group of anarchists, you will now have to contend with thousands of enraged bystanders, and like Sam Yorty and Richard Daley before you, history will hold you accountable. At the very least, you owe the citizenry an explanation.
Joel J. Rane
Acting Senior Librarian
Cahuenga Branch, Los Angeles Public Library