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Friday, Aug. 18, 2000 at 7:55 PM
FAIR'S Latest Alert, 8/16
August 16, 2000
On Monday, August 14, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) stepped up its assault on free speech rights, using the pretext of a bomb scare to shut down the Independent Media Center's (IMC) satellite cast and, later the same night, turning a peaceful, legal concert and rally into what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called "an orchestrated police riot."
Cops Crash Newscast
There has been virtually no mainstream coverage of the LAPD's interference with the IMC's "Crashing the Party," a live independent news show hosted by Laura Flanders which is being broadcast nationwide via satellite during the convention. According to Free Speech TV, one of the groups producing the show, Monday's broadcast of "Crashing" was prevented when the LAPD closed the parking lot outside the IMC and evacuated the show's satellite van, ostensibly in response to a bomb threat.
Representatives from the IMC point out that the police action began just as "Crashing" was about to air and ended 10 minutes after the satellite broadcast window for the show had closed (Village Voice, 8/15/00). According to a report on the IMC web site, police told a member of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) that they had received the bomb tip that morning. Yet police did not take action until late afternoon, just before the show was scheduled to begin. The IMC report also states that the NLG's Ben Rosenfeld witnessed the county police searching the van "without waiting for the bomb squad to arrive," and that "for a time, the bomb squad refused to come to the scene, citing insufficient evidence."
This incident raises serious questions about whether the LAPD was targeting members of the independent media for harassment, and should ring alarm bells for journalists everywhere.
The Raging Machine
Similarly, mainstream media response to the police violence after Monday night's Rage Against the Machine concert has been, by and large, dangerously misleading.
Eyewitnesses from the IMC, the ACLU and the NLG report that the gathering of 8,000 to 10,000 concert-goers and activists was peaceful until a few people on the fringe of the crowd began throwing debris at police. The IMC's Jennifer Joos witnessed the incident from the balcony of the Staples Center, and estimates that no more than 15 to 20 people out of several thousand were involved in throwing objects. "They were isolated and not inciting the rest of the crowd," says Joos.
According to the ACLU, rally organizers tried to defuse the confrontation and offered to end the concert themselves. Police refused their assistance, instead declaring the assembly unlawful, ordering the crowd to disperse, and eventually firing on the crowd with a variety of weapons, including rubber-jacketed bullets, pepper spray and "bean bag" guns.
The ACLU has called the events a "police riot" characterized by "extreme use of force and undifferentiated attacks on a crowd of people" Though the exact number and severity of injuries to civilians is still unknown, the ACLU reports that "numerous legal observers and members of the media were assaulted by the LAPD," and that the LAPD dispersed at least one team of legal observers "for no other reason than to eliminate witnesses to LAPD misconduct" (ACLU letter to the Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney, 8/15/00). The ACLU filed suit today against the LAPD for singling out members of the media "for attack" on Monday night.
This very serious evidence of police misconduct has been obscured in many mainstream reports by references to the "violence" of protesters and misinformation about the size and nature of the disturbance that the police responded to with such force.
In one article, the Washington Post (8/15/00) referred to Monday's peaceful marches as "a rollicking daylong siege" and falsely stated that "a few hundred protesters" were involved in throwing debris at police officers before the LAPD opened fire on the crowd. The Post article does not mention any complaints that the police action may have violated civil liberties. In fact, the article's only reference to protesters' criticism of the police is the paper's contention that earlier in the day "demonstrators tried to provoke officers... into showing less restraint" by chanting "pigs" at them.
Likewise, USA Today incorrectly reported that "several hundred people" threw objects at the police (8/15 and 8/16/00). Describing the incident as a protester "rampage" in one report (8/16/00), the paper claimed (8/15/00) that "the downtown peace was kept largely because of the enormous presence of police."
The Associated Press made the same error and even compounded it, stating in several stories that "hundreds of demonstrators threw rocks and fired steel balls from slingshots at police" (8/15/00). Garrick Ruiz, an organizer and spokesperson for the D2K coalition, witnessed the incident and has been collecting reports about it; he says he neither saw nor heard any evidence of any steel balls or slingshots being used by protesters.
The New York Times was more accurate in its account of the number of people throwing debris, but repeated the claim that "ball-bearings" were shot at police (8/16/00). The Times did note that the LAPD has been criticized on civil liberties grounds, but states that "early reviews [of police performance] are mixed," though the only positive reviews the paper cites in its two most recent articles on the subject are from the LAPD itself and a Gore campaign aide. No representatives of the ACLU have been quoted by the Times, and articles have focused on the challenges faced by the LAPD, even noting that "police had to contend with second-guessing on the street" (8/16/00).
The New York Times (8/16/00) also featured an article headlined "Protesters With No Message Except, 'Let's Not Go Home'," which characterized events after the Rage concert as "a standoff between police officers who want to go home and young people who don't." Dismissing the activists as "excitable rock fans" who make trouble because they "want to be entertained," the article called police attempts to handle the situation "ingenious."
ACTION Please contact national and local media and ask them to cover the LAPD's interference with the IMC's satellite cast. Urge them to seriously investigate charges from the ACLU and others that the LAPD has committed numerous civil liberties violations, and to correct any inaccurate reports they have run about protester violence.
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