Voodoo's War Journal #2: "A Police State means never having to say you're sorry"
(NOTE: Do not be fooled into thinking this piece even resembles objective reporting.)
After having such a spectacular time Monday, this budding journalist remained at the IMC headquarters Monday night and caught a couple hours shuteye on one of the benches in the office. Most of the volunteers cleared out by 1 AM; a few hardened indy media folk held down the fort through the night. A couple dozen pairs of tired eyes stayed glued to digital editors and computer monitors until Tuesday morning's sun came creeping over the city's smog-drenched skyline. Staff began to trickle back in and LA-IMC's various media-oozing organs slowly coughed to life.
A quick change of clothes in my car and a perfunctory swab of deodorant completed my morning's hygiene. My stomach finally unraveled from the knot of anxiety it had been trying out for the last few days, and was loudly demanding something to digest. For fear of losing my sweet parking spot, I decided to hike it on down to forage some grub.
Breakfast was greedily scarfed down a few blocks south on Fig at a Denny's-clone diner. And as if I hadn't seen enough law enforcement personnel in the last 24 hours, I was joined at the diner by not one, not two, but three separate groups of armed men in uniform hunting for their morning meal. My IMC badge got casually slipped into my pocket and I sat and ate.
I slurped down gobs of artery choking corned beef hash and peered over my plate at all the cops. Their conversations were remarkably human, they talked about families and barbecues and friends and the funny things their kids did in school. They seemed so tame -- but I just kept thinking -- were you out there shooting rubber bullets at me last night? Were you playing pita with some poor kid's noggin last night? Personally, I'm kinda traumatized. Do you actually feel good about yourself this morning?
Tuesday, I got the good fortune to get to cover two of the mass arrests that took place last week: Critical Mass, a group of cyclists, and some green group with a grudge against fur. The events I saw Tuesday afternoon were far less violent than Monday night, but in many ways they were far more frightening.
The 'save the animals' folks were the first of the two takedowns. I was in the LA-IMC video office, trying to keep my complaining calves elevated and scribbling down my recollections of the previous night. A staffer ran in, hollered something about mass arrests on Grand, I volunteered, and he took off. Another staffer volunteered his car and drove me down to Pershing Square and dropped me off.
A couple blocks double-time later, I reached the scene of the crime. Well, at least as close to the scene of the crime as the overwhelming number of law enforcement personnel would allow me to go. They literally had at least six downtown city blocks totally locked down by human walls of riot squads. Rows of police cruisers filled streets bumper to bumper. They were EVERYWHERE. I found out from a Legal Observer who had just showed up that the perps were in the middle of this demilitarized zone. All twenty of them.
The first two streets I tried to go down were guarded by officers who had no desire to let me through at all. I could barely make out the activists as they sat handcuffed and cross-legged in this small parking area on the side of the street. I couldn't see much -- all I caught were a couple of the more respectable looking in the group (one was a Legal Observer) being taken off separately. As I sat stymied at the second avenue, I noticed the LAPD setting up a taped-off media zone right in front of the holding site. I booked around the block to the next street to try to get in.
As I approached the next baton-wielding human barricade, I brandished my IMC press pass in one hand, my running camcorder in the other, and confidently made eye contact with the line of officers. One of the guys in the police line looked at me, then called behind him at one of the other cops, and gave me an escort to the media zone. Boogie.
In the media zone, I huddled together in the sun with all of the other good corporate media lackeys (and a few other convincing-looking indys). There we were honored enough to be given a first class photo-op of these vicious dangers to society by the LAPD.
They first paraded the more disreputable members of the bunch in firing-squad style in front of the press. I haven't seen anything this scary since that goddamn purple dinosaur. Most of em were in their late teens or early twenties; I could swear I recognized a couple of them from Venice Beach.
They then gradually began to lie out a broad arrange of sinister-looking 'terrorist paraphernalia' on the ground in broad view. To me it looked like lunch and a change of clothes, but I heard later that it was terrorist paraphernalia. They meant to cause mischief with their tofu sandwiches and organic OJ.
The little PR circus went on for a while; we got to see them loaded on busses, we got to see 20 or so people gather down the street and chant and get chased off by a couple squads of riot cops, and we got to see the prisoners driven off. I heard there was a press briefing later, but I skipped it.
I hiked back to the IMC, picking a route that took me past the Staples center. There was an extremely tame union march, a scattering of sign-wielding street warriors over in parking lot by the Staples center, and of course the ubiquitous cops, but it was otherwise pretty mild.
I wasn't in the IMC office longer any longer than it takes you to say 'Freedom of the Press' when someone announced that Critical Mass (riding through the city en masse to show support for bicycling as a form of transportation) was being arrested right around the corner. With quick tape swap and some muttered harsh language, I ran down the street to get my second dose of the day of the Los Angeles police state.
The Critical Mass arrest was a similar display of force without the niceties for the corporate media -- because there weren't any corporate media to court. The cops were out in force earlier, don't get me wrong, but they were calm and cordial for the corporate media. Here, there was a noticeable absence of Channel X or TurnerVision news vans, and the LAPD actively sought to restrict view and access of the media and Legal Observers.
What happened? Critical Mass had organized a ride around downtown to try to garner support for cycling. When I arrived on the scene, the arrest was already well underway.
Without the risk of any network exposure, the LAPD happily engaged in a thorough job of public intimidation and suppression.
I was personally pushed back from a position on an empty street where I was taping the arrestees being detained and searched. Officers formed lines not only up front to push back observers and indy press from the scene, but they also formed human walls around the tied cyclists to block vision even more. Totally absent was the 'come on up and take pretty pictures' attitude from earlier. One indy videographer reported being threatened and bullied by cops without any visible identification. An observer from the National Lawyers' Guild attempted to get one of the officer's name and badge number or to get in touch with one of the officers in charge. He was denied.
Big Brother got even bigger when I noted three separate times throughout the event (all three documented on video) when I was the direct target of police countersurveillance. Two police videographers and a photographer all took footage of me. I took footage right back and screamed something irate about wanting to get a copy of my file. I covered as much as I could, and eventually the LAPD transportation units were called in to cart off the cyclists and their offending vehicles.
Tuesday's experience just reinforced to me how truly repressive the LAPD were being. There was no public livelihood or property being protected here; this was pure political suppression. Neither of the two mass arrests and corresponding shows of force were even remotely justified by whatever 'crime' you might think the protesters could have possibly committed. A dozen tofu-eating and Birkenstock wearing vegans chanting songs and rattling windows doesn't justify 6 goddamn city blocks of martial law. And the cyclists??? For Christ's sake, people, I know LA isn't the friendliest city to the manpowered two-wheelers, but seriously, 'Ride a Bike, go to jail!?!?!' Since when does turning the wrong way down a one way street -- ON A BICYCLE -- warrant several hours of detainment on the street and an evening courtesy of the LA city jail?
The LAPD's message was crystal clear to me: Your views, even if they're as innocuous as 'don't eat meat' or 'bicycles are good', are not tolerated in our city. If you try to raise your voice you will receive an LAPD beat down faster than you can say 'Rodney King was a slow motherfucker'. We will quickly and thoroughly extinguish any possible spark of change or dissent you try to muster. You will be demonized and paraded in front of the world in chains if you look strange or different. You will be sequestered off and silenced out of sight of prying eyes if you have even the remotest chance of sounding reasonable. We will use fear and intimidation to drive away any hope of support or solidarity. We will control the truth.
Again, you'll hear a lot of bullshit from this one. This wasn't about dangerous anarchists threatening public life and property; this was about a police state crushing harmless kids and cyclists. This wasn't about keeping our streets safe and our country clean; this was about the wonderful men and women of the LAPD, employed by the People of the State of California, deliberately suppressing the most holy sacrament of the United States Constitution. THAT is what's fucked up. And that's NOT bullshit.
"And if anyone in this shithole city gave two tugs of a dead dog's cock about Truth, this wouldn't be happening."
(with abject apologies to Warren Ellis)
(a complete collection of all two columns can be found at http://www.freecali.org)