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Chicago Tribune trashes LAPD

by Chicogo Tribune Monday, Aug. 21, 2000 at 5:58 AM

Two wonderful stories from the Chicago Tribune about the LAPD. One relates the experiences of a cycling reporter busted while covering the Critical Mass action -- the other examines the fear and resentment the community feels toward the LAPD. Enjoy!

Chicago Tribune

Aug 17, 2000



by Flynn McRoberts

Covering an environmental protest on a bicycle in the City of Angels during convention week makes for a ticket...

August 17, 2000 Your Honor, if I may address the court of public opinion, I would just like to say this about being busted by the Los Angeles Police Department for riding my bike while reporting on a demonstration:

I can't imagine this happening in Chicago, where our cycle-loving mayor has painted bike lanes on city streets, and police each month permit the same type of group ride that landed me in the Los Angeles County Jail on Tuesday night.

And I don't suppose Philadelphia's finest would have responded to 60 bicyclists carrying provocative signs such as "More Bikes, Less Cars" as the L.A. cops did: "Put the bikes down!" they thundered. "Don't use the kickstands!"

After all, at the recent Republican National Convention, Philadelphia's popular police commissioner, John Timoney, directed his restrained force from the seat of a mountain bike.

But my eight hours in the custody of the LAPD and the county jail seems all too appropriate.

What could be more fitting than getting arrested and cited for "reckless driving" of a bike in a city with three major problems: clogged traffic, the resulting pollution and a police department with one nasty reputation for dealing with the public?

The ride was called a "Critical Mass" event, held during the convention to promote bicycling as a way to relieve traffic congestion and pollution. Before it began, an organizer told the gathered cyclists to "obey the laws out there" and "stay safe." He also announced a "jail support number" in case of arrest.

Among those duly noting it was Mimi LaValley, a pleasant, 19-year-old activist from L.A.

"We're challenging corporate greed that says there needs to be more cars on the street," LaValley said, "and consumerism that says everyone needs to drive their own car." Besides, she added, "this is a socially responsible way to commute."

Cmdr. David Kalish of the LAPD alleged in a Wednesday morning news conference that I "had committed all the same violations that the other people did."

This is true, if he was referring to stopping at red lights, going through intersections as police or crossing guards stopped side-street traffic, and being escorted by two dozen L.A. bike cops.

Many pedestrians cheered, and car drivers honked in support as the cyclists made their way through L.A.'s oddly empty downtown streets at rush hour.

Some riders held signs with sayings such as "One Less Car," or "The Revolution will not be Motorized."

After about 30 minutes, I began dictating notes to a colleague with a cell phone--not the safest bicycling method, I admit--and described how a dozen squad cars suddenly raced in and blocked our path as the bicycle cops peeled away.

Then about 20 LAPD motorcycle officers appeared and steered us down a side street, but one of them smiled and assured me: "We like bicycles. We're here to escort you." That made sense, because it was an officially sanctioned demonstration.

Less than two minutes later, as we approached an underpass, police suddenly swarmed around us and shouted, "Put the bikes down!"

One commanding officer said, "Calm down. Calm down."

"I am calm," said Juliet Musso, a professor of public policy at USC who had reluctantly joined the ride with her husband.

"I know," he replied. "I'm talking to my colleagues."

Several younger officers were shouting and menacing the cyclists. But a middle-aged commander assured us: "Don't worry. Everything is going to be all right."

With their hands on their holstered batons, officers in riot gear told us to get "up against the fence!"

Still, except for a few, the officers were professional in handling our arrest.

They cuffed us behind our backs with hard plastic "flex cuffs" and kept us at the fence under the overpass for an hour or so.

After noticing my press credentials, one gentlemanly officer assured me that I'd get off with a "minuscule fine."

Then he asked, "What are you covering here?"

"Protests and demonstrations," I said.

An eager young cop walking with us inquired: "So are we containing this better than they did in Philly?"

Not wanting to perturb anyone there who was armed and not handcuffed, I measured my words carefully.

"In Philadelphia, they let marchers take over the streets and block traffic for hours," I told him. "It wasn't until a small number of anarchists started bashing police cars that they did move in, and forcefully."

He smirked.

Nearby, some protesters began to gather beyond the police lines and offer an earnest, if amusing chant: "Ride your bike! Go to jail!"

Standing with my face against a brick wall, I got a little nervous when a bomb squad officer arrived to search our backpacks.

I made sure to tell him that mine contained a gas mask--a precaution for covering the protests--so he wouldn't be surprised.

After another hour, officers led us onto a Los Angeles County Sheriff's prisoner van for a trip to the county jail.

Waiting in the sheriff's bus for an hour or so--hands still cuffed--the protesters got a little giddy, singing Happy Birthday to someone named Scott who turned 32 on Tuesday.

The driver cranked the bus stereo. On came "Two Tickets to Paradise" by Eddie Money, the '80s rocker who once worked for a police department.

"We've waited so long, waited so long," Money sang as we stewed in the bus.

A sense of camaraderie worked its way through the bus, but so did an unnerving rumor: that running three or more red lights on a bike might be a felony.

Needless to say, the long wait in the bus gave us plenty of time to get acquainted.

Jonathan Aurthur, 52, told how his boss had warned him that morning about demonstrators at the Republican convention who had stripped in lockup so cops couldn't identify them in protest videotapes by their clothes.

"Don't protest in the nude," she told him. "In L.A. they'll arrest you anyway."

Once we arrived at the jail, we were searched--not stripped, but the officers made certain we weren't hiding anything anywhere.

It wasn't rough treatment; just the stern bureaucracy of a jail. And for every overly macho guard, there were others like the one who patiently helped an arrestee.

The young man had a mess of green and black dreadlocks, and the officer spent more than 15 minutes chatting with him and helping pick beads out of his hair as a security measure.

Finally, after guards fingerprinted and took my mug shot ("McRoberts, Flynn, DNC Inmate"), a commanding officer led me to an empty holding cell, sat me down and asked me what the heck I was doing there.

I told him I was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune assigned to cover the convention protests.

He looked at me sternly and said, "That's not what we were told."

My heart stopped. Images of "Midnight Express"--where an American languishes in a Turkish prison--flashed through my mind.

"We were told you worked for the L.A. Times," he said ominously.

I chuckled and said, "Well, we merged with them several months ago, so we're all part of the same family."

Most of my fellow bicyclists--70 adults and one juvenile in all--had to spend the night in jail until their arraignments.

The truly honorable thing for me to do would have been to insist on the same treatment--a la John McCain in the Hanoi Hilton.

But I had my own mission. I asked a sheriff's deputy if I would be out by 9 a.m. Wednesday because I was supposed to cover a march against police brutality. He suggested convention-floor duty would be a better idea.

On Wednesday, I got my property back--except for the rented bike, which was being held as "evidence," police told me.

After realizing that police had wrongly cited us--for "reckless driving," a violation that doesn't apply to bike riders--the city attorney's office altered the charges. Like the others, I'm facing a misdemeanor charge of "obstructing a public way" and two traffic infractions.

In any case, I couldn't help but remember something Mimi LaValley, the teenage bike activist, told me before the ride.

"My message to drivers out there," she said, "is: There's a better way."

The same message might be sent to the LAPD.



by John Kass

August 17, 2000

LOS ANGELES The light was red and the street was empty. No cars to the right. No cars to the left. No cars period.

I was about to be taught a lesson as to why so many here--in the host city of the Democratic National Convention and the civil liberties crowd--are afraid of their cops.

On the other corner, a guy with long, blond hair was waiting to cross. He was part of a larger herd of pedestrians. Since I was in a hurry, and there were no cars approaching, I crossed against the red light.

The blond guy gave me a look of horror. So did the others. Their mouths worked nervously in fear. They were ready to bleat.

"Why didn't you cross the street?" I asked him. "There's no traffic." He stood stiffly and pressed the little button on the light pole, the button that is supposed to change the red light to green. "Why didn't you cross?"

Figuring he couldn't understand my Chicago accent, I decided to speak in his native tongue.

"Dude," I said. "Like, I mean, why didn't you cross, dude?"

"You're goin' against the red light!" he hissed, jamming his finger against the little button as if that would erase the terrifying sight he'd just witnessed. "You don't ever go against the red, man! You're goin' against the red!"

The others nodded. I felt like an alien. Actually I was an alien.

This wasn't some reaction to the heavy security at the convention. It took place when I first arrived here last week, days before the L.A. cops began overreacting, to compensate for lying down a few months ago and letting L.A. gangs trash the city after the Lakers won the NBA championship.

It took place days before the L.A. cops shot rubber bullets at kids and used their horses to force thousands of people through a narrow opening between concrete barriers, crushing them and inciting a potentially deadly panic--forcing the crowd to spill out onto the Metro train tracks. And it was days before the L.A. cops took an overdose of moron pills and arrested working reporters--including the Tribune's Flynn McRoberts--for covering a protest.

But this seemingly little business, the fear of crossing the street, tells me what's wrong with the cops. Their bad behavior sprouts from one terrible seed--their desire for control.

Jaywalking is illegal. Crossing against the red is illegal. Even when there are no cars around. They pass out tickets. If you don't have your identification papers, they haul you off to jail.

Most people I talked to--dozens of them--won't dare cross against the red, even on a lonely street. The people behave. They're trained. They wait. They push the little button.

This is L.A., land of the free spirits.

"Oh, you don't do it," said the elderly doorman at my hotel. "Oh, they'll get you. They got me twice till I got the message. Now I've got the message. You just don't do it. They're serious."

Now, I'm not advocating reckless lawbreaking, like running across expressways during rush hour or cheating on your bowling score. I understand that cops everywhere get tired of picking up our human garbage.

And I understand, too, that L.A. cops can feel tension, especially when hundreds of them are being investigated on drug corruption charges.

But can't grown-ups cross the street?

"It's the law, sir," said a young cop behind his sunglasses, using his fingertip to politely point me on my way, as if he were giving hand signals to a stubborn dog. "It's the law. You can cross now. Sir."

The people of New York or Chicago or Philadelphia wouldn't take this. But back East, we don't drive next door to borrow a cup of sugar. Only working people and poor people walk in L.A. What movies do they make?

Obviously, they've been conditioned, systematically, with little pieces of their freedom lost.

The Los Angelenos have been programmed. But at least they don't doff their hats when the cops ride by.

These little chunks of freedom--taken from the political Left and Right--are devoured by government in the name of security and control. In L.A. and other cities across the country, including Chicago, protesters must make appointments with police and protest in designated areas, like theme parks, like Protestland.

The old boys who ratified the amendments to the Constitution--especially the 1st Amendment--would laugh at us for agreeing to these limitations like a bunch of goofy chickens.

But they'd really get a hoot out of the L.A. cops. Because they arrested my colleague, Flynn McRoberts, for "recklessly driving" on a bike.

Flynn is not reckless--except for the time he introduced Beer Can Chicken recipes into the Tribune newsroom. Within days, hundreds of editors and reporters were jamming beer cans into the behinds of chickens and roasting them over charcoal with glee. We talked of little else, for days, and our concentration wandered.

Flynn was working, covering a story. He was on a bike following protesters riding their bikes, when the cops accused them of veering off the authorized path. So they cuffed Flynn, too, and tossed him into an L.A. County sheriff's bus with the other desperadoes.

He showed them his reporter's credentials, but as has been proven before, the L.A. cops don't read the Constitution. They probably like romance novels instead.

Flynn reported that the bus ran 12 red lights on the way to the station. It's a good thing the L.A. cops aren't above the law.


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Chicago Trib Only Protecting It's Own Stephen Konieczka Monday, Aug. 21, 2000 at 7:25 AM
First person injustice TheNewOhioGreen Monday, Aug. 21, 2000 at 11:33 AM
Sure - you can get arrested in NYC for jay wa michael eisenmenger Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2000 at 1:14 AM
KickASS! sKiNNi Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2000 at 6:19 PM
Cyclists in Jail sKiNNi Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2000 at 6:21 PM
About pedestrianism in LA Ishmael Alfredsson Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2000 at 5:12 AM
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