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This is What a Police State Looks Like: Resistance & Repression at D2K

by Geoffrey McNamara Friday, Sep. 29, 2000 at 8:15 PM
Geoffrey.R.McNamara@reed.edu (503) 517-5331 Box 581, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., Portland, OR 97202

A personal account of being illegally arrested by the LAPD during the Democratic National Convention for peacfully protesting against the fur trade and the capitalist system responsible for it.


Tuesday, August 15th was a slow day at the protests surrounding the Democratic National Convention. After a small womens liberation march my father and I wandered to Pershing Square, which was the central meeting place of the protest events. When we arrived at the square I was approached by a young man dressed in black, asking me if I was interested in taking part in an animal liberation protest. It had been a long time since I had been involved in any animal liberation activism, and I jumped at the chance, agreeing to meet my father at another rally at five oclock.

I walked over to where a crowd of punks dressed in black covered with patches and studs, many of whom wore bandanas over their faces, were sprawled on the ground under a tree. Soon, Geoff, the march organizer who had approached me earlier began to gather us together and discuss our plans for the action. We would march from the square, along the sidewalks, and go to the targeted fur stores to shout slogans, and "show that we wouldnt stand for this unnecessary slaughter." We also agreed to keep the march completely legal and nonviolent, and not to engage in any property damage, as none of us wanted to be arrested for such a minor action. This was especially important to us, as there was a major anti-police brutality, anti-prison march and rally that we all wanted to attend the next day.

43 of us, many of us anarchists, dressed in black with masks on began to march through the square chanting slogans such as "Whats the solution: vegan revolution! Whats the reaction: direct action!", "Fur trade: death trade!", "40 dead animals: one fur coat!", "Human freedom, animal rights, one struggle one fight!", and "Stop the suffering, stop the death, free the animals: A.L.F. (Animal Liberation Front)!" We moved quickly through the square and onto the sidewalk. Despite the energy and militancy of our march we obeyed all laws by staying on the sidewalk and waiting for the "Walk" signs before we crossed the streets. We stopped at several fur stores, chanting outside of them, and then moved on.

After we had marched two and a half blocks we began to see police, but we did not worry that much. We were all used to being around lots of police at such marches. As with most police at demonstrations they were decked out in blue uniforms, wearing riot helmets with plastic face shields, and carrying large clubs. Yet, soon we realized that this was different. Within seconds all of the surrounding streets were blocked off by hundreds of riot cops, and we were surrounded. We were given no order or chance to disperse, but were surrounded, forced against the wall of a building, and ordered to face the wall with our hands above our heads. We were all extremely frightened because of our small numbers, the enormous number of police around us, the fact that none of us had planned to be arrested, and the fact that many in our group were young teenagers. They held us like this, facing the wall with our hands above our heads with the police telling us to "turn around" and "shut up" for what seemed like a very long time. Then the police began to tell people to "step backwards", telling us, "You are under arrest for conspiracy to commit vandalism. Will you submit to arrest?" We all did, since there was little choice that we had. They put our hands behind our backs and put us in plastic handcuffs.

We were then taken to a nearby parking lot where they took down our names and information and then searched us. We were made to sit down on the hot asphalt, where many of us began to meet each other for the first time. By this time the media reporters who had been with us since the beginning of the march had become even more numerous. Geoff, the organizer, and our spokesperson yelled out to the reporters that we were peaceful protestors, that we had been illegally arrested, and then proceeded to inform them about the horrors of the fur trade, and gave them the phone number and web site of the Animal Defense League. At this point the police began searching through bags, confiscating gas masks, incendiary devices (bug spray), and weapons (toy slingshots, pocket knives, and even my safety pin). We began chanting "This is what a police state looks like" (a take off on the protest slogan, "This is what democracy looks like!") In response we heard drums beating, and slogans shouted down the street from behind the police barricades. It was extremely heartening that our comrades knew we what was happening to us and were showing their support.

We were separated according to age and loaded onto police buses. The buses drove off while we onboard chanted slogans such as "Anarchy is justice. Anarchy is peace. Anarchy is freedom. Fuck the police!" We looked out the windows and saw other demonstrators running alongside the bus yelling, waving, and giving us the clenched fist "power to the people" salute. The buses drove through downtown Los Angeles while we shouted out the windows, "Help! Were being kidnapped by people with guns. Call the police!" The buses arrived at the police station at Parker Center and we were kept on board the hot buses. Several of our group were getting sick from heatstroke. They would not give us any water, and we could not drink ourselves because we were handcuffed. We all began chanting, "Medic! Medic!" until the police were forced to take the sick comrades off the bus. Ambulances pulled up, and they were taken to the hospital. One of them was unconscious and had to have water given to him via intravenous tubes.

We were still on the bus and we began to talk to our captors. The Asian officer who was guarding us told us he couldnt help us because if he called into the station he would be ignored. He didnt know what we were arrested for, and talked about the disempowered nature of his job. He seemed significantly less empowered than we were! We asked him whether the police were unionized, and whether they could go on strike. He told us that the police were not allowed to strike and that "Disney (sweatshop) workers have a better union than we do." At which point a few of us started yelling "I.W.W." (the Industrial Workers of the World, a revolutionary anti-capitalist labor union).

However, as soon as we began to have this potentially productive conversation with our guard they unloaded us from the bus. It was about five oclock. As they took us off they took all of the possessions from our pockets, and even took our shoelaces. At this point many of us discovered that it is nearly impossible to walk wearing Converse All Stars without shoelaces. We were then photographed and sat down in a shady area of the police courtyard. The police gathered in the courtyard were all drinking bottled water, which they had been denying us for the last several hours. However, with enough demands, shouts, and concerns about heatstroke, the police came by and poured water into our mouths. We talked with the police guarding us about corporate power, the role of the police in society at large, and the illegal/unconstitutional nature of our arrest. One of the cops responded to this by telling us that we should have been prepared for the consequences when we decided to march down the sidewalk protesting during the Democratic National Convention, and that the First Amendment did not apply this week in LA. During this time, we saw a helicopter circling directly overhead, and saw many policemen and women putting on riot helmets and leaving the station. We realized with joy what this meant: that protestors were right outside of the station demonstrating their solidarity and support for us.

At around nine oclock, nearly six hours after our arrest I was taken in to be booked. They asked me various questions about my health, experience with the criminal justice system, sexual orientation, background, and whether I would waive my "right to remain silent" which I did not. Then I was taken inside where, six hours after they were put on me, the excruciatingly painful plastic handcuffs were removed. I was then taken into a side room, where I was made to strip, show the bottoms of my feet, run my hands through my hair, and spread my cheeks. They then took me to have an arrest receipt written up, and I was photographed and fingerprinted. Finally with nothing on me except my clothes, laceless shoes, arrest receipt, and an ID bracelet I was put into a small cell with several others from the animal liberation protest where I was able to make a few phone calls. I was extremely happy about this because I had agreed to meet my father at five. When I was finally able to get in touch with him, I was gratified by his congratulations, and his intense love and solidarity.

I also got in touch with the Midnight Special Law Collective, a group of movement lawyers who were in L.A. to provide legal support to those of us arrested during the protests. They answered their phone, "Midnight Special Law Collective. This is not a secure line." They informed me that there were several lawyers already at the police station to help us.

After we had made our phone calls we were taken to a large cell, where 18 of us were held for the night. The cell was large, with enough beds for about 50 people, three toilets, two water fountains, and two pay phones (collect calls only) stood against one of the walls. After putting down our prison blankets, and complaining about the fact that they had not given us anything to eat all day we settled into our cell. We stayed up very late, holding a consensus based meeting about our plans and prison solidarity. (As a side note, consensus is a process that rejects majority rule in favor of making decisions that everyone can live with. Therefor, if someone cannot bring himself or herself to agree, or at least accept the decision of the majority, the decision will not be used or carried out. The point of this is to try to make sure that everyones voices are heard in order to create true democracy. We immediately agreed that no matter what, we would remain physically and verbally nonviolent, and destroy no property. This was not so much out of philosophical conviction, as it was a clear analysis of the fact that any violence and destruction on our part would result in police brutality and additional criminal charges. We also came up with a list of things that we saw as necessary: that we stay together as a group, that we be served vegetarian meals, and that we be tried in court as a group. By the end of the meeting almost all of us were asleep.

We were woken up on Wednesday morning at 3:30 when the guards brought us breakfast. Although the food was a disgusting and often unrecognizable plate of eggs, toast, and potatoes, we ate it gratefully, as we had not eaten since the morning before. Later on that morning the guards came in and ordered eight of the 18 of us to line up, and prepare to be moved. In response we informed them that we would not be split up, and then proceeded to sit down on the floor of the cell and lock arms. We began to chant "Solidarity!", "We want to stay together!" and "We want to see our lawyer!" The police then told us that if the eight people called did not come to the cell door, then they would come and physically remove them. The feeling in the room was tense. Civil Disobedience is always an intense experience, but even more so in jail, where the police are in complete control, and can do whatever they want without being witnessed. However, after a little bit more thought, the police told us all to line up, and that all of us would be moved together to share a new cell. Although some argued that we should stay, and that the police were lying, we all followed their orders out of fear. The police then took us down the hall, and sure enough, they were lying, putting us all in separate cells.

I was put into a 10 by 15 cell with four beds and two other people in it. One of them was an older African American man in for possession of crack cocaine, and the other was a young Hispanic man in for robbery. Both of them were extremely kind to me, occasionally making friendly jokes about the protests, but also reassuring me that I would soon be out, due to the illegal nature of the arrest. Wednesday was a very long day, and since all of my possessions had been taken there was nothing to do but sleep, eat the disgusting prison food, call my parents, and watch television. We were also able to hear the shouts and chants of the massive anti-prison rally taking place right outside, and we were thrilled to know that there were thousands of people on the other side of the walls, demanding an end to the institutions that were responsible for our present situation. The news was on all day, and I saw a report about a violent animal rights protest at which the police had made arrests. This experience really brought home the manipulative nature of the corporate media. Its one thing to read Noam Chomskys writing on how the media lies, but its quite another to have been part of a completely nonviolent action, and then see yourself on television being described as violent.

Shortly after dinner, at about 7:00 p.m. shouts began to circulate around the hallway that 18 of us were going to be released. Full of hope and excitement, I waited. Soon an officer came to my cell, called my name, and told me I was being released. Another comrade and myself were put in handcuffs and taken downstairs, where our belongings were returned to us and we were released. Filled with relief and jubilation we walked out of Parker Center into the fresh Los Angeles evening. Lawyers from Midnight Special were waiting outside for us, where we filled out forms about ourselves and our arrest, so that Midnight Special could follow up on what happened, publicize the repression unleashed upon our group, and hopefully organize a lawsuit against LAPD for illegal arrest. Then several of us walked together down to Pershing Square to catch the end of an anti-police brutality rally, and carry on the struggle.

We were arrested not because we had done anything wrong, but because the police viewed us as a threat. Although we were completely nonviolent, we were arrested nonetheless, because we were a potentially violent and destructive force. (And, it was this that was illegal! One cant be arrested out of fear of what one might do. The U. S. Constitution guarantees this right to us, and, in fact, a judge had already ruled against the city in its wanting to stop protests and marches out of possibility of violence. Prior restraint is against the law. The city authorities knew this up front, but it didnt stop them from arresting us anyway.) Our group of anarchists, punks, and animal liberationists had all of the power, energy, anger, commitment, and militancy to cause serious damage, if that is what we had felt was appropriate. We did not, but the choice to be nonviolent was our choice, and at any time we could have become destructive, had we wanted to. It was this fact, that we had the power that threatened the L.A.P.D. and made them react by surrounding our tiny group with hundreds of cops and arresting us without any warning or dispersal order.

It is also interesting that of all of the activists arrested during the week, ours was the only one charged with felonies. While other people had purposefully broken unjust laws to make a statement and were charged with infractions and misdemeanors, our group broke no absolutely no laws and it was we who were charged with felonies. I believe that the primary reason for this was our uncompromising militancy and the presence of black bloc anarchists in our group. It was the fact that we were ready to tear the whole system down, and our potential to unleash revolutionary destructive power that made them so scared, leading to such a fascistic arrest, and the attempt to frame us on felony charges.

As with all of the repressive police actions in L.A., Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Seattle, this was another clear example of the police trying to intimidate us, and show that they were in charge. They acted with such intensity in their repression, because we were a threat to their maintained order, unlike the legal marches, which went where, when, and how the police told them to. Resistance leads to repression, but repression leads to even more resistance, and it is a cycle that either dies down, or ends in the overthrow of the repressive system, its institutions, and values. Our arrest led people to resist even more, and in the end the police were forced to release us because they were called on their shit, and they were unable to get away with such blatantly illegal repressive actions.
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