LAPD Beatings End Concert
Monday, August 14, 11:30 p.m. -- What began as a peaceful, festive march through downtown Los Angeles became violent tonight as police officers shot high-pressure water and pepper spray pellets at protesters, and later chased them down on horses while beating them with batons.
The afternoon's event began at Pershing Square, about half a mile from the Staples Center, where thousands of people converged for a march organized by Global Exchange around the theme "Human Needs Not Corporate Greed." A variety of speakers roused the crowd with speeches on issues ranging from labor rights to the prison-industrial complex, until the march finally stepped off at about 5:00. The march itself resembled a joyous political parade, with anti-nuclear group Peace Action carrying three enormous missile balloons labeled "Star Wars=New Arms Race." A local salsa band, East L.A. Sabor Factory, played on a flatbed truck, while indigenous American dancers performed in beaded costumes along the route. Hundreds of colorful puppets punctuated the crowd.
As the march wound its way to the Staples Center, the crowd swelled to several times its original size, as waves of people showed up for a free concert by Rage Against the Machine. They gathered in a paved lot only a few hundred yards from the Center which had been specially designated for protests during the week. With fifteen-foot high fences embedded in two-foot thick concrete barricades surrounding the entire perimeter of the Staples Center, there seemed to be little possibility of the crowd posing a real threat to the convention. The mood was generally one of joyous celebration and pointed, informed protest.
By the time Rage Against the Machine played, the lot was full and onlookers estimated the crowd to be upwards of 20,000, making it the largest protest so far during the Democratic National Convention. The band played about half a dozen songs to an exuberant crowd, with singer Zach de le Rocha, himself a well-known radical activist, shouting, "we have a right to oppose these motherfuckers" and directing everyone's attention to the convention center where thousands of delegates anxiously awaited speeches by Bill and Hillary Clinton.
When the band finished playing, a series of speakers took the stage to express solidarity with the U'wa people of South America, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the protesters in Philadelphia who have sat in jail since the Republican National Convention two weeks ago. A group of people began clustering against the fence on the north side of the lot, facing directly toward the Staples Center, behind which four rows of police officers stood in full riot gear, holding batons, pepper spray guns and other tactical equipment. A few people threw plastic water bottles over the fence, which popped on the ground and sprayed the officers.
A standoff that lasted at least an hour then ensued. While much of the crowd ambled off into the night, an estimated four thousand remained in the lot. A strange assortment of items found their way over the fence, including shoes, cardboard tubes, CD's, a handicapped parking sign, small bits of concrete and many plastic water bottles. In retaliation, the police opened fire at least five times on the protesters with pepper spray, which is shot in a capsule form that explodes on contact to emit a substance highly irritable to the eyes, nose and throat. In addition, they shot paintgun pellets, rubber bullets and water from a high-pressure hose through holes in the fence. A ranking police officer announced over a megaphone that the assembly had been declared unlawful, and that all those present were required to disperse or risk arrest.
The protesters remained steadfast, holding signs against the fence that called for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader's inclusion in the presidential debates and an end to corporate welfare, among other things. Two young people scaled the fence and straddled it, waving black flags that symbolize anarchy. They made no attempts to jump down on the convention side of the fence.
The police officers reinforced their lines several times with additional officers, some of whom were equipped with teargas. A superior officer noted that even the officers with paintguns had teargas pellets which they could load into their guns at a moments notice. The protesters made a bonfire in the street, played drums and chanted while the police officers intermittently attacked them through the fence. Dozens of people watched the events unfold from balconies of the convention center, but only a handful of reporters from the mainstream press were present at the time, since it coincided with the Clintons' speeches.
After about an hour, the final straw of the standoff was drawn when about twenty police officers on horseback charged at the remaining few hundred protesters, many of whom were actually trying to leave the area when they were cornered. The horses stomped on people and chased them as the mounted cops swung their batons and yelled. At one point, four young Mexican-American men were thrown up against the fence by a cluster of horses while the mounted police officers beat them repeatedly with batons. The young men held their arms over their heads to protect themselves, and eventually were able to run from the attack.
Amidst torrents of screams and youths running desperately in every direction, giant television screens on the exterior of the Staples Center broadcast President Clinton delivering his much anticipated address. "America is more confident, hopeful and just, more secure and free," he said, " because we offered a vision and worked together to achieve it." Not far from his projected visage, about thirty people took refuge from the wild horses on the stage while everyone at ground level was chased south to Olympic Avenue and away from the area. The group on the stage was ordered down and detained by police officers for twenty minutes before being ordered to leave.
Once the area that two hours previous had penned in 20,000 protesters was completely empty, the convention let out and delegates saw no evidence of what had happened besides some water bottles on the ground and riot cops standing at attention.
As of the time of writing, there was no information available about arrests or injuries. The ACLU Free Speech Resource Center is available for protesters to file incident reports and solicit information about their rights at www.aclu-sc.org.