March Goes On Without Permit
Protestors finished the evening elated at completing their first successful, unplanned and un-permitted march.
When 3,000 activists met at noon in Pershing Square to protest police brutality, the death penalty and the national growth in incarcerations, onlookers feared the worst. Yet the spirit of co-operation reigned when people began to congregate.
"Starting out people were peaceful and excited for the march," said Courtney Franklin a 22-year-old protester. "I didn't see anything violent."
Another young protestor agreed, saying, "The crowd was up-beat. There were puppets and a drum beat going on in the background."
Yet despite their non-violent stance, the protesters encountered agressive police.
The group left Pershing Square and marched to the headquarters of the L.A.P.D. and proceeded from there to the Staples Center where they hoped that their gathering would catch the eyes of some of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention being held there. They were accompanied by a truck outfitted with generator-powered speakers and puppets.
When they arrived at the Staples Center, a young African-American woman climbed on top of the truck and took the microphone.
"She gave a very moving speech," said protestor Michal Lando, a senior at Berkley University. The crowd, Lando said, agreed with what she was doing by "letting the public know that the people are out here because they care about these things."
The police department was taking the predominantly college-age group seriously in a different way than they hoped. Rows of policemen on foot stood on every side street, reinforced by rows of police cars and motorcycles. The largest fleet of motorcycles had 22 members, and troops of police, both mounted and on foot, constantly sped from one side of the protest to another, intermittently flashing lights and blipping sirens.
The four edges of the space were enclosed by rows of policemen in riot gear, plastic hand-cuffs, tear-gas cylinders and guns prepped to shoot rubber bullets. As they have been during the last several days, helicopters swarmed the sky above the gathering making the area resemble a war zone.
One policeman even said, "You get caught in there you are a casualty of war."
"Collateral damage," added another.
By 5:15, the L.A.P.D. had decided to enact what one policeman unabashedly referred to as the "divide and conquer" strategy. A line of police in riot gear stormed through the center of the crowd, pushing roughly a quarter of them into the space that had been designated for their meeting.
The stage on which Rage Against the Machine played two nights ago was to be used to voice concern about police brutality and other institutional violence. But protestors never got there. Once the police had divided the group, they forced each section back, jamming the crowd together.
"The cops rushed the line a few times," said Matthew Nicholson, 22.
"They pushed us back almost an entire city block," Franklin added.
A handful of protesters, already aggravated by the massive police presence and further provoked by the rushing of the crowd threw water bottles. According to several protestors, one woman was hit several times with a billy club and several people were pushed to the ground by the police.
When the police rushed the line, people began to run while others cried, "Please don't run. Please don't run."
All day people had been talking about Monday evening and the prematurely ended Rage Against the Machine concert at which Pacifica Radio reported that people were being hit by mounted police because they were not exiting the nearly sealed pen in which they were assembled as they had been instructed.
People were also talking about the Critical Mass bikers who had been arrested and asked to post bail of $20,000 for traffic violations forced on them when the police drove them the wrong way up a one-way street. Everyone is getting tired of being stared down by the cops camped out on every corner silently daring pedestrians rushing from meeting to meeting to jay-walk.
After the group had been separated and the pushing stopped, the delegates to the Democratic National Convention began to file out of the Staples Center and into the crowd. Once, when demonstrators would not let delegates pass, things were tense, but no violence erupted.
Some protesters yelled "Shame on you!" as delegates walked by. Lando, who was denied exit by the police troops lining the edge of the crowd was dismayed when several delegates who flashed their badges were immediately allowed to pass through the wall.
Around 6:30 P.M, the police ordered the crowd to disperse.
"We weren't scheduled to be in the space until 5:00, and since we arrived at 4:45, they claimed that it was an illegal protest," said Bob Soden, 21.
A handful of protestors were arrested, but the rest turned around and marched back to Pershing Square, where the march had originated. The police followed the crowd, but did not interfere.
Even after they arrived at the square "the police ran around but did nothing," said 20 year-old Amanda Alves, a veteran of the Seattle and A-16 protests.
Several of the protesters delivered speeches. "They talked about how glad they were that an unplanned, un-permitted rally had happened. They talked about Bush and Gore and Ralph Nader," Alves said. "This is all about corporate control."
Around 8:30, the several hundred protestors who remained at the square headed to the Convergence Center, where they plan their meetings and rallies. The tired group shuffled off into the darkness, quietly chatting.
Police were standing guard in cars parked side by side on a sidewalk a few blocks away.