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The L.A. Democratic Convention: Police State USA

In the alternative media come a few interesting stories about the protests accompanying the Democratic convention in Los Angeles that the mainstream media largely ignored. Laura Flanders, reported (In These Times, Oct 2, 2000) on how the plucky protesters had their own Independent Media Center (IMC). IMC broadcast news stories in radio, video and print. (Unfortunately, they also faxed this writer news bulletins at 2:00 a.m. E.S.T. for four straight days.)

IMC was involved in a joint production with several other upstart, progressive groups. Together they were involved in the making of a live TV broadcast that reached a potential audience of 21 million homes via satellite, public access cable and the web. On August 14, police responded to what they said was an alleged bomb threat and barred anyone’s access to the IMC satellite truck at the same time that IMC was due to be on-air. As Flanders writes, a member of the L.A. sheriff’s department even quipped that the “[bomb] threat would evaporate as soon as the satellite time elapsed.”

And, it did. Although the police, under a dubious pretext, were violating their First Amendment rights, the IMC still managed to make a social statement. They posted an announcement explaining that LAPD intervention was stopping the expected broadcast. Apparently angry viewers made thousands of phone calls to the LAPD.

Later in the same evening, a police riot occurred which the mainstream media (e.g., the L.A. Times) did report, although not with much concern. The rock band Rage Against the Machine played a set in front of 15,000 outside the Staples center in the city’s “legal protest zone”; i.e., a parking lot cordoned off by an eight- foot-tall fence topped with concertina wire (Counterpunch, August, 2000). After Rage was finished, a couple of young protesters climbed a fence, waved an anarchist flag and briefly taunted the police, who were nearby. The very eager LAPD then cut power to the stage and ordered the crowd to disperse. The crowd booed but began to exit the fenced-in lot. The cops then began pepper-spraying the people closest to a fence in an effort to provoke the protesters.

It worked. The protesters lobbed a few bottles and pieces of concrete at the cops, falling far short of actually hitting anyone. This is when the cops went berserk. About a hundred cops on horseback rode into the crowd and trampled more than a dozen people. Behind them 500 cops carrying guns, blocked the only exit, and then began to strafe the crowd, firing for more than 45 minutes. The courageous LAPD had the protesters huddling on the ground as they fired rubber bullets at them.

For much of the L.A. Convention, the Washington Post discouraged their readers from taking interest in the activities of the protesters. While failing to report on events like the LAPD shutdown of IMC, and largely ignoring the 45-minute police riot, the Post was running condescending commentary stating the L.A. protests were fizzling out because the activists were too unfocused in what they were trying to say.

Many readers of this newspaper already know how the police have been suppressing free speech and criminalizing dissent in Philadelphia, D.C. and Seattle during the protests of the Republican convention, World Bank and World Trade Organizations, respectively. However, from my recent experiences as a contributor on the Sun’s website message board Sunspot it appears that most people either have not noticed that the mainstream media has been serving up unwavering support for the largely unconstitutional police crackdowns--or are looking away.

I cannot put into words my desire for more people to realize that the mainstream media is becoming a serious threat to our democracy. One of the best organizations for the casual citizen to get in touch with is Fairness and Accuracy in Media (FAIR). Their e-mail list is free; their magazine is cheap but outstanding. You don’t have to have a great deal of free-time to get involved; and we all have to get involved if we want to avoid living in the police state that appears to be just around the bend.

Scott Loughrey

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