Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Cops in Los Angeles

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

Monday I received a last minute invite to a Dodgers game that night. The four of us had great seats, the best I've ever had a baseball game, right behind home plate, only three rows back (not counting the super special section in front of us!). Too bad the Dodgers stunk up the joint, with the Diamondbacks winning 9-1 (apparently the Dodgers had played a 17-inning game the previous day).

Two guys in front of us were really friendly, filling us in on a few players and the recent Dodgers record, making jokes, even giving us a spare beer they weren't going to drink — and ball park beer ain't cheap! It turns out they were both cops, from Bakersfield (about 100 miles north of Dodgers Stadium!), and probably the nicest cops I've ever met.

In very sharp contrast, the local news has been airing footage of the police assaulting journalists and demonstrators here in town at a May Day rally this past Tuesday. It's a pretty big local story that only now seems to be trickling into national coverage.

Think Progress has some of the video from CNN here. Photos from The Los Angeles Times are here. Jim Swanson has a short post on it here, and will be covering it in this weekend's Blue Herald podcast.

The Los Angeles Times featured several important stories on these events. From "Police action on journalists at melee is assailed":

One day after several reporters and camera operators were injured while covering an altercation at an immigrant rights rally in MacArthur Park, news organizations condemned the Los Angeles Police Department for its use of batons and riot guns against members of the media, and some said they were considering legal options.

"We are sorry for what happened to our employees and find it unacceptable that they would be abused in that way when they were doing their job," said Alfredo Richard, spokesman for the Spanish-language network Telemundo, of the anchor and the reporter who were hurt during the evening rally.

Other members of the media who were injured included four employees of KVEA-TV Channel 52, a KTTV-TV Channel 11 news reporter who suffered a minor shoulder injury, a camerawoman who has a broken wrist and a reporter for KPCC-FM (89.3) who was bruised by a police baton.

"I was dumbfounded," said the KPCC reporter, Patricia Nazario. "I've covered riots. I've covered chaos. I was never hit or struck or humiliated the way the LAPD violated me yesterday."

Nazario said she was walking away from riot police when she was hit in the back.

Wearing a press pass and holding a microphone, she turned around and told the officer, "Why did you hit me? I'm moving. I'm a reporter," Nazario recalled.

Then the officer hit her on the left leg, she said, knocking her to the ground and sending her cellphone flying.

"I was shocked, trying to scramble to my feet," she said. "At that point, I just started crying…. I just felt totally vulnerable.

This was far from an isolated incident:

Pedro Sevcec was anchoring the evening news for Telemundo when he saw the riot police moving slowly toward the news crews.

A few dozen people had gathered to watch Sevcec do his live broadcast.

"The next thing I heard was the shotguns," he said.

Police knocked over monitors and lights and hit reporters and camera operators with batons, he said.

Sevcec said police hit him three times and pointed a riot gun at his face before pushing him out of the park.

An emergency anchor in Miami took over the broadcast.

"It was so ridiculous," Sevcec said. "They know what a TV camera is. This is not a secret weapon."

Telemundo reporter Carlos Botifoll said he was hit by a baton as he was waiting to go live on the broadcast.

He was carrying a microphone and standing in front of a camera.

"We were obviously reporters," he said. "There could not have been any doubt whatsoever."

The cops also knocked over lights, grabbed cameras and threw them. The article continues:

Peter Eliasberg, an ACLU lawyer who helped negotiate the settlement, said that based on broadcast news reports he has heard and viewed, "the police went way over the line," using force that "violates the law and the Constitution."

Marc Cooper, associate director of the USC Annenberg Institute for Justice in Journalism, said the video he viewed of the clash led him to believe that the use of force by police was "unjustifiable and excessive."

"From what I saw, it just seemed gratuitous to go after the reporters," Cooper said. "They weren't really in the way, they didn't really pose a threat and, of course, they were trying to do their job."

L.A. Police Chief William Bratton has expressed his displeasure. From "Chief vows full inquiry into violence":

"The treatment you received yesterday from some Los Angeles police officers … we can't tolerate and won't tolerate," Bratton told reporters at a City Hall news conference, extending his remarks to members of the public also caught up in the incident.


Questions also were raised about the large number of projectiles fired by officers attempting to control the crowd. At least 240 rounds made of foam, sponge or fiber were fired as police swept through the park about 6:15 p.m. The move came after police clashed with a small group of protesters near the intersection of 7th and Alvarado streets.

"Two hundred and forty rounds with no arrests is of grave concern to me," Bratton said, acknowledging that none of the rounds fired were directly related to the arrests of eight adults and one juvenile during the rally on charges that included assault with a deadly weapon in a rock-throwing incident and public drunkenness. The chief labeled some of the officers' actions "inappropriate."


In footage shot by Fox News and Telemundo reporters, police officers can be seen grabbing Fox reporter Christina Gonzalez and forcefully pushing her out of the way as she crouched to protect her camerawoman, who had fallen after being struck by a police baton. "I am helping her move, sir!" Gonzalez said, her voice agitated.

The officer is heard saying: "Move her back away from the skirmish line or you're under arrest."

As Gonzalez, whose husband is a retired LAPD officer, struggled to regain her footing, an officer pushed her by the shoulders, spinning her around.

"You can't do that," Gonzalez yelled at an officer, jabbing a finger in his direction. "You cannot do that and you know it."

Jill Leovy, a Los Angeles Times reporter who was at the scene, gives her account here. (The Google map of MacArthur Park is here. You can also switch to a satellite photo view.) Meanwhile, Warren Olney discussed the events on local NPR show Which Way L.A.? (30 minutes long).

This is infuriating behavior by the police. Being a cop can be very dangerous, but when a cop pushes a woman in the back who's already walking away, or grabs a video camera and throws it, or clubs a person who's no threat, absolutely these cops know what they're doing, and they know what they're doing is wrong. It's inexcusable. Some people cannot be trusted with power. A good cop tries to keep the peace and builds community ties. Bad cops abuse their position of authority. Sadly, there have always been people happy for any excuse to beat someone else up, and even more sadly, there always seems to be a percentage of those people in the police force, in the armed forces, and among prison guards. The Brits refer to that attitude as hooliganism (even if they generally don't apply it to cops). Dress a thug in a uniform and give him a badge, but it doesn't make the attitude any more honorable, despite the veneer of respectability. He's still a thug. It's only a question of who he's working for.

According to the Los Angeles Times, there were 25,000-some demonstrators, but only a small percentage were being disruptive. The original rally at City Hall was reportedly much larger, but also overwhelmingly peaceful. Demonstrators shouldn't assault the police either, but throwing a plastic bottle at cops in riot gear isn't remotely comparable to hitting someone with a baton or firing a rubber bullet at him or her — especially when that person didn't throw the bottle! I have no problem with the police arresting those people who reportedly threw debris and such. However, the police went far beyond that, and the video doesn't lie.

New questions continue to emerge and the FBI is now investigating as well. It's encouraging that Bratton, the FBI and others are looking into this, but it's discouraging that it's necessary in the first place.

I'm thinking the Bakersfield Police Department should come down and teach the LAPD something about community relations. This incident has really damaged them here.

Some of the comments on the Los Angeles Times forums about the incident pretty disturbing. It shouldn't be forgotten the L.A. police had a choice. They did not have to react the way they did. Compare the ugly tone they set with the lovely one they destroyed, as described in this Los Angeles Times editorial:

THE TENS OF THOUSANDS who gathered at the base of Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday bore a blend of messages. Many urged comprehensive immigration reform and complained about the demonization of migrants. Some called for amnesty. Smatterings pleaded for sundry fringe political causes.

But overwhelming all other displays was a sea of U.S. flags, waved cheerfully by people asking to join a country conflicted about their welcome. Other than a Fourth of July on the Washington Mall, it's hard to think of a more full-throated pledge of allegiance.

Choosing between those two tones shouldn't be that hard.

Make sure to listen to further coverage via Jim Swanson's Week in Review podcast, available at 5am this Saturday, 5/5.

1 comment:

pissed off patricia said...

I have seen the video of this several times and it looks like the cops were damned angry and just went nuts. There is no rhyme nor reason to who they hit. They were like rabid dogs, just lashing out all around the crowd. These guys should never be allowed to carry weapons again and they surely shouldn't be policemen.