Lying to Larry King
Nothing 'Inadvertent' About Cops Clubbing Journalists
NewsForChange.com, August 17, 2000
LAPD Commander Dave Kalish looked confidently at the camera, listened to Larry King's question, and then lied through his mustache:
"Most unfortunately, I must say that one of your employees was poked by an inadvertent baton," Kalish said. "When journalists are integrated into violent situations..."
I was standing right there Wednesday afternoon, at the corner of Figueroa and 9th. The situation was tense (and bloody hot), but the only "violence" on display was the soft-toss of about seven little plastic water bottles and two small flags by protesters ... and the aggressive stick-work by riot cops who suddenly cleared the intersection of humanity at around 4:30 in the afternoon.
There was nothing "inadvertent" about it. Most all of the dozen or so people I saw get clubbed or jabbed ("poked" does not do the act justice) were quite obviously journalists, distinguishable from the knot of disobedient anarchist kids by their large camera get-ups, open reporters' notebooks, and more degenerate physiques.
"He rammed me hard," said Stan Lim, photographer for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, who standing next to me (off to the side of the serious knot of black-wearing protesters). "He didn't even say 'get back' or anything."
This is proving to be something of a deliberate enforcement tactic during the Convention's daily street struggle: use the element of surprise to disperse an occupied street area, just like the Marines might do. Dozens who saw the ruckus on Monday night say they were not adequately warned by police to clear the area.
The other LAPD habit familiar to anyone who covers the military is the obfuscation, exaggeration and flat-out lying employed when spokesmen discuss performance.
Commander Tom Lorenzen, for example, described Monday's cavalry-led attack on protesters as "textbook" -- the same dispersal at which a bystander was trampled by a horse, a peaceful homeless activist was shot in the chest and carted off in ambulance, and several journalists were struck by rubber bullets. bullets. "We're not going to rest on our laurels," he crowed to the L.A. Times. "We're ready to go again."
Wednesday's action was certainly a better performance than Monday: on a muggy day of virulently anti-police demonstrations during which protesters shouted such uncharitable chants as "Fuck the pigs!" and "You're full of shit!," the agitated cops were able to disperse an occupied block without the use of force, aside from the quick mini-push mentioned above. Only four shots were fired (of what I'm not sure), nobody got crushed by a horse, and an occasionally tense confrontation was diffused, largely due to heat and boredom.
But. A police force should not, cannot operate like a military. Citizens are different than the armies of enemy states. Taxpayers deserve a straight answer to how their money -- and preciously given authority -- is being spent, not another hyper-spinned version of "we were perfect!" If today's version was "perfect," why did an officer whack one of the most aggressive baton-"pokers" in the back right after he smacked a photographer, and say "discipline, discipline!" to all the zealous cops on the front line right after their surge?
Most of all, the police and the city must not measure their success merely by totalling up statistics, like arrests and injuries. Under Clinton/Gore and before, police culture has increasingly received the message that the ends justify the means. The opposite, actually, is true.
If the cost of having looting-free streets is allowing downtown L.A. to become an occupied zone of intimidating police who make it painfully clear that non-violent types are more likely to get clubbed in the back than be able to actually converse with a delegate, then this enforcement strategy wasn't worth it.