Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Progressive Christians Uniting - Experience with LAPD Brutality

May 1: Violence in MacArthur Park
dancersThis is what happened.

The march ended at Wilshire and Alvarado, and the last organization in the march was a Native American drumming and dancing troupe. They stopped in the street to dance, and a huge circle, mostly of families with small children, gathered around them to watch, cheer, and clap. It was peaceful and jubilant, a celebration, not a protest. The police were there, but no one was paying any attention to them.

Suddenly there were sirens, very loud and close. Police motorcycles drove into the crowd around the dancers. There was no announcement - or if there was, no one could hear it over the sirens. Imagine the deafening noise of many sirens only a few feet from you, the motorcycle driving towards you, pushing you forward. Imagine the panic of women with small children in strollers. People tried to get away from the motorcycles, but the police would not allow you to walk through them. When I tried, I was pushed roughly back in front of the motorcycles. I saw three middle school girls standing hugging each other in front of a motorcycle, the wheel pushing against their feet and legs, the sirens blasting in their ears, the policeman screaming at them. I saw people being pushed off their feet. When I saw the police start striking someone, I ran over to try to put myself between them. I saw people dragging their friends away from the police.

Eventually they pushed us back onto the sidewalk. No one knew why they were doing this or what was happening. A line of police in riot gear faced us as we crowded on the sidewalk, bewildered and bruised and angry. We hadn't been doing anything wrong. They hadn't asked us to move, or tried to communicate with us in any way other than violence. The noise was deafening, terrifying, disorienting. Teenagers with piercings yelled at the police. I pointed at the ground, trying to tell the police, look, I'm on the sidewalk. The police yelled at us. You had to yell to be heard.

police lineBut the tension faded. The National Lawyers Guild passed the word along that as long as we stayed on the sidewalk, there would be no problems. Most of the teenagers had calmed down. There was nothing to see - just the people lined up on the sidewalk, the police in the street. People were a little bewildered. Why were the police here? What were they doing? Why were there so many of them? Why did they have guns and canisters? But no one was doing anything. We just stood there, talking, laughing, drinking water, eating corn, taking pictures. We wondered what on earth there were so many police for.

And then suddenly the kids - the same teenagers that had been yelling at the police - ran along the sidewalk, yelling get back, get back, they've declared unlawful assembly, they're going to arrest everyone. We heard shots. Within the park, from the corner of Alvarado and 7th, I saw people running. I ran towards them. I wanted to make sure that people were not responding violently to the police, that no one was being hurt.

No one was violent, but people were indeed being hurt. Keep in mind that there had been no announcement - or at least, no effective announcement. I had been in the front the entire time, less than two feet from the police. Surely I would have heard an announcement if there was one. The only announcement had been rumor. Later on, I would hear a completely unintelligible announcement from a helicopter. I could tell that it was in English. Even if I had been able to understand it, many in the crowd would not have. There were no requests to disperse. There was no warning to the crowd. There was no explanation. There was no effort to communicate.

The police entered the park shooting gas or smoke canisters. People panicked, running in all directions. I saw a couple, bewildered, start walking in the wrong direction. I held up my hands and said to the police, I'm going to get those people, I am going to help those people there, and went down to them, guiding them in front of the line and towards the exit. They didn't speak much English. I continued to walk slowly in front of the police. Suddenly I saw a homeless man, sleeping under a tree. The police line approached, screaming at him. He woke up, confused. Someone with a camera tried to help him, but was beaten off. He tottered to his feet, trying to grab his suitcase and blanket. The police screamed at him. He held out his hands to them. Perhaps that seemed threatening. I saw two policemen start hitting him with their batons, one to his legs, one to his chest. I started back towards him, thinking I could put myself between him and the police, but that's all I saw, because then the police had me.

I was thrown to the ground . . .

Read on at: May Day in LA

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