LAPD Attack Peaceful May Day March
The investigation of the LAPD officers’ brutal mass assault on the May 1 demonstrators at McArthur Park should not be limited to tactical errors or alleged poor training as the root causes. It should take a deep look at the reasons why commanders and scores of officers felt so free to attack a largely Latino crowd with a large number of children and elderly and a largely Latino press contingent with cameras rolling. It should bluntly ask if the fact that it was a largely Latino crowd advocating for an unpopular cause had something to do with the decision and the viciousness of the assault.
On May 1, as participants of one of two marches and rallies for immigration reform in Los Angeles were listening to the program, the LAPD’s Metro Squad, its so called elite force, launched a massive attack on the peaceful assembly. As the frightened crowd fled in chaos with elderly and children in tow, disciplined squadrons of officers in riot gear pursued them shooting hundreds of rubber bullets into the crowd indiscriminately, trampling on and beating with batons and kicks those who were not fast enough to get out of their way, including dozens of reporters and camera persons. Faced with widespread national and international condemnation, police and City elected officials have offered public apologies and promised to conduct open investigations into the command decisions and tactics and discipline responsible officers, whom they described as “out of control” or poorly trained. However, they have already suggested the police was provoked by a handful of anarchists throwing water bottles.
The attack was not by poorly trained out of control officers. This was a well planned and coordinated attack. All California officers are trained on how to respond to civil disorders at the basic academy level, and are constitutionally bound not to use excessive force and to stop fellow officers from using it. Officers are trained to shoot rubber bullets, and other so called less lethal weapons, only against violent or potentially violent suspects and are not to fire directly at people. They are trained to “skip fire,” to bounce the projectiles off the ground to strike legs and non-vital organs. Fired directly at people, the high-speed projectiles can cause death, break bones and result in the loss of eyesight.
Consistent with democratic principles, police officers are trained to be impartial keepers of the peace and protectors of the right to assemble, free speech and free press, whether they agree or disagree with the message of the demonstrators. Unfortunately, U.S. police forces and officers have historically sided with the ruling classes and the forces of racism, against minorities, immigrants, workers and the poor, and have served as forces of repression in our country’s long struggle for equality, social justice, civil rights, peace and labor rights.
The LAPD, in particular, has a century long checkered history of strike breaking, spying, conspiracies and provocations to destroy progressive Latino, African-American, labor and anti-war movements and organizations. It staged a similar assault on demonstrators at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Downtown Los Angeles. There, just like at McArthur Park, the LAPD broke up an important political mass demonstration by indiscriminate beatings and shootings with less lethal weapons. Like at McArthur Park, the alleged excuse for the wholesale attack on thousands of participants was the actions of a few “anarchists” throwing rocks. And we are now informed that the commander who ordered the assault on May 1 is the same commander who ordered the assault at the Democratic National Convention.
The assault on the families at McArthur Park carried a message to discourage our community from organizing and participating in mass mobilizations for immigration reform. They know the protests are family affairs and parents will be afraid to bring their children to other demonstrations. The message to the Spanish-speaking media was just as poignant. As a Latino camera man suggested, this was “pay back” for the Spanish speaking press empathetic coverage of community protests against police brutality.
The apologies, the promises to discipline involved officers, the suspension with pay of 60 officers and the reassignment of the incident commanders is not enough. Chief Bratton, Mayor Villaraigosa, the City Council and the Police Commission must file criminal charges against the officers who shot and beat up people, and take meaningful action to remove the supervisors who ordered or knew of the attack, but failed to stop it. Otherwise, this will be just another of the long running historical series of unpunished LAPD crimes against the people of Los Angeles and their democratic rights.
Antonio H. Rodriguez is a civil rights attorney in Los Angeles.
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