Tuesday, May 29, 2007

May Day Melee Report

LA Police Chief William J. Bratton reported today to the (civilian) LA Police Commission on the preliminary findings of the investigation into the "May Day Melee,"when LA police officers broke up a permitted and peaceful pro-immigrant demonstration at MacArthur Park with batons and rubber bullets. Bratton told the commission that there had been a breakdown in "command and control" which "began at the planning stages and dominoed throughout the event itself."
I was not present at the May Day rally but I have been to many other demonstrations in Los Angeles in the past few years. The primary source of trouble at these events is the adversarial presence of the LAPD. No one would have thrown rocks and bottles at the police had they not been there. And they are not needed, not in the numbers usually deployed, not with the weaponry always at hand, and not for the purpose they evidently are meant to serve. The crowds at permitted demonstrations generally control themselves; the occasional disturbance not initiated by the police typically involves just a few isolated people and could be handled by march organizers if brigades of riot-geared police did not immediately materialize at the scene to attract and inflame a crowd. Moreover, the military formations, armor and poses generally adopted by the police at demonstrations send a clear, if incorrect, message that participants are breaking or are highly likely to break the law, when all they are doing is exercising a right to speak. I brought my children with me to one of the marches outside the 2000 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles (not the one where police on horseback rode into the crowd) and they were so intimidated by the line of helmeted, armed, hot and sweating police glowering at the dancing, singing crowd at every intersection that they kept asking me if we were committing a crime.
The most magnificent rally I ever saw in Los Angeles was the pro-immigrant demonstration on March 26, 2006. That crowd was many times the size anticipated and must have included all of the May Day 2007 marchers--it seemed to have drawn every immigrant in Southern California. I don't know why, but there were no crowd control police in evidence at that event--none. There must have been some police somewhere because additional streets had to be closed to accommodate the huge number of marchers, but I never saw them--in fact, we could have used a few more police at some of the intersections to assist bewildered and angry drivers caught in the parade. As far as I know, there was no trouble at that demonstration. No hostility, no shoving, no vandalism, not even any littering! Why, then, was it assumed that a small army had to be on hand to control a fraction of the same population on May Day? I can't help recalling the immortal words of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley:
The police are not here to create disorder; the police are here to preserve disorder.

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