The LAPD released its report on what went wrong at the May 1 2007 "May Day Melee" this morning. The Los Angeles Times story is here. The report itself can be downloaded here from this link.
After a self-serving executive summary in which the LAPD congratulates itself for having "managed" the May Day 2006 rallies and "and enabled participants to express their First Amendment rights," and describes "The images of helmeted officers, using batons to push and strike members of the public and
the media and firing less-lethal impact munitions at people in the park" as "disconcerting," the report thoroughly and grimly describes how "planning was inadequate, tactics were flawed, command had broken down, situational awareness was poor, proper training was lacking," and individual officers and supervisors displayed poor judgment and a lack of common sense in their use of force and in their failure to intervene in the unjustified conduct of others.
Although I have only skimmed the report, the big picture appears to be that the Board of Police Commissioners refused to issue a permit for a march to the MacArthur Park rally planned by MIWON (Multi-Ethnic Immigrant Worker Organizing Network) for the afternoon of May Day 2007, even after MIWON obtained a permit from the Parks Department for the rally itself. With no permit to designate a route and close the streets, thousands of protesters had to march on the sidewalks from their multiple gathering areas to the park. Eventually, the marchers overflowed onto Alvarado and 7th on the southeast side of the park and Park View and Wilshire on the northwest.
With no effective plan for dealing with marchers in place, unstructured confrontations between police and demonstrators occurred at both locations as the police took it upon themselves to "move" the crowd in one direction or another: motorcycle police rode into a group at the north end in an effort to get them into the park, while "rocks and bottles" were thrown by troublemakers at the south end. (The report explains that "rocks and bottles" is a term of art for any projectiles launched at police officers; it is possible that the "rocks and bottles" were plastic bottles and included no rocks.) What was essentially a rumor that the entire park had been declared an unlawful assembly spread among the police on the south side of the park and they began to "clear the park." In case anyone has forgotten what happened next, here is a full report on the melee, with plenty of film, from Democracy Now.
The report sheds plenty of light on the LAPD's mistakes in responding to what began as a minor disturbance at the fringe of the rally, but it misses the most important point: there would have been no disturbance at all if the police had not been there. The only misconduct described in the report, other than that committed by police, was directed at police and inspired by their presence. The idea that the crowds at marches and rallies must be controlled and policed permeates the report, while the notion that police presence incites trouble is not even considered. Yet the largest immigration rally Los Angeles has ever seen was the March 26, 2006 pro-immigrant demonstration. There was no violence, no trouble, not even any littering at that wonderful event and, while we could have used a few traffic cops, the LAPD did not show up. Maybe in addition to all the enhanced training in "command and control", "use of force policy" and "arrest posture", the LAPD might consider learning a little wu wei.