CityWatch, Dec 6, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 97
RETHINKING LA - As the dust settles on the now gated community of City Hall Park and the accolades over the LAPD’s “peaceful” engagement fade into background noise, it is apparent that the LAPD’s PR team is still working full force and with deadly force.
The first casualties occurred within the ranks of the embedded media, the “legitimate” media who were given access to the LAPD’s operations with a few strings attached. Apparently the conditions included avoiding tough questions and agreeing to act as a tool for the LAPD as the conversation continued.
LAPD media dies on the battlefield and a co-opted PR machine rises in its place.
Consider the recent LA Times report on the identities of those arrested during the removal of Occupy LA from City Hall Park. Did the LAPD feed this to the Times the way they “release” data on gang members as a mechanism for building an injunction case? Why did the data include employment information but nothing relevant such as the reason for arrest, whether charges had been filed, if the person had been released, and the bail amount?
While family members visited different jails in search of their loved ones but encountered a lack of information and a wall of “It takes time to process this many arrestees!” The LA Times was able to print a list of names on December 1, 2011 that included detail such as occupation, age, race, and location of residence.
How is the LAPD so clear when it comes to feeding the press but so confused when it comes to helping families find loved ones?
The second casualty was the LAPD’s commitment to Community Policing, a law enforcement strategy that relies on a partnership between the community and the police.
While the LAPD claims the high-road for restraining its forces from using pepper spray and batons, the “shock and awe” display was a clear “us vs. them” approach that positions the LAPD as the liberating army, not the partners in public safety.
When it takes 1400 police officers in military grade riot gear to arrest 300 protesters who have trained publicly in non-violent protest strategies, it is evident that the LAPD has no confidence in its ability to forge relationships, negotiate a peaceful process of arrests, and treat people with respect.
It’s important to note that the Occupy LA protesters initially engaged the LAPD and other law enforcement officers with cheers of “One of us!” and “We’re all 99%!” but that faded quickly as the LAPD worked hard to offend all, including spectators and non-pool media.
Officer Escamilla is captured on video pointing his shotgun at a reporter who yelled “You just pointed your weapon at me, that’s not necessary!” The LAPD officer in riot gear responded by leaning in and saying “Don’t worry about it!”
The LAPD’s “shock and awe” approach to Occupy LA is reminiscent of the LAPD’s approach to gangs under Chief Gates, one that depended on significant force and a “gung-ho” approach to policing.
If the LAPD’s military approach to Occupy LA is any indication, the people of LA can expect them to use this recent engagement as an argument for increasing their budget, their authority and their occupation of the City of Los Angeles.
The third casualty of the Occupy LA movement was the LAPD’s memory. Ten years ago, during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, the LAPD came under fire for its handling of people arrested during everything from a bike ride, a concert, protests, and the convention itself.
The City paid out huge settlements based on the way arrestees where handled after their arrest, including the street detention, the bus trip, the multiple strip searches, the denial of access to lawyers and family, and the lengthy custody resulting in release with no charges filed.
In other words, the process becomes the punishment and the punishment comes without conviction.
The recent Occupy LA stories of the LAPD’s inability to smoothly process the detention of 300 protesters mimics the experiences of the 70 detainees during the DNC in 2000 who were awarded almost a million dollars simply based on the punitive process. And yet, the LAPD still relied on the LA Sheriff’s Department to transport the arrestees and the LAPD still concluded their engagement with no evident plan for processing the anticipated detainees.
Now that the LAPD’s PR machine has slowed down, perhaps the people of LA could share in a moment of silence as we mourn the recent casualties of the LAPD’s military engagement, including LA’s “legitimate” media, any delusions of the LAPD’s commitment to community policing, the LAPD’s connection with history and its ability to learn from the past.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)