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Commentary

Protecting the Lives--and Rights--of All

August 16, 2000|BERNARD C. PARKS | Bernard C. Parks is the Los Angeles police chief

Try to imagine it.

You're being taunted by people screaming obscenities. You're being struck by rocks, concrete blocks and water bottles hurled at you by individuals who are doing their level best to incite a full-scale riot. Steel balls launched by slingshots strike you and the horse upon which you sit, which is injured. You watch as fires are lit in and around the crowd. A pro-anarchy, pro-violence, pro-destruction group of "entertainers" called Rage Against the Machine has whipped the crowd up into a fury.

This was the scene outside the Staples Center on Monday night. The lawbreakers had been participating in criminal behavior for well over an hour, and, as it became more serious, their criminal acts drove us to take action. The leadership of the Los Angeles Police Department had to make a decision, and make it lightning fast. Play passive, and let the rabble turn the "melee" into an ugly and, quite possibly, lethal firestorm. Or take the initiative, moving decisively and in force, to disperse the crowd and clear the immediate environs of the Staples Center.

We chose the latter course, and I'm convinced that it was precisely the right course.

It needs to be said that the hard-core band of individuals who actually perpetrated the violence were not "protesters" and should not be so described. I lived through the 1960s and the civil rights movement. Monday night's shirtless troublemakers wouldn't know what a protest is or what a real, honest-to-God cause is if one hit them in the face.

It also needs to be said that I'm fully aware of the constitutional right of people wanting to advocate any and all causes to lawfully bring attention to their causes. We've been working with organizations for several months to make sure that they will be able to make their voices heard this week in a lawful manner.

What we won't tolerate, though, are the activities of a small band of hooligans intent on unlawfully engaging in violent acts, trying to provoke police officers into playing the game on their terms. Because of the size of the crowd attending the "concert" Monday night, LAPD officers used crowd control methods that proved extremely effective, with consideration for the safety and security of everybody. The enforcement actions of the LAPD were strategic, measured and appropriate. Several people were struck by less-than-lethal devices while police were working to disperse the crowds. However, the potential for serious injury--even death--would have been far greater had the violence been allowed to continue and the momentum to build.

Despite how "armchair experts" view the police response to the demonstrators who became violent, the LAPD accomplished its mission of maintaining the peace and ensuring public safety while using only the minimum force necessary. I am especially proud of the restraint shown by the men and women of the LAPD.

It is the goal of the police department to protect the lives and property of those who live, work and visit this city, including those who attend this convention as delegates, guests, media representatives, protesters and observers.

As the Democratic National Convention unfolds, police officers are sure to be challenged to ensure public safety while maintaining the highest respect for the rights of all people. I make this pledge to the Los Angeles community: We will try our best to continue making you proud of us as this challenging week continues.

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