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CAMPAIGN 2000

LAPD, Activists Choreograph a Confrontation

Protests: Marchers meet with police before demonstration at Rampart station. Several skirmishes occur near Staples Center.

August 17, 2000|DUKE HELFAND CARLA HALL and NICHOLAS RICCARDI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

At the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart station Wednesday, a morning march had all the earmarks of a serious confrontation: Hundreds of demonstrators vented at the police, blocked the entrance to the building and were led away in handcuffs.

Behind that apparently antagonistic scene, however, was a carefully orchestrated arrangement, a minuet of police and protesters worked out in such detail--and with enough trust on both sides--that the LAPD actually advised its critics on what crime to commit in order for them to be conveniently and safely taken into custody.

Capt. Michael Moore, who oversees the Rampart station, said he and others "choreographed" the events, down to having police suggest which crimes might make for simple, uneventful arrests. Protest leaders agreed.

"They asked what it would take to get arrested," Moore said. "We looked up the law and gave them some ideas. They wanted to lie down in the street, but we told them they wouldn't get arrested for that."

Instead, they were told that if they sat on the sidewalk, Moore would declare it an unlawful assembly. If they didn't move, Moore told them, they would be arrested.

Thirty-seven people did just that and were arrested, most carried inside the station by police officers.

That demonstration was just one in a busy day of actions intended to raise the issue of police abuse generally and to challenge the LAPD specifically. Some did not go nearly as smoothly as the Rampart event. Later in the day, police and demonstrators engaged in a series of skirmishes through downtown, capped by a particularly charged face-off outside Staples Center.

But in each instance, negotiations--some detailed and done far in advance, others improvised in the heat of the moment--prevailed over confrontation.

The cooperation between police and protesters involved in the march on the Rampart station grew out of a series of meetings, which included a visit to the home of one of the organizers, another session at the Rampart station and a final meeting in MacArthur Park, just hours before the demonstration. According to participants on both sides, the first sessions were to get to know one another and to clarify roles for the demonstration. The final meeting, early Wednesday, was called to review plans and make sure that both sides understood what the other would do in the event of trouble.

Mediators Used

Police and the protesters' representatives played the key roles in those talks, but they were aided by the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Relations Service.

"The whole scenario was known," said Fermin Dominguez, a 19-year-old psychology major at Cal State Northridge who helped organize the march. "LAPD knew our plans. It was peaceful all the way. We were talking no violence, no violent civil disobedience."

As part of the negotiations, demonstrators agreed to provide their own security. They kept the marchers in line and, when the police struggled to keep news photographers at a safe distance, the protest organizers got on the bullhorn and asked the media to step back. Most did.

In return, demonstrators asked for the opportunity to present authorities with four demands. They insisted that any Rampart-related legal settlements be paid for out of the LAPD's budget; they asked for an end to all cooperation between the LAPD and the Immigration and Naturalization Service; they called for the appointment of an independent civilian review board to examine allegations of police misconduct; and they demanded an end to racial profiling, along with requiring the LAPD to gather statistics to determine whether and to what extent such profiling goes on today.

The peaceful end to Wednesday's first protest came as a particular relief, given Rampart's place at the center of an ongoing LAPD scandal--one that includes allegations of murder, brutality, perjury and theft by police officers.

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Even on a calm day, Rampart is a busy police station. The area ranks third in the LAPD for violent crimes and violent crime arrests. The Rampart Division covers eight square miles, some of the most condensed and impoverished neighborhoods in the city. About 375,000 people live in the neighborhoods covered by the Rampart station.

Wednesday, its normal operations were overseen not just by Capt. Moore but also by a panoply of top law enforcement officials. Deputy Chief Maurice Moore and Cmdr. Tom Lorenzen, who heads the department's convention planning unit, were on hand, as was the head of the California Highway Patrol. As the action unfolded in front of the station, Police Chief Bernard C. Parks watched from the station roof.

It came off as planned. Thirty-seven people were arrested for allegedly blocking the entrance to a public agency.

Vermont McKinney, the Justice Department's senior mediator and team leader for operations at the Democratic National Convention, expressed satisfaction at the results.

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