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Well Done, All Around

The trade-off for peace meant a heavy police presence downtown. But the price was mainly inconvenience, not overriding harm.

August 20, 2000

The Los Angeles Police Department, when it was making its Democratic National Convention plans, studied the past year's roving tour of sometimes violent protesters opposed to the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and other institutions targeted as enemies of the poor. In Seattle, where police were caught by surprise, there was a free-for-all; Los Angeles police were determined to avoid another out-of-control situation.

The LAPD and the rest of local law enforcement accomplished that. The trade-off meant a heavy police presence in the downtown area. But the price was mainly inconvenience, not overriding harm.

As it turned out, last week's events generally were not violent or even chaotic. Credit goes to the LAPD, city officials and community members, plus Justice Department monitors who go to potentially explosive events and help diffuse tensions. Protest leaders themselves were willing to negotiate with authorities, and some were also self-styled but effective mediators.

Of course, the protesters were fewer than expected as well: At times it appeared there was one police officer for every marcher.

It was surprising to hear some protesters, and even a delegate, compare the LAPD's actions with the "Days of Rage" at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. "It's Chicago all over again," one protester said. Not even close, and that is to the credit of both the LAPD and the protesters. In Chicago, undisciplined police crushed a vastly larger and less organized protest with much more destructive physical force. Reporters were clubbed and their notes and cameras confiscated. Delegates and the nominees in their hotels got a good whiff of tear gas. It was chaos.

The LAPD's "show of force," by contrast, was highly controlled and surely intimidating. However, it was also sometimes more show than force, as the department frequently moved the same cops around and around the marching protesters, making it seem that a larger force had been massed against them.

The Police Department did what it hadn't done in the 1992 riots or in the disturbances after the Lakers' professional basketball championship victory: It took swift and appropriately measured action.

The LAPD could certainly have done better at times. Two judges have ruled that one mass arrest of animal rights activists wasn't justified. And the fracas during and after a rock concert Monday night resulted in some officers shooting foam rubber projectiles and pellet-filled sacks at fleeing protesters, despite the fact there was confusion and delay because exits out of the security zone were not clearly marked. But that was the worst of it.

The LAPD has problems, but overall how it handled the week's protests isn't one of them.

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