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Commentary | Did the Police Clamp Down Too Hard?

August 20, 2000|Joel Kotkin and Jackie Goldberg and Leone Sandra Hankey and Douglas W. Kmiec and Susanne Blossom and Bruce Hoffman

Joel Kotkin City Was Well-Served

In retrospect, it may be convenient for some of our local politicians and legal activists to decry the LAPD's powerful presence around the Democratic convention last week as overkill. Yet this ignores the more important point that, in this case, the much beleaguered force actually learned its lessons and served the city, and its future as a center of commerce, politics and the arts, well.

After the non-response to the disturbances after the verdict in the Rodney G. King case in 1992, and the weak performance after the Laker championship last June, the LAPD was more than justified in emphasizing a show of force. No city can afford to allow any group of people to threaten its civic peace.

This response also was justified by events last year in Seattle. What we saw there was the emergence of a small but dedicated anarchist element eager to cause property damage and provoke a violent police response.

Were there unintended losers in this scenario? Yes, merchants downtown did not benefit from the convention as they had been promised. Threats of violence, which made the police presence mandatory in the first place, shut down much of the jewelry and garment districts. Much of what makes downtown L.A. a fascinating place was essentially put off limits for the conventioneers.

But all and all, the relative peace around the convention was a triumph for Los Angeles, and an important step in rebuilding the city's battered reputation, as well as that of the police department.

What happened this week also demonstrated something else: that the fringe protesters have very little support from the public, who simply regarded them as nothing more than a nuisance.

Joel Kotkin is a senior fellow with the Davenport Institute for Public Policy at Pepperdine University and a research fellow at the Reason Public Policy Institute.

Jackie Goldberg

'It Felt Like Martial Law'

My overall impression was that while police were ready, disciplined and usually restrained, the numbers were complete overkill. It felt like martial law, like an invading army. It frightened everybody. It gave everybody a sense of menace. I was told by many people that they just came to watch, and they were shoved around.

There was a gay and lesbian march to Temple and L.A. streets--they had a permit. When they got to the intersection--and we're talking about 150 demonstrators, mostly women--there were eight rows of police surrounding them back, front and on the sides. They had to negotiate 45 minutes just to get to use the space they had already gotten a permit to use.

It's an example of, when you let police have as much money and as much equipment and as much weaponry as they want, they become dictators. We become a police state.

The nerves of everybody downtown were frayed. And let's look at the threat: There was no threat. Not one window was broken. The police didn't change strategies when they found out there weren't going to be 50,000 people here for protests. You don't need 1,500 or 2,500 or whatever number of cops we had on duty, 24 hours a day, in full riot gear, with pepper spray and shooting rubber bullets and bean bags when what you have at most is a few people who didn't obey orders quickly enough.

Police gave unreasonable and conflicting orders. People were told to "get down!" and when they got down, they were charged with horses because they were not moving fast enough. Why were most of the [foam rubber bullet] wounds in the back? If people were moving, what are you shooting them for?

It left a very bad taste in people's mouths.

And the police chief and the mayor are claiming victory. Like this was some gigantic game instead of a gigantic chill of our civil liberties.

Jackie Goldberg represents the 13th District on the City Council.

Leone Sandra Hankey

We Saw a Police State

Last week, the Southern California Fair Trade Network held protests against the WTO and sweatshops locally and globally. Thousands participated. As we planned, not a window was broken nor arrest made.

But our events were subjected to a campaign of police intimidation. Police commanders told the City Council our march near the jewelry district was dangerous--as if we came to steal tiaras. Businesses were warned to close down. Some people were terrified to be on the streets.

Monday night at the Staples rally, our members who had been peacefully listening to speeches and music were chased through dark streets by mounted police and shot at with rubber bullets, some next to our legal support center where they came seeking help.

We do not believe that the police action was precipitated by the tiny number of protesters who threw objects at the fence. We believe police wanted to clear the streets before the delegates exited the convention hall.

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