Police Violence and Media Coverup

Against the Current, No. 156, January/February 2012

Vanessa Carlisle

AMONG MANY TACTICS used by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD ) to disorient, dishearten, and divide members of Occupy Los Angeles during our detention at city jails, one of the more insidious was denying us access to the news.

We requested a newspaper, as is our right, on Wednesday morning, November 30 when we were booked and awaiting arraignment. We did not receive one until Thursday morning. Twelve of us sat in a circle and on bunks in a holding cell and read through the cover story about the “peaceful evacuation” of Occupy Los Angeles.

In 2004, when the debate over whether waterboarding could be classified as torture finally reached fever pitch in mainstream media, I sat in horror as the country seemed to accept “leaving no marks” as a measurement of potential damage to a human being. Considering the fact that a veteran is currently more likely to commit suicide than to have been killed in combat, I think it’s time the United States wake up to its own definition of “violence.”

I’ve thought it was time for years. But if it takes nearly five thousand occupation arrests nationwide, and 292 arrests during the “peaceable” eviction of Los Angeles occupiers and supporters on November 29th and 30th to push that conversation into the mainstream, I’ll take it.

I write now to argue against the popular story that the LAPD did a model job of dispersing the encampment late night Tuesday/early morning Wednesday.

I was loaded onto a bus with 36 other occupiers, all in sharp plastic zip-tie handcuffs, around 3:30AM Wednesday morning. One was a nearly 80-year-old woman who suffered unbearable pain due to the tightness of the cuffs. When we yelled up to the officer at the wheel of the bus, attempting to get our message through three sets of locked cages, he yelled back, “Well maybe she should have left her 80-year-old ass at home.”

We stayed on that bus, with no water, food or access to a bathroom, until sunrise. Two women were able to wriggle out of their cuffs and assist three others who needed to urinate, using a plastic bag we found under a seat. Occupiers on other busses had no such treasure, and there are many stories of people who urinated, defecated, and in one case vomited on themselves, with no medical attention or evacuation of the buses.

The LAPD claims that they needed Hazmat suits to go through our encampment because of how filthy it was. I have clear and corroborated memories of our own sanitation crew going through the camp and picking up trash, sweeping the square, and sprucing up various parts of camp, every day.

Juan, one of our house-less who was a vocal and prescient presence at tent city, had fashioned an ingenious large-sweeper with a long pole and a piece of discarded clothing. He often wore a top hat adorned with feathers and had gone from nuisance to fixture in the space of two months.

One night, after a day spent cleaning camp, Juan stood up at the General Assembly, mic-checked the crowd, and said, “As your quasi-president, I would just like to say, that I promise you nothing.” He sat down to a round of applause.

Intimidation and Abuse

On the night of the raid, I sat in a circle of approximately one hundred people who had already decided to perform an act of civil disobedience that was likely to end in arrest. We linked arms, chanted, sang, recited statistics about poverty in the United States, and demanded that the press be allowed to film and record our interactions with police.

Later, in the holding cells at Van Nuys Metro Jail, I discovered that at least half of the arrests that night were people who had not intended to be among us, who had been attempting to disperse when the LAPD had kettled them, lied to them, and arrested them.

Usually, a protest arrest is a lighthearted matter, with a quick release on “Own Recognizance,” or a bail set from $100 to $250. We were detained for 48 hours. Our bail was set at $5,000, a few at $10,000, and while we tried to reach the Bail Commissioner, whose number was busy or unreachable for many of us for 24 hours, we were taunted by police who told us we deserved to be in jail, had asked for everything we’d gotten.

Many arrestees were released, with charges dropped, at their arraignments. Some of us still face court dates with misdemeanor charges. Make no mistake: we were kept in custody to prevent us from returning to the site, to our General Assembly, to our comrades who were rallying behind us every step of the way. We were detained to feel punished. We were supposed to decide that the movement wasn’t worth the trouble.

If I were Chief Beck right now, I’d be shaking in my boots: the occupiers are mad as hell, and many came out of their arrests more radicalized, motivated and ready to fight for not only the right to peaceably assemble, but the right to revolution.

We are still gathering stories of negligence, intimidation, and violation of basic rights at the hands of the LAPD. There are at least eight officers standing behind our General Assemblies every night now, listening in to our consensus process, protecting and serving the one percent.

We’ve always said we’ll welcome a brother or sister who is willing to take off their badge and join us. Until they do, they are symbols of our government’s addiction to repressive tactics.

Every General Assembly in this country matters. Every gathering of voices, every conversation about what to do next, and every person who wakes up to the connected systems of capitalist oppression that keep 99% of us in barely manageable chains is yet another reason that the Occupy movement gets to look Power in the face and say, “This is what democracy looks like!”

January/February 2012, ATC 156

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