What started out as a night of art, fun and food trucks ended with Los Angeles police creating a riot scene, assaulting unarmed protesters and firing rubber bullets seemingly at random into a crowd of bystanders, all — ostensibly — because people were “vandalizing the sidewalk and privately owned buildings [by] writing in chalk,” according to a spokeswoman for the LAPD.
That, friends, is what the LAPD says justified the department deploying helicopters with searchlights and more than 140 officers in riot gear. That is what justified officers shoving protesters and random pedestrians and firing potentially lethal “non-lethal” rounds into a crowd of civilians: people drawing in public spaces.
The message to the proles: Don’t bring chalk to a gun fight.
Like a lot of people caught up in the commotion Thursday night, I didn’t intend to get involved in a standoff with police. With the hours I work, I figured I had already missed all the subversive chalking, so I went straight from my office to an Occupy LA bail fundraiser instead — except when I go there, I found it was just me and the woman taking donations at the door. After milling about and staring at my phone for 15 minutes, I headed back outside and saw a helicopter shining a spotlight a few blocks away. I put two and two together.
With the police helicopter as my guide, I walked over to the scene of the crime. What I saw was a typical-looking LA crowd milling about an intersection, some people drawing things on the street, others passing joints and doing their part to maintain the constant sweet wafting smell of marijuana that seems to be omnipresent in California. Surrounding this crowd were lines of police menacingly wielding batons and rifles.
Within minutes of my arrival, the police started moving their line, pushing people out of the intersection with reckless macho abandon, roughly pushing people (like me) in the back even as they tried in the midst of all the confusion to comply with the order to leave. Several officers also started firing their weapons into the crowd, which is not a terribly great way to deescalate a situation, particularly when the “non-lethal” rounds one is firing sound exactly like the lethal rounds members of the LAPD are notorious for firing at the people they purport to protect. One man named Charlie (pictured) said he was shot just walking down the sidewalk and that he had no connection to Occupy LA or the dangerously subversive chalking that preceded the tiny cock-waving show of police force. Another man was jumped by police right in front of me, tackled and tasered as they moved the police line. Again, without any apparent cause.
Corporate media coverage will, predictably, focus on injuries allegedly suffered by police from bottles thrown at them by people in the crowd. The people the police attacked will be ignored or, like other victims, blamed for inviting the attack. But there’s a plus side: every time a cop brutalizes an innocent bystander, more people are made aware of the sort of state-sanctioned brutality that is a regular feature of life for the lesser privileged in American society. Last night, a lot of people who left their homes expecting a good time full of art and white wine ended up finding themselves in the middle of a police state dodging rubber bullets. That’s an experience that can’t be replicated by reading a radical political pamphlet.