An account of a "mere traffic stop" last Sunday which also reveals the true nature of the LAPD, their perceived mission, and apparent priorities. Two young male IMC videojournalists left Patriotic Hall (IMC HQ) at 2:30a Sunday night, after their 2nd day of field reporting on their first gig. One (myself) dressed in black fatigues w/ a black equipment vest decorated front and back with IMC and other journalism-related badges and an IMC press pass. The other, ordinary khaki pants and a black denim jacket - also plainly wearing IMC and other media-related badges front and back. One camcorder, 1 digital camera, 2 film cameras, a microphone, a tape recorder, pocket radios, and countless microphones, cables, and other A/V gear was either in their hands or hanging like Christmas baubles. The message was clear - journalism without a budget.
They walked 2 blocks down the well-lit main drag, to their gold 2000 Chevy Cavalier rental where the back seat showed airline luggage, a sleeping bag, and plastic grocery bags of instant soup and snack bars. Hardly the "profile" of a window-smashing anarchy-mobile.
They were tired but not extremely so. The drvier signaled, pulled out into an empty lane, waited for the traffic light, and otherwise proceeded in a very sane and simple (read: paranoid) manner around the corner and calmly out of town. Their destination was Culver City some 15 miles away, with the promise of couch and floor space courtesy of a friend.
On the highway approaching Culver City, a police car raced by them. No emergency lights, just the same ol' illegal speednig for which police are notorious. Behind, a row of headlights seemed to have gathered like a wave front - perhaps fearful of another law enforcement vehicle traveling at legal speed at their front.
Remembering the name "Robertson Blvd" at the last reasonable moment, the driver flicked the signal darted over to the offramp. Not a problem, until 10 seconds later when the intersection was lit up by familiar red-and-blue lights. With a sigh, the driver uttered "What the..? Great, I just got pulled over. Guess some jerk didn't like that lane change." With jaywalking, spitting, and every other trivial offense being enforced around the Democratic National Convention as if the town hadn't seen a real crime in 50 years, it was no surprise. A small traffic ticket, a small delay, and they'd be on their way home regardless. It was just gradeschool-like harrassment by one of the henchmen for the local robber-baron-in-blue.
A spotlight was on them. A PA system shouted "Driver! Get out of the car now!" A bit heavy-handed, I thought. It was just the beginning.
We were ordered, individually, to the sidewalk on our knees with hands on our heads. We were also ordered to face away from our own vehicle.
The next hour and a half is a jumbled haze of hostile questions, barked orders, and lots of hurry-up-and-wait. I saw my friend immediately placed in metal handcuffs behind his back, though we had not been - and never were - arrested, nor read any rights. The cuffs were removed some 5-10 minutes later. We were asked a variety of questions - not politely, as inquiries, but in the tone of demands with punishment waiting for the uncooperative. Name, address, social security number, origin, destination, place of employment, criminal history, purpose of our presence in the area, contents of our vehicle. Contrary to my routine, I chose not to attempt educating these gestapo on the inappropriateness of these questions given our status as free citizens in a free country. I even, for the first time in I don't know how many years, cooperated and answered everything. I was worried - the witch hunt was obviously on, and we feared the same punitive detainment and sham arrests that have been used to intimidate and silence so many others involved in any way with protests like the D2KLA (even when that involvement runs only as deep as independent journalism.) I didn't want to miss out on the protests as another victim of police corruption, and worse - I didn't want to see my friend / partner whose help I had enlisted for this trip (and who feared losing an upcoming job opportunity if detained past Thursday) suffer the same because I had pricked some prick's testosterone-pumped ego.
Then the questions went from inappropriate to downright amazing. "Do you have any bomb-making instructions in the car?" "Have you given any packages to anyone?" And the best, straight out of a Cold War spy novel - "Have you been distributing any literature?"
Welcome to a world where *the distribution of literature* is now somehow an issue worthy of investigation by our so-called "law enforcement". I rather doubt he would have asked this astounding question on camera, or otherwise in front of witnesses. At 2:30a in Culver City, the only other person on the street was a lone jogger who wanted no trouble.
Some six cop cars were around us in little time. The body count kept rising, 13+ cops at one point. I demanded the cause for our detention, but grunts only deferred to their supervisor "who will speak with you when he's done" and whom insisted that the detention was necessary "to determine if a crime has been committed."
We spent an hour and a half on that sidewalk, ordered not to move, ordered to keep our hands on our heads at one point and then ordered to keep them behind our backs at another. Each cop had his own favorite flavor of Simon Says.
Twice I was "asked" something like "Do you mind if we search your car?" in that typical cop manner with him already walking towards the passenger door without making eye contact. You're not supposed to react to it like it's a request for permission, you're supposed to "consent" like you have no choice. I refused both times. The response was always "Why not, what are you hiding?" and "Well we're going to search it anyway." They never did, though they peered in windows with flashlights as much as they could.
Cops got bored, got snacks from their cars, traded places. It became a blur of faces, names, and badge numbers which I could not keep track of. Bits of information trickled out in stunted conversation.
Supposedly, a 911 call had been placed to warn police of "dangerous-looking people on foot and getting into a car". An undercover unit had been following us from as early as 3 blocks from IMC HQ (and it was only a 2-block walk to the car), and later gave the "testimony" which lead to the infraction ticket issued. An "unsafe lane change" right aronud the corner from IMC HQ. The undercover had been following us from *at the very latest* 2 blocks from IMC HQ, all the way to Culver City 15 miles away. When was the last time a cop followed you for 5 blocks into a freeway and then 15 miles to another city and waited for you to pull off into an unpopulated area, just to issue you a traffic ticket?
At one point my cellphone rang. I assumed it to be my friend, wondering why we hadn't shown up yet after having called right before leaving IMC and giving an ETA of 30 minutes. Only one cop watched us anymore, while the others all sat around in conference some distance away for the last hour. I asked "Can I at least answer my phone?" He shrugged and said sure. But it had switched to voicemail already, so I returned the call instead. My friend picked up her phone at 3:30a, only to hear a few quick shouts of "You can't do that! Put that away now!" from a female officer over in the conferring group who immediately marched towards me.
I repeat, we'd been long-since patted down for weapons, and all the cops here had relaxed long ago and became a part of the waiting game with one standing idly by to guard us. They weren't in that take-em-down mode anymore, we were all just waiting and waiting. I'm pretty sure this refusal of phone access - my own cellphone already in my possession - during a mere detainment when safety was no longer an issue, was just as illegal as my friend having been briefly handcuffed.
Eventually, the lofty Sueprvisor arrived and an explanation was finally given - more accusation and diversion than appology. Due to our "affiliations", he said, it was necessary for this entire 90 minute shake-down to occur "to protect the safety of officers from dangerous weapons that might be in your possession".
I asked him for his probable cause: the answer? "Your affiliations make the probability of weapons.." began his answer. I asked flat out, "What affiliations?" He refused to answer, instead repeating his answer to the previous question. I pressed again, and again, and finally heard that new word for evil upon the land: "well, the anarchists".
We have met no one in Black Block. We've participated in no protests. This was our first event, and we came down to join IMC (and had done so right away.) We spent all of our time until then either at IMC HQ setting up gear, or out in the field interviewing. Walking in plain sight, openly carrying copious amounts of journalism gear, wearing journalism identification high and clear for all to see. In essence, we were waving as many "Dont shoot me, Im just a journalist!" flags as we could.
Once allowed to sign the ticket book and told we were "free" to leave, I asked the supervisor for a list of names and badge numbers of every officer involved. He agreed - being a supervisor (from "tactical", no less!) his speaking skills were stellar compared to the knuckle-draggers in his command.
And then began even more delays.
Tired to the point of being ready to sleep right there on the concrete, and stunned from the extremity of all we'd just been subjected to, we just drove. We chose not to continue waiting for the information requested (and honestly, we half-forget out of sheer exhaustion and fear.) All that was left was a ticket for an unsafe lane change that had occured 15 miles away in front of an undercover car that was somehow on our ass within 3 blocks of our departure.
Our evaluation of this incident was immediate and clear. "This is way too much heat", we both said. "WAAAAAY too much heat." We'd crossed every 't' and dotted every 'i' ever since we crossed the county line Saturday night, and STILL this happened to us.
We changed our plans, packed, and left town. We drove through sunrise, for 4 hours, to his place. I slept on his floor, and planned to continue home that evening - Monday evening, 1 and 1/2 days after arriving for the DNC and 4 days earlier than I'd originally planned to return.
I woke up within a short number of hours, despite the lack of sleep we'd suffered. I couldn't sleep. I was pissed.
And I woke up to my friend's large movie-size poster. The screaming head from Pink Floyd's "The Wall".
I re-packed, turned around, drove straight back to IMC HQ here in LA, and resumed my position as an IMC volunteer videojournalist.
To the 13+ officers who detained us in this manner for 90 minutes Sunday night, to all the LAPD, LA LA County Sherrifs, California Highway Patrol, and to law enforcement agents everywhere who are involved in this absurd, extremist witch hunt for "anarchists".. to all of you who see fit to abuse your power and harrass, intimidate, and terrorize innocent people and political dissidents into silence with your bullshit charges, your bogus arrests, your FAKE "anonymous tips" about bomb threats against the IMC, and all the other terror tactics YOU YOURSELVES ARE USING AGAINST INNOCENT POLITICAL DISSIDENTS AND MEMBERS OF THE INDEPENDENT MEDIA..
WATCH YOUR BACKS. Because from now on, I'll be watching them too. See you next time, motherfuckers.
The camcorder is mighter than the sword.
-Vangelis Dempsey, aka Edison Carter / Network 23 Newly-sworn lifelong video-journalist for the Indepdent Media Center *because of corrupt assholes like you!*
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The Cops never change by Chuck0 10:15pm Thu Aug 17 '00 chuck at tao.ca
Wow! Sounds like a passport stop under the apartheid system. I reckon you won't be sending your anecodte to the L.A. Chamber of Commerce.
This incident is just another example of how American cops haven't changed in the past century. A hundred years ago they were killing anarchists and communists. Today they pull you over if you look wrong. Welcome to America!
As a member of the anarchists community, let me personally say that the police (especially the LAPD) don't intimidate me. Ithink it it important for us activists to be outspoken about police harassment and violence against activists, but ultimately I think our long term goals wouldbe best served if we shrug our shoulders and work together to get our messages out to the public. Let's don't fall into their trap. The ruling class wants us to fight the cops and to waste our positive energy worrying about them. We should all keep our head high because there are millions of us and our movements are gorwing!
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At Home by nick 10:18pm Thu Aug 17 '00 nick_cpr at yahoo.com
Before the Somoza regime fell in Nicaragua, a number of journalists were shot and killed by a paraniod military. In reviewing all that has happened since Seattle, I can only hope that kind shit doesn't happen here.
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Reminds me of Lynnwood, WA by Silly Rabbit 10:56pm Thu Aug 17 '00
Kind of reminds me of when I was a teenager, minus the questions about literature and then high number of cops.
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maintenance or democracy ?? by Clyde Green 12:04am Fri Aug 18 '00 address: Wash.DC aka Ground Zero
We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.
--Louis Brandeis, United States Supreme Court Justice from 1916 - 1939
We stand for the maintenance of private property. We shall protect free enterprise as the most expedient, or rather the sole possible economic order.
Joe R. Golowka JoeG at ieee.org
"The decisive means for politics is violence... Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant." - Max Weber