Posted by: L | May 3, 2007

Police Attack Largely Peaceful Crowd In LA

On Tuesday, there was a sample of what law and order can sometimes look like. I know a lot of people are going to dismiss this because they think it’s somehow about “illegals.”

I can understand how people might feel that way, especially with the ongoing threat of terrorism. But I think it would be mistaken in this case. The use of force really does seem to have been completely uncalled for:

Democracy Now has this account of a police attack on what looks to have been a peaceful immigration rally in LA. Apparently, there was also an incident in Detroit. Here are some excerpts:

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

Amy Goodman:

In Los Angeles, an afternoon immigrant rights march ended when police fired dozens of rubber bullets and tear gas into the peaceful crowd. Families with young children were forced to flee for their safety. Eyewitnesses said police gave little or no warning before firing the rubber bullets….

For the second year in a row, May Day featured a massive display of solidarity for immigrant rights in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across the country. Marches were held in cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Denver, Milwaukee, Phoenix and New York……….Although the May Day events went off mostly without incident, one major confrontation took place in Los Angeles.An evening protest was disrupted when police fired rubber bullets and teargas at thousands gathered in MacArthur Park. LAPD officials said protesters had thrown plastic bottles and other projectiles. Protest organizers dispute the account and are demanding an independent investigation…

Jorge Mujica (journalist and union organizer, formerly of Telemundo):

One week ago, the FBI, in combination with Immigration Enforcement, sent over sixty federal agents to a shopping mall at 2:00 p.m., when mothers had just picked up their kids from school and they were doing their shopping. And these federal agents were carrying machine guns and M-16s, and they were looking for what is supposed to be a ring of fake ID dealers, you know, sellers of false IDs. Nevertheless, they handcuffed over 100 people. They made them sit on the floor. But they detained 160 people for a couple hours, and then they just let them go, because they knew exactly what they were looking for. They didn’t need to arrest anybody else or detain anybody else…….

Angelica Salas (executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, LA):

We voluntarily cut our program at 6:30. We had our permit that would go until 9:00. We cut it. We made sure that people — we told people to start leaving the park slowly, not to run, with their children.I stayed towards the end, and what I saw was, instead of isolating a problem group, they pushed them into the crowd.

They started shooting rubber bullets into a crowd of just innocent people. I was caught in the middle of all of this, as we were trying to send people out, had to cover a mother with some children….

…There were several members of the media who were actually hurt, who were hospitalized, especially, I think, our friends from Telemundo..

My Comment:

The LA event seems to have drawn far fewer people than last year’s, only some 25,000, compared to 650,ooo in 2006. That’s really not a lot.And the police conceded that the crowd behaved peacefully, blaming some minor rock or bottle throwing, that seems to have instigated the police response and has been blamed on a few “anarchist” elements.

(For some reason, anarchists are always depicted as wild-eyed bomb-throwers right out of Dostoevsky).

Leaving that aside for the moment, as well as the whole vexed business of immigration — even though I know it’s one of the most important domestic issues today, notice how uncritical reporting sets up a false equivalence between unarmed civilians throwing plastic bottles or rocks and armed policemen responding with plastic bullets.

Actually, plastic bullets are quite capable of killing or maiming. But because they sound so innocuous, they’re likely to be used a lot more indiscriminately and with less criticism from the press.

This kind of non-lethal (a more accurate term would be semi-lethal) weaponry was developed in the 90’s under the Clinton administration. And the purpose was to shore up the US position in the post Cold War world. That is, non-lethal weapons initiatives came out of military and strategic imperatives. Only, now they’re being redirected at the domestic population.

That’s not a wild-eyed anarchist speculation, either. I’m drawing from memos penned by none other than the Pentagon.

(By the way, I will try to post something on other effective ways of dispersing or controlling a crowd, which would not leave permanent injuries. Obviously, there are many instances when police are within their rights to intervene).

Now, here’s the memo (I found it in the footnotes of my Abu Ghraib book, on p. 202 — and that is a plug (chuckle):

” A memorandum written by no less than Paul Wolfowitz to Dick Cheney states, ” A U.S. lead in nonlethal technologies will increase our options and reinforce our position in the post Cold War world. Our Research and Development efforts must be increased.,” Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, memorandum to the Secretary of Defense and the Deputy Secretary of Defense, subject: “Do We Need a Non-lethal Defense Initiative?”

More on the subject from the website of the Federation of American Scientists” Project on Government Secrecy:
“March 30, 1991.

Overcoming Non-lethal Weapons Secrecy

“As the Defense Department program to develop so-called “non- lethal weapons” gathers momentum, Pentagon officials are tightening controls on public information about the program accordingly.

Late last year, Greenpeace submitted a FOIA request for a copy of one of the early policy documents in this field, a 1991 memorandum from Under Secretary of Defense (Policy) Paul Wolfowitz entitled

Do We Need a Nonlethal Defense Initiative?”

The Pentagon denied the request in its entirety on May 3, claiming that the memo was “deliberative in nature” and therefore exempt from the FOIA.

But unauthorized disclosures of government information are growing almost as fast as the secrecy system itself, and Greenpeace was able to obtain a copy of the document through unofficial channels.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the memo are the comments handwritten in the margin apparently by then-DepSecDef Donald Atwood who noted that “non-lethality may be a misnomer.” And where Wolfowitz had indicated that “Nonlethal weapons disable or destroy without causing significant injury or damage,” Atwood wrote: “This claims too much.”

A copy of the memo is available from S&GB.

Jumping on the rhetorical bandwagon, the Air Force and the Energy Department are advertising a new nuclear weapon concept as “non-lethal.” The proposed High Power Radio Frequency concept is a “non-lethal, ICBM-delivered, and nuclear-driven device intended to damage electronics and/or electrical components.” (Energy and Water Development Appropriations for 1995, Part 6, House Appropriations Comm, page 494).”


There’s a lot more stuff on the site worth reading.

My Comment:

Here, I am going to brag a little…you’ll have to excuse me. No sense having a blog if I can’t do that once in a while:

While I was finishing up my book at the end of 2004 (it was published only the next year, by the way — that’s publishing for you), I’d already noticed this memo. I was hunting for direct links between Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and the torture policy at the time — which I did find, and which showed up on the web after an FOIA request from the ACLU got the government files all out in the open.

But, this DOD memo only really seems to have got real public attention in 2006, two years later. These days, of course, a whole lot more people are alarmed by the police state issues involved and have begun to see what it means to have an official policy of torture while the government is also busy dismantling the constitution.

Ah well… (sigh)…we bloggers content ourselves with doing the dirty work ahead of the crowd and watching, gratefully but somewhat cynically, as people jump on board after the fact.

Crowd behavior — it runs every aspect of our lives. The herd is in us, as Nietzsche recognized.

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