Posted by: Kevin | May 8, 2007

You Have the Right to Assemble*

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This Man isn’t shooting at Al Qaeda operatives

On May 1st Mexican immigrants and those who support a more open immigration policy, marched through Los Angeles and gathered at Macarthur Park.  The crowd of 8 – 10,000 demonstrated peacefully for several hours until Police broke up the protest in the afternoon, using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Here’s where things get confusing.  Police claim that they were responding to a select few violent protesters:

Police Chief William Bratton has already said he will open an internal probe into the actions of officers who used batons and rubber bullets to clear the city’s MacArthur Park of protesters, apparently after a small group of people began pelting them with rocks.

That is standard issue for any controversy involving the police but I’m willing to extend some benefit of the doubt.  There are always a few assholes that are eager to take advantage of the perceived anonymity of a large crowd and engage in gratuitous violence.  That said, there is a lot of video out there for this incident.  To the best of my knowledge, none of it captures a single act of violence by protesters against the police (I’m not counting the odd plastic bottle after the police started shoving people).

Even granting the benefit of the doubt, there is no justification for the police response and how they set about breaking up the protest.  The Unapologetic Mexican posts in detail about this and has two videos from the incident (scroll to the bottom of the post for the video).  Additional video can be found herehere and here.  While I’m not ready to embrace his conclusions, I share his alarm. 

The police launched what amounts to a coordinated assault on the protesters.  They swept through MacArthur Park with the intent to do violence.  Watch them as the crowd disperses.  They’re marching in formation, still shooting into the retreating protesters.  Seriously, check out the videos.  They also assaulted several members of the press.  The police response clearly turned a relatively peaceful situation, and turned it into mass chaos. 

Sadly, this kind of police overreaction in NOT an isolated incident.  As I’ve written about previously in talking about the war on drugs, this is part of the ongoing militarization of the police.  Another excellent can be found in the mass jailing which took place during the Republican Convention of 2004. 

We have moved towards a society where the police hold more and more power over citizens, in the name of security.  They’ve gained this power by virtue of their advanced hardware and progressively more invasive legislation.  This is the logical conclusion of years of having to be seen as “tough on crime” and now “tough on terrorism”.  A militarized police force is just one symptom of the larger disease, the myth of absolute security.  The result is that ordinary citizens can become criminals by virtue of their politics, their skin color or their class.

Hat tip to Feministe

*Side effects may vary.  People of certain ethnic/cultural backgrounds have an increased risk of moderate to severe side effects.  These side effects include:  clashes with police, bruising associated with rubber bullets and police batons and unlawful incarcerations.  If symptoms persist, return to your home immediately and obey.

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