The Riot Police Swung Into Action
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2000 10:55:12 -0700
From: Tom Atlee <email@example.com>
Subject: The surreal illogic of riot police
I am sending the news report below (thanks to Halim Dunsky)
not so much as a diatribe against the Democratic Party, The
Establishment or police forces, but out of a sense of
dismayed recognition. I probably wouldn't have sent it
except that so much here reflects what I saw in the streets
my small liberal hometown of Eugene, OR, this summer in a
demonstration I was witnessing. What gets me most is the
order to disperse while blocking the exits -- even after any
real culprits have escaped. Is this strategy written up in
some riot control manual somewhere? I'm not sure what's
behind such police actions, because they are so illogical.
Even if a police force wanted to stamp out opposition, it
wouldn't do this. I can't help feeling there is some sort
of co-stupidity at work here (I don't want to think it's
just sadism), although what goes on behind police actions is
hard to uncover for independent analysis. The fact that it
is happening in Los Angeles makes many people shrug. The
fact that it's happening in Eugene gives one pause. There's
a pattern here...
It is also significant that this report comes from the
Toronto Globe and Mail, a major Canadian paper. It reflects
a certain Canadian sense of the U.S. as an often
irrationally violent country. It is properly sobering for
us "Americans" (isn't anyone from North or South America an
"American"?) to see ourselves as others see us.
From a systems perspective, one could say that such police
behavior is a sign that some corrective ("negative")
feedback loops are missing from our system -- i.e., we need
more democratic civilian checks on the expansion of
centralized police power. Some of us are personally
familiar with abuse of police power. Some of us are new to
it. The fact that we're new to it suggests it is expanding.
How far do you think it will expand before citizens put on
_ _ _ _ _ _
Published on Wednesday, August 16, 2000 in the Toronto Globe
As Clinton Spoke Words Of Hope, The Riot Police Swung Into Action
By Doug Saunders
LOS ANGELES - The taste of tear gas did not begin to tickle
my throat until Rage Against the Machine was near the end of
its set. Bored by Hillary Clinton's drone, I had stepped
outside the Democratic National Convention to catch a
protest concert by Rage, a band whose mestizo rhythms are an
embodiment of the new Los Angeles.
They did not disappoint. Zack de la Rocha's strident voice
carried an optimistic message of democracy, and Tom
Morello's fuzz-box funk left the crowd shaking in the pit
where the stage was set up. With half a dozen helicopters
buzzing close overhead and razor wire surrounding the
100-metre-wide fenced-in pit, it was a fitting venue for the
band, whose latest album is titled The Battle of Los
[photo caption: Rubber-bullet toting LAPD]
Rage finished its set. Satisfied and placid, the audience
began to wander out of the pit through its single, narrow
exit. An ad hoc Latino combo began playing solid grooves
onstage, and the remaining crowd, about 1,000 kids, began to
But over by the fence, a few dozen troublemakers had been
tossing water bottles and debris over the fence, taunting
police and setting small fires on the asphalt, since about
half way through the Rage performance. The police had
answered with some shots of tear gas and pepper spray,
enough to give the air an acrid sting. It was typical
rock-and-roll machismo, and about 200 people stood around to
watch the skirmish.
I listened to President Bill Clinton's speech from inside
the arena on my Walkman as the band played. The stench of
pepper spray was becoming overwhelming, so I moved closer to
the stage. Mr. Clinton uttered a line borrowed from Harry
Truman: "If you want to live like a Republican, you better
vote for the Democrats."
At that instant, the power to the concert was cut. A voice
came over the speakers.
"This is Commander Brennan of the Los Angeles Police
Department. We declare this to be an unlawful assembly. We
command all protesters to disperse. You are now in
contravention of section 409 of the California Criminal
The troublemakers, wearing anarchists' black hoods, linked
arms and ran through the exit.
The concertgoers remained, milling about and confused.
The single narrow exit was blocked by riot police.
"Now, we're also more hopeful because we ended welfare as we
knew it. Now those who can work must work," Mr. Clinton was
Cdr. Brennan repeated his warning. Another phalanx of riot
police, these on horseback, appeared at the exit, and slowly
moved toward the crowd, pinning us against the opposite
fence. Nobody knew where to go. There was a stronger stench
of tear gas.
"We are a more secure country because we cut crime with
tougher enforcement, more than 100,000 new community police
officers," Mr. Clinton was saying.
Cdr. Brennan, meanwhile, was repeating his warning for the
third time, but the crowd still did not know where to go.
About 20 minutes had passed since the power had been cut.
Then the mounted officers charged, clubs swinging. The crowd
panicked and ran. My wife, who has been in riots before,
held my arm and reminded me that running is the worst thing
to do. This entailed a difficult act of restraint because
the horses were gaining on us, and I could hear clubs
hitting heads immediately behind me.
"Now, the American military is the best trained, best
equipped, most effective fighting force in the world," Mr.
Clinton said. "Any adversary who believes those who say
otherwise is making a grave mistake."
The police and their horses drove the crowd straight into a
long line of riot police on foot. They were kneeling on the
ground with shotguns aimed at us. We were pressed into a
narrow gauntlet about four metres across. I heard a pop, and
sparks and smoke emerged from a shotgun muzzle. There were
more pops, dozens of them. A man beside me keeled over in
pain. I saw hard rubber pellets the size of marbles on the
ground. Those who moved back from the shotgun fire were
clubbed by the officers on horseback.
Some of us raised our arms in the air, moving to kneel on
the ground. The riot police advanced forward, cursing us and
clubbing people randomly. Those who asked for help finding
an exit were clubbed repeatedly. The narrow street exit
suddenly cleared, and we moved through the gauntlet toward
My wife and I escaped just as the horses advanced again,
trampling people as they went. We saw a man pinned under a
horse, his friends trying to pull him out.
Mr. Clinton burst from my headphones. "My fellow Americans,
are we better off today than we were eight years ago? You
bet we are. You bet we are."
The crowd was corralled into a city street, slowly moving
away from the arena. There was nowhere to move but forward.
More pops filled the air -- they were firing rubber bullets
into our backs from behind.
There was more panic and running. An 11-year-old girl was
struck in the back and fell. A group of cameramen sheltered
an unconscious, older man struck in the chest. A group of
people tried to hoist an injured man over a fence. The
police fired in their direction. Those who lingered behind
to help the injured were clubbed repeatedly.
"Remember, whenever you think about me, keep putting people
first. Keep building those bridges. And don't stop thinking
about tomorrow," Mr. Clinton said.
The dreadful Fleetwood Mac song by the same title -- Don't
Stop Thinking About Tomorrow -- then filled the stadium. The
Democrats filed out, staring at the field of debris, rubber
bullets and bloodstained clothes.
"It's all right if they want to protest," one woman said,
surveying the scene, "but do they have to litter?"
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Tom Atlee * The Co-Intelligence Institute * Eugene, OR
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2000 15:28:09 -0700
To: Tom Atlee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Randy Schutt <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: The surreal illogic of riot police
If you assume that the police are actually trying to stop
the Black Bloc from harassing the police, setting fires, or
breaking windows, the action described in this article would
be extremely irrational -- they let the Black Bloc go and
beat up ordinary people who were just attending a concert.
Since it reflects badly on the police for them to corner
people so they can't leave and then beat them for not
leaving, then you might think that it is irrational for the
police to behave this way.
However, if you assume the purpose of this police behavior
is to scare the daylights out of ordinary people and
convince them they should stay away from the Black Bloc,
stay away from demonstrations, and perhaps stay from
anything "political", then it is completely rational. In
fact, if you assume this is the purpose, then it would make
sense for the police to infiltrate the Black Bloc with
provocateurs who would harass the police and set fires, thus
moving many of the police officers to feel their actions are
Hence, if we believe the police are not irrational or caught
up in the moment (and the fact that the police have acted
this way repeatedly in a large number of demonstration
situations in the last 20 years would indicate it is not
spontaneous, irrational behavior or sadism), then we have to
assume that the police are deliberately targeting regular
people who are attracted to demonstrations, probably trying
to scare them away.
When articles like this circulate widely, it makes the
police look bad, but it also scares a lot of people away --
scares them from challenging the police or even being
anywhere near a demonstration. So as much as the police lose
in having their reputation sullied, they may gain in
ensuring that lots of people are afraid to go to
demonstrations. So even as we work to get the police to stop
by publicizing their oppressive behavior, we scare away our
We are told that the police seek to enforce the law and
maintain a safe society. But actions like this indicate that
the police actually seek to defend the status quo against
progressive change. Their real goal is to ensure that "duly
constituted authorities" can impose their policies and that
dissent is only allowed to be voiced in the form of voting
-- and, of course, voting is restricted to only a few
mainstream candidates with a rightist or corporatist
perspective. Free speech, free assembly, and dissemination
of alternative perspectives are severely discouraged -- with
tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and batons.
The police action is quite rational and intelligent in
accomplishing their limited goals. Their action is, of
course, quite irrational in creating a democratic, civilized
society -- but that is NOT their goal, that is our goal.