Flash Point: Los Angeles

Arrests Climb as Police Practice Politics of Kevlar

LOS ANGELES—Yesterday afternoon a number of animal rights activists diverted from the course of a protest march allegedly for a little vandalism, reportedly shattering two plastic letters of a furrier's sign and spray-painting over the word furs on an awning. This was enough to merit 45 arrests—15 of juveniles—and a baroque police procedural parade lasting two hours. Hundreds of cops, many in full riot gear, closed off several streets in the bank-heavy district near Pershing Square while transport buses were moved in, and the plasticuffed protesters awaited their trip downtown.

Once the buses were off, complete with a motorcycle convoy, Commander David Kalish, LAPD spokesman, explained that the force had received advance "intelligence that (the protesters) intended to commit a crime." In his account they disturbed businesses, threatened customers, and promised both murder and mayhem; many were charged with conspiracy to commit a felony.

Kalish invited the press cameras to get a load of the potentially deadly weapons confiscated; the dogs and ponies for this show included paint pellets, some lighter fluid, and a slingshot. Asked if he thought the seized gas masks might be out of respect for the LAPD's pepper-spray propensities, Kalish said that police had also confiscated "a fogger with deadly chemicals," and he gestured vaguely toward a pile of backpacks stripped from the alleged vandals.

This brought the arrest total to 83. By 10 on Tuesday night, that figure had reportedly doubled, as 50 to 100 riders in the Critical Mass bike rally were arrested, without charges being specified, according to legal observers present.

The general sense of tension in the crowds of protesters has increased markedly since Sunday's narcoleptic opening actions. The police, widely accused of overreacting after the Rage Against the Machine concert Monday night, nonetheless aren't about to be accused of underkill and seem intent on practicing a politics of Kevlar. The protesters have nowhere to go but toward confrontation or toward home, and many sense that Wednesday's day of protests and actions concerning police brutality may become a flash point.

 
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