'We Couldn't Move Quickly Enough'

Witnesses Say Cops Shot People in the Back; ACLU to Sue

LOS ANGELES, AUGUST 16—People caught up in the violent melee after Monday's Rage Against the Machine concert outside the Democratic convention say cops didn't give the crowd enough time to clear the area before opening fire. The American Civil Liberties Union is threatening legal action over the incident.

At the close of a blistering set by Rage, which fired up anticop anthems like "Bulls on Parade," a group of 30 or so black-clad anarchists tried to block the cops' view by plastering the sanctioned protest zone's 12-foot perimeter fence with posters, then hurled water bottles and smoke bombs at the cops. As percussion faves Ozomatli took the stage for the final act, speakers urged the crowd to remain peaceful. Yet anarchists began hurling chunks of asphalt at the cops, and police cut the sound and gave the crowd 15 minutes to disperse. Video of the incident taken by the Independent Media Center shows that just 14.5 minutes after the final warning, riot police advanced on the crowd, firing rubber bullets, canisters of pepper spray, and beanbag pellets.

"They came in blazing," says Devin Asch, a 20-year-old photographer who was documenting the concert for the IMC. "There's no way people could have gotten out before the gassing began."

Scores of protesters and numerous innocent bystanders were struck. Among those injured were homeless advocate Ted Hayes, who was hopitalized after being struck in the chest by a rubber bullet at close range, and an 11-year-old boy who came to the concert with his father.

Also caught in the crossfire was Tracy Robson, a 34-year-old social studies teacher, who came to photograph the demonstrations for her class. "I was walking with a group of 20 or 30 people with our hands up to show that we were leaving peacefully, and the next thing I know, I got hit," says Robson, displaying a bloody, golfball-sized welt on the back of her shoulder. "It felt like being hit by a baseball thrown by a major league pitcher."

While 200 or so anarchists attempted to hold their ground, witnesses say many other concertgoers were pinned in the protest zone as mounted police and scores of armed riot cops advanced from opposite directions.

"We had a right to be here," says Paul Belosic, 26, of Los Angeles. "Instead, it was chaos, with children being shot with rubber bullets." Belosic says he was struck on the back with a baton after police cornered him and several other demonstrators under a freeway overpass, five blocks outside the protest zone.

Becky Johnson, a 46-year-old homeless advocate from Santa Cruz, says she was struck on the back by a baton after buying a hot dog outside the convention center. According to Johnson and witnesses who observed the incident, Johnson was struck as she lay on the ground after falling down a small flight of stairs near the hot dog stand. "We couldn't move quickly enough," says Johnson. "I was trying to leave and got hit and fell down."

Kevin Marin, a 42-year-old systems engineer from nearby Chino Hills, says he rode his bike to the concert to take pictures for his kids. "I was listening to Clinton's speech on my radio, and suddenly, it was bang, bang, bang," says Marin, who was struck on the back with a rubber bullet as he and his bike got tangled in the fleeing protesters. "I'm surprised. I'm not happy about it. Everyone got shot in the back."

The Reverend Jesse Jackson and state senator Tom Hayden denounced the police, who told the press they had acted according to proper procedure. Today, an LAPD spokesperson maintained there had been "no injuries" during the incident other than to a police horse, which suffered "lacerations and gouges after being struck by glass bottles and other sharp objects."

But Kirk Murphy, a medic working with the D2KLA collective reports over 100 injured, including people who were "trampled by horses, trapped in police raids, clubbed in the parking lot, and gassed with chemical weapons."

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California announced it would file suit in federal court against the LAPD for its alleged attacks Monday night on members of the media. "Instead of arresting the law-breaking few, the LAPD wielded its batons and turned its guns on the peaceful many," says Michael Small, the group's chief counsel.

 
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