LOS ANGELES, AUGUST 17—On a day expected to be at least charged, and perhaps conflict-heavy, protesters and police instead developed the craft of the standoff into an art. After a choreographed and police-approved maneuver of civil disobedience produced 37 arrests early in the day at Rampart Police Station, the main action became a nomadic marathon punctuated by pauses and negotiations. When the lost tribe of protesters finally found a home, it turned out to be Pershing Square—the very place where the march had started some seven hours earlier.
Designated “Against Mass Incarceration, Police Brutality, Death Penalty, and to Free All Political Prisoners,” the protest led first to police headquarters, where the anarchist bloc prepped for action with gas masks and lower-tech antichemical preparations while the rest shot fish in a barrel by decrying the LAPD’s corruption and misconduct. But the moment passed without incitement from either side, and the march headed to the Staples Center.
It was there that things got hairy: With only a fraction of the 2500 marchers already on the protest grounds, the police seized the intersection of Olympic and Figueroa, where they had fired rubber bullets to disperse a crowd on Monday night, hitting scores of people and drawing a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. Today, the cops’ maneuver divided the crowd exactly at the point where the Black Bloc anarchists massed. Tension went stratospheric.
Claiming somewhat nonsensically that the protesters had arrived early for their rally, the police kept the mass divided and standing around. Meanwhile, the anarchists “deblocked,” switching into street clothes and dissipating into the crowd.
An hour later the crowd was on the march again, back to Pershing Square. When some marchers tried to turn from the expected course at 6th and Flower, a skirmish broke out with police. At least two bicycle cops were separated from their bikes, which demonstrators pounded until siren-blasting troops moved back in. From that point, the police drove the protesters before them with more than 20 cars, lights flashing, in addition to the officers lining the route.
Back in Pershing Square, the night became a long series of soapbox speeches, surrounded by the LAPD’s thick blue line. For some, the day was a victory for nonviolence, the most divisive issue among the loosely affiliated groups. For others, the loss of momentum was dispiriting, and the central feeling one of exhaustion.