The LAPD Tactical Alert That Never Was
I ran like a crazy man past City Hall, breathless, wide-eyed. Police cars with red strobes flashing had just skidded, brakes squealing, sirens wailing, to tank-like stops on all four corners around us. We were surrounded. Nowhere to run. Then the helicopter arrived. If you’re from LA I know you think you know what that’s like, but in a tactical alert it’s not the slow circling drone thing. This ‘copter was flying low like a monstrous mechanical bat in a circle around the tower that’s City Hall. The ground shook from the roar of the blades. The beam of white-hot light spread wide over the tents and trees, shifting leaf-pattered shadows side-to-side like in Apocalypse Now. During the day I dressed like John Lennon and carried a sign that read “Imagine Fairness”—but this was two in the morning. I sprinted towards 1st & Spring where a crowd of my fellow occupiers stood taunting a group of about fourteen cops. “New York was raided—LA won’t take it!” The cops looked scared—bad sign! This wasn’t “business as usual” downtown. We were fighting for our 1st Amendment rights—your 1st Amendment rights—but there were no local TV station cameras filming the red lights, sirens and the great mechanical bat in the sky that night. We were alone. I’d never been arrested before. I’ve really led a pretty conservative life here in LA. But after writing movie scripts in a little apartment in Hollywood for years and years a little part of me inside that was dead all that time came alive. There was only fire in my eyes and belly on that dark sidewalk that night.
My mind raced with all the non-violence training info I’d learned with my brother and sister activists that week—details flashed before my mind’s eye. White vinegar—that’s the only way I’ll be able to breathe through the tear gas—but don’t drip the bandanna into it until the last moment. CA ID—check. Pepper-spray goggles—check. Phone numbers to arrange bail—check. When THEY grab you, you can tie up four cops at a time (to slow their whole process down) by letting your body go limp—but make sure you’re face up and you keep your head up ‘cause when you do that they’ll drop you on purpose. This detail—that detail. Then the cops put on their riot shields. But where was everyone? Where were the activists I’d been bonding with all that week in Civil Disobedience training? I didn’t recognize anyone on that corner at that moment. Where was the guy from Berkeley who was at the CD class? Where was the punk-rock girl with the leopard-skin coat? IT’S going down—the LAPD is finally moving against us and I don’t recognize anyone. That’s typical. I won’t sugarcoat it for you. No matter how much you connect with your fellow occupiers normally, when you don’t recognize anyone under circumstances like that—you feel like you’re in a mob. And there’s a fear—and a thrill—that seeps up from your being.
But first there’s something I have to explain to you--something that happened in my tent right before all this mayhem.
I was lying back reading Animal Farm in my north lawn tent. Yes, Animal Farm! It was quiet enough at the time. It was the first night at Occupy LA that I’d decided to keep my sneakers on, ready to run, fully dressed. There was revolution in the air that night. Rumors of the other occupations being over-run by bulldozers and truncheon-wielding riot police had been drifting about. And that’s when it first really started. A group of people from the south lawn came running through the north side screaming. One girl’s voice louder than the others. All I heard at the time was “We’re not here to sleep! This is a revolution!” “Get up! Get up!” or some things like that. But there was just one problem. And it affected everyone in the tents around me. I was a typical, stuck-up “political” person from the north lawn and I could care less what anyone from the south lawn would scream about. There I said it. And as if on cue, no one got out of their tents. But a little while later the sirens began and I wound up where I started this story, running as fast as I could past City hall, breathlessly towards the corner of 1st and Spring, the roar of Apocalypse Now in my ears.
That was the moment that the cops put on their riot shields, quickly, barking commands to one another. They looked jittery. Maybe even a bit panicky. They had good reason. There were only about 14 of them with three police cars and there were 100s of us including the crowds crawling out of their tents.
At this point, you’re probably wondering “What does show up first during an LAPD Tactical Alert?” Is it lines of cops in hefty body armor suits? It is water cannons? How ‘bout those LRAD Cannons that blast hi-pitch incapacitating chirping sounds louder than a jet airliner taking off? No. It's the ambulances. One ambulance… Two ambulances… Three ambulances… Let me tell you—if they do that on purpose for the psychological effect—it works! WTF? There were a few more mind-boggling moments with us standing there, drenched in the red strobes and chirps of the ambulances, most of us screaming at the cops things like “What now? What’re you gonna do?” And then— And then— And then— The cops got back into their cars and just drove away. That’s what happened. So I walked back away from the corner. That’s how I think. The other side deescalates—I deescalates. But everyone else just stayed on the corner. It was then that I noticed from my lone spot, a few yards away, something my friends on the corner never saw.
On the other side of the LA Times building police car after police car passed—dozens of police cars. As if the entire LAPD had been mobilized in a panic and then called the whole thing off. It wasn’t until later that I found out that the south lawn people I’d ignored took a stroll towards the Nokia Theater chanting “New York was raided! LA won’t take it!” Somewhere along the line somebody in the LAPD chain of command had their panties in a bunch enough to order a full tactical alert. But I’m convinced that it was called off at a high level. A political level. The mechanical bat roaring around the tower that’s our City hall was controlled by entities in LA that had other plans for the occupation. Tonight, in a rush, would be ugly. Like the witch in The Wizard of Oz someone in the tower whispered to someone else “These things must be done delicately, or you hurt the spell.” It wouldn’t be for a few more weeks that Occupy LA would discover what the “whisperers in the tower’s” definition of delicate would be.