It is 9:19 pm on November 29th. My friend Will and I were on our way to Occupy LA but we didn't get outside of the town I live in, or even onto a major thoroughfare before being pulled over by a Moorpark policeman. As the cop hands Will his license and registration and lets us go, no ticket after all, just a slap on the wrist, we make our cautious way to the freeway and begin the hour drive to Downtown LA from the 118.
We wanted to monitor the news networks in order to get a good idea of any street or freeway closures. Listening to KPFK isn't helping us though since they've got a spanish broadcast playing. Only one of us can speak spanish, but I can't translate it very well; the people are speaking too fast for me to both comprehend and translate it for Will. Will switches the dial to one of Clearchannel's pocket stations, KFI AM 640. People are being told to stay out of downtown by the mainstream media. We hear that the freeways are all closed nearby city hall, so we opt to take Sunset Boulevard into the city to avoid any delays or backtracking.
We parked a block before Spring Street at Sunset boulevard and made our way to what we learned was a two square mile police blockade surrounding the entirety of city hall. Two blocks in every direction have been cordoned off, with access limited only to police personnel. I watched several strangers who were clear sympathizers attempting to be allowed to go past police barricades to get to their vehicles. Residents of the area who were wandering home from their drunken adventures in the many nearby bars and forgotten LA Speakeasies are turned away as well. There is no access.
Will and I walked the entire perimeter of the barricade and we found no entry point. Eventually a large crowd of people caught our eye. They had gathered at the intersection of First Street and North Broadway. On the way to this crowd, at the intersection of South Hill and Second Street we passed by a line of "District Safety Officers." They were manning a barricade but did not have the authority to stop pedestrians from crossing their line. I did hear one telling a pedestrian crossing their lines that they were not police and couldn't tell you what to do. Ignoring them, Will and decided to go a block up to join the large crowd of protesters.
Around two hundred supporters or more were standing face to face with riot police. One line of riot police held the crosswalk at the north side of the intersection, with the second line at the south side. On the other side of the second line of police I could clearly see the captive activists inside the barricade. Both groups were chanting in unison despite having been cut off from one another. The show of solidarity and the fact that police were basically teasing us made a mark in my memory. We could see them but we weren't allowed to join them. They were being allowed to demonstrate in the street so they could see a large group of supporters, but they weren't allowed to leave the barricade to join us and march. We were purposefully being allowed to see this too; the cops needed us to know that we were in their control. They wanted the groups of protesters to feel powerless and sought to herd us like cattle. Letting the groups see one another but not join together because of the police presence was an intimidation tactic masquerading as a "safety protocol."
Will and I deliberated on whether or not to move on and find another way in, but we realized that we were likely as close as we were going to get. To those effects we began to weave about in the crowd looking for familiar faces, and to take in the spectacle before us. Someone had made a guillotine whose blades were fashioned from giant credit cards. Next to this display was a guy wearing a big overstuffed Uncle Sam Hat. What I can only assume were union representatives were standing nearby wearing bright yellow vests. One of them had a megaphone and was shouting slogans for the crowd to chant. I saw one familiar masked man holding an Anonymous Flag. I nodded to him and he seemed to recognize me. Will met up with friend of his who had a livestream being played from inside the park on his smart phone; unfortunately it was very dark and hard to see anything happening. We were standing on the higher side of the hill to see above the police lines when I noticed that the crowd of protesters who had been chanting in unison with our crowd suddenly dispersed. The police were moving in.
A sea of black swept over First street, a choking haze of billy clubs and badges. The reaction to this on our side of the barrier was a palpable "BOOOOO." It is of some significance that a very small contingent of people were actually applauding when the police rushed in. I wondered if these were the "anti occupy protesters" I'd heard about. Within seconds I could no longer see any protesters within the barricade. The guy with the livestream on his smartphone was attempting to text someone so lacking an internal image I tried to find a better view. I managed to get Will to boost me into a tree so I could see what was happening over the lines of police and protesters. From my vantage point I was able to see police completely surrounding the park. I could see what appeared to be protesters being tackled to the ground and tents being ransacked. Police were marching in a line around the sidewalk surrounding the park, and the line of police didn't seem to end. Every now and then it appeared that one or two people were allowed to leave the barricade. The first one I noticed was a guy in a bright yellow jump suit who came from the police side holding a large painting. On Sunday night, this same man had allegedly tossed an unknown solution at police causing them to react to the crowd with more force, a clash which resulted in four arrests. He made his way into the background shouting about how people were traitors but he forgave them.
I had descended the tree with quite a bit of effort. Will and I started to get uneasy. We had moved up to the front of the police barricade, where will met up with a girl he knew from the inside. She told him that the first thing police did when they arrived in the park was locate the circle of nonviolent protesters with their arms locked and begin brutalizing them. It's important to note that these protesters in particular were the ones who were attempting to spearhead the nonviolent movement. They have engaged in daily workshops with people teaching the principles of nonviolent noncooperation and solidarity through peace.
A general assembly was forming to decide whether or not to try to push through the police barricade. I was aware that some agent provocateurs may be present, and as a huge group marched away from the barricade after an unmarked van pulled up as well as another dark colored sedan, Will and I moved out of the crowd and started to look for places where protesters might be on the outside. Shortly after we left, we learned that this group of people had been surrounded by police. Many of them were arrested, some were let go.
We went north around city hall. We knew that there was a church somewhere, but we weren't sure where to find it. Both of us had grown a bit parched so we walked up Main street to Cesar E Chavez and made our way to a chevron station. There was a homeless black man there who the gas station attendant was refusing to sell an orange soda. The man had enough change to make the purchase. Will and I made sure to buy him one in addition to some water for ourselves. The man thanked us and we made our way back up to Cesar E Chaves trying to head towards the church where we were told a meeting would be taking place before a General Assembly at 6 AM.
When we started up Cesar E Chaves we ran into a couple who had been inside the camp when police raided. Laura, who at the time before police charged the activist site, batons out, was serving tea and sandwiches when police stormed in. She was separated from her younger brother, a man who was serving as a medic, and was visibly shaken. I asked her what she saw when the police came in. She told me she saw them coming out of town hall, and from the south side of the camp. Police had been telling people to go the middle, and some of them were doing that. Others had been told to go to the sidewalks of the camp. She and her friend were actually told they could leave by one police officer, and they were let out. Disoriented, they were wandering around looking for the next meeting place.
Will and I stuck with them as they doubled back to chevron to gather supplies. We then made our way down Alameda towards Union Station. There we encountered a man standing at the intersection across the street from Union Station. He was wearing a yellow vest. He had a beard which was white on the right side, black on the left. He also had a walky-talky which Laura asked him to use. She wanted to see if anyone on the other side was someone she recognized. I was under the impression that she distrusted this gentleman who had told us to go to the church north from him and wanted to see if he was really part of the movement.
She got on the walky-talky and began shouting at people on the other end. "Do you remember me? I'm Laura, that loud bitch that's always yelling at you!" Unfortunately, despite Laura's description she went unrecognized. At one point she was asked if her name was Ashley. I have to assume Ashley must have also been a loud bitch at some point to those guys.
Eventually we decided to go towards the church. We went through a square with a nativity scene and across a street where we found the church. Several people were outside it on the sidewalk. As we rounded the bend after being told where the rest of our group was we saw a line of tents with a few people gathered outside talking. There were stacks of small pallets of water bottles near the left wall of the church and we helped ourself.
Those who managed to escape arrest and get out of the police barricade told me what they had seen. These people asked to remain nameless for the sake of privacy and protection. What they described to me is as follows: Imagine a peaceful community setting where people are gathered around a tent in the center of the city hall's south steps. A place where food and tea are being distributed for the hungry and weary. Some people are trying to sleep although the tension is palpable. It is a time when there is the imminent threat of certain chaos, and yet there is a calm. The one moment where the pinnacle of stress achieved by standing up for what you believe in is so clear that you can only let it go. Where the nervousness and the pain of being brutalized begin to fall away to a certain numbness. Here are our ideals swirling before us. Here we stand on the edge of the new era where the decision will be made not by those who claimed power, but by the people, their constituents. Here is where the line in the sand has been drawn. This is our last stand. And just as any calm before a storm, in this snapshot I want you to understand; the events that took place prior to the police raid did not warrant any of the violent behavior police exhibited. There was no siren that went off, no warning, no shot heard round the world. The only warning was the steady clomping of boots of the 1,400 strong force of armed policeman who rushed into the protest grounds. Police stormed out of the front entrance to city hall, batons forward, and charged down the stairs. They shouted "MOVE OUT OF THE WAY" as they ran towards the center of the square. These officers formed a line and pushed protesters back. Some policemen ordered the protesters to the sidewalk, saying they would be safe there. Some officers ordered them back into the center of the square. According to quite a few people, the police were overtly brutal towards the nonviolent coalition of protesters who had locked arms in solidarity. These were the people who had been teaching the nonviolence workshops.
After talking to quite a few people I met up with Anonymous. We decided to go as a group down the block to gather intelligence and to help our fellow activists reach the church, Our Lady of the Angels. We went several blocks up the street to the police barricades and witnessed masses of people making their way towards the church. Many seemed to know where to go, but the few that did not were just following the rest. Anonymous was very helpful in helping us get information while were on the perimeter, and keeping our morale high with his flag. After twenty minutes of reconnaissance Anonymous informed us of a police order: "Mobile protesters were to be arrested on sight." Unsure as to whether this meant those inside or outside of the perimeter, we opted to head back to the church.
As we arrived back at the church many more people had congregated. It wasn't before long that another group came marching towards us shouting the slogan, "Who's Streets? Our Streets!" as they arrived. They were met with zeal, and had injured. One of the injured people was a young man named Josh. He had been shot by a rubber bullet. His left hand had a mango sized lump on it. He said he wasn't doing anything wrong when the police shot him. After falling to the ground he was ordered onto his feet, but could not move due to his agony. An eyewitness nearby, a larger mexican gentleman said that the officers had told him he was not injured at all and to vacate the premises. This man also says that Josh was of no threat to officers who fired on him. I was able to take pictures of Josh. Another injured victim was in too rough a shape for me to be able to interview.
People who arrived reported that there were many other small crowds of protesters attempting to gain entry into the containment which were corralled by police. The crowd where Will and I had witnessed riot police storming the park was one of them. Police had told one man to get on the sidewalk and he would be ok. After that they tried to arrest him for "blocking the sidewalk" to which he replied, "No! You can't arrest me. You just told me to go onto the sidewalk. I was only listening to your orders. I'm not under arrest because we're leaving right now, and I didn't do anything wrong." He did evade arrest. Those who did not argue however, were arrested.
I was recognized by a guy named Mike who was sitting near me during Sunday night's massive General Assembly. He told me than police were tackling people to the ground. Once they had them in the submissive position they were grinding their knees into the protesters whom they arrested. Another eyewitness described an interesting scene. A policeman had a baton raised about to strike a female protester. Instead of the blow landing however, a fellow officer put his arm between the baton and the girl's head, blocking it. He reportedly stated "It's ok. I was just showing her the way out," to his baton brandishing cohort.
People told me that while many police were acting in a brutal fashion, others were allowing protesters to leave in ones and twos through the perimeter. Having witnessed this at First and Broadway, I was pleased to hear that police were breaking ranks and standing in favor of peace, rather than allowing their fellow officers to harm as many people as possible while their controlled media pool kept their cameras trained away from the violence.
A lady recognized from the General Assembly on Sunday, three days prior, arrived with a chicken. She said the park was still full of cops but that they were busy trying to removed those protesters whom had taken to the trees. It was after 5 am when I heard this information, meaning the siege of Solidarity Park had continued into normal park operating hours. She was able to get into the park and grab the chicken, whose owner had apparently been taken into custody, or had left. She made the announcement that people were still occupying the park, and this was met with cheer and some disbelief.
KNX 1070 arrived at the scene of the church. Immediately, Will informed me that they were there, so I made my way to the news truck. Behind the wheel of the truck was reporter John Baird. He was getting audio samples from the crowd. I nudged my way into the scene in order to make sure Baird was able to select a clip from an informed articulate individual. One who spoke with calm conviction and intelligence. To my right side were two large men who seemed very intimidating, but did not shove me aside. Instead they attempted to speak over me (not an easy thing to do, ask any of my friends). Their tones were raucous and unintelligible and neither one was able to put a sentence together with any sense.
After speaking with John Baird off the air I found out he did not utilize the sound bite I had given him. I implored him to use it so that the intelligent folks who are driving the movement forward are given mainstream media exposure. He told me he'd see what he could do, but that it was more or less out of his hands. I told him he didn't have to make excuses as to why he chose the inarticulate people to play on the radio as opposed to those who had a real message which is close to the heart of the movement. Somewhat disgusted, and very tired, Will and I decided to leave the church grounds before 6 am, the official deadline given to the Occupy group. The church was private property, and the morning service was about to begin anyhow. Neither of us being particularly religious, Will and I opted to get some coffee. We travelled to Starbucks.
The scene at Starbucks was almost surreal. We were surrounded by the same officers whom had made the arrests. Several of them joked about how they should have done this some time ago. Most of them were not from the local precinct, and none of them paid for their coffee, something Starbucks has been doing for law enforcement officials since 9/11. As we sat the large group of officers were making jokes about the raid. I heard one say "We should have done this a long time ago," another said, "Problem solved." While I drank my coffee in silence I wondered if any of them recognized me from the barricades they had been manning. I wondered if they truly believed that their violent solution would actually solve the problems we are facing on a global scale. I wanted to think that they were just trying to hold some sense of group camaraderie, but in my heart I felt disturbed that these men and women were so comfortable being the mobile arm of oppression of the 1%.
About twenty minutes passed and the large group of officers left the coffee shop. More police were arriving in their wake but their numbers were smaller. I guessed that these police were likely the local beat cops who worked the city on a regular basis. A homeland security truck pulled in front of the building and a black DHS Officer got in line. His mustache was very well groomed and flecked with white hairs. He was looking around himself nervously, despite being surround by fellow members of the police department. Will and I were attempting to figure out where to go next in the meantime. We had been told that there was a park dubbed "the corn fields" by people at the Occupy crowd where a general assembly was going to take place. This open area was supposed to be available to protesters after 8 am. Another place we had heard about was Pershing Square. We waited at the coffee shop to see if any stragglers would show up who were knowledgeable about the meeting place.
I saw a guy with a sleeping bag and a weary look in his eye making his way towards the coffee shop. I asked him if he was inside the camp when it was raided and he responded in the affirmative. His name was Darryl. He had made it outside the camp, one of the few to be let go by police. He told me that right before the raid happened he was accepting some tea and a sandwich from Laura, whom I had met with earlier. His story was the same as everyone else's: The police stormed in and many were told to go to the center of the camp where they were tackled and taken into custody. Small numbers of others were told to get to the perimeters. When I asked him how many people got out of the camp without being arrested he ascertained it to be roughly 10 percent.
I shared some of the food I had with Darryl, half of a Starbuck's sausage muffin. It wasn't very good, but to an empty stomach, it was ambrosia. Darryl had two other friends he had met with on his way to find the Church. One of them was actually an extra in the Sean Penn movie which many believe was the catalyst for mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's eviction order. The actor claimed to be a protester, and proceed to tell me that he was also working on the film, just not in the scene in front of city hall. He said he'd be protesting after the shooting was over. I pointed out to him that he was working for the very people who might be responsible for the removal of the camp so they could film their movie. His response: "It's a crazy world."
Will and I left the coffee joint to see if we could find the two places we were told that protesters would be meeting at. One, dubbed by protesters "the corn fields," which was actually a historic park was empty when we arrived. The perimeter of the park was lined with semis and other large vehicles. We learned later on that people had shown up to the place where protesters would have supposedly been allowed to congregate and created issues with police. In light of their delinquent activities the park grounds once extended by city officials to protesters were rescinded.
We went to Pershing Square, one of the other possible General Assembly locations and home a temporary winter activity zone which included an ice skating rink. I saw that it was completely empty, save for what appeared to be a small group of policemen holding a meeting. I didn't get close enough to them to see what it was about for fear of being arrested as a "mobile protester." I was unsure as to whether or not they would be staging there to arrest stragglers who showed up for a General Assembly. Later I realized that the meeting place most people were talking about might have been misinformation spread by police, since they had a palpable presence at Pershing Square.
Will and I decided to head down to Van Nuys Detention Center, adjacent to the courthouse. All of the female members of Occupy LA whom were detained were taken to Van Nuys, while the male contingent of the reported 297 arrests were taken to the local Twin Towers facility. We made signs which read Occupy LA and stood outside the detention center. We offered up information to people who had friends or family inside the facility including bondsman and the contact information of lawyers who were willing to take the case of those incarcerated.
Will tried to get in touch with someone he knew inside, but the bailiff was not helpful. We were told that if they were female they were inside, however he failed to give us any records indicating this information. Seeking help from a bondswoman on site, Will was granted a short audience with the person whom he sought to free, one of the ladies who spearheaded the nonviolent aspects of the resistance and held workshops every night on how to protest without resorting to violence. In an act of solidarity, she opted to turn down the bail she was offered in order to keep the morale of her sisters in jail with her high. I applaud her. Will passed on information about our presence outside so the girls knew there was someone who supported them outside of those jail walls.
While we were at Van Nuys court house a media person from MSNBC with a camera joined us at the benches where we had set up our signs to give out information. She told us she was hoping to get in touch with one of the protesters who was arrested and try to get a story out of that person. However after some time elapsed she was put onto story about a water main break and left.
We met with more than a few people outside the detention facility who had people inside. We gave them information about bail and attorneys and stayed until 4pm until finally calling it a day. We packed up our signs and drove back to Moorpark, heads buzzing with the sights and sounds of the night before.