Debate over police relations ensues within ‘occupation’

October 3, 2011

A member of the “occupation movement” against Wall Street greed and corporate clout in government rides the Metro Red Line to North Hollywood as part of an experimental outreach effort. A few protesters left the group, feeling the others were too friendly with sheriffs at the Civic Center station, sparking group discussions about relations with law enforcement. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

How best to deal with the police has been a contentious issue within the Los Angeles “occupation movement.” At group meetings, called general assemblies, it has been a source of debate.

Some want to maintain friendly relations as much as possible, as long as possible; others have a more confrontational attitude. Yesterday, that rift manifested itself during an outreach action conducted on the Metro rail.

A group of roughly 70 protesters left the south lawn of City Hall and headed for the Civic Center station. While waiting for the Red Line to North Hollywood, demonstrators began thanking a group of Los Angeles County Sheriffs for their cooperation – even after the sheriffs told demonstrators they could not chant in the station.

For a group of six or seven demonstrators, this was a bit much. They openly disagreed, and left the group, chanting “No justice, no peace; no racist police.”

Orlando Pardo, a member of ANSWER LA, was one of the protesters that walked out chanting. He said that people who suffer from police harassment and abuse view law enforcement as being very much a part of the societal problems they want to change.

“It is the police that harass the people,” said Pardo, “The police are, historically, violent against the most oppressed people, which is the majority of the people.”

The issue of police violence has been given widespread attention since New York City police officers attacked peaceful protesters in the days following the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations. Most notably was the unprovoked pepper-spraying of a group of female demonstrators by deputy inspector Anthony Bologna.

Los Angeles is no different when it comes to police issues. A 2008 report published by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California showed that blacks are 127 percent more likely to be frisked, 76 percent more likely to be searched and 29 percent more likely to be arrested than whites. Ironically, blacks are 42.3 percent less likely to be found with a weapon when frisked than whites. The report showed similar disparities for Hispanics.

Pardo said such treatment, along with police shooting unarmed civilians, who are all too often minorities, has built in a negative view of police within those communities. He said protesters  who praise the police is “indicative of the leadership” within Occupy Los Angeles.

“A lot of them are privileged people that never had to deal with the cops,” he said. “The real majority of the population of LA has to deal with deportations, police harassment, ICE raids and jails on a daily basis.”

But there those who know how problematic the police can be and yet still want to maintain relations with law enforcement as much as possible.

Michael Hubman, a homeless advocate, is one of them. At a meeting held by protesters over the Metro rail incident, Hubman said the police make living on Skid Row “a living hell,” but urged demonstrators to stay focused on the overall message and goal.

“This is why we are here: for economic justice,” he said to LA Activist. “This is why we are drawing this crowd.”

“These people are about the deepest thinkers that I’ve ever met at a protest,” he added. “It takes intelligence to understand economic justice and to understand we live in debt slavery. The more people we can bring down here and wake up, then we might be able to do something about this.”

Matt Ward, an organizer who led the Metro rail action, was indifferent about a protesters leaving.

“At the end of the day, that is their decision,” he said. “We are all sovereign individuals. Part of what is incredible about this, is that we have collectively risen up. We decided we are not going to take it anymore, but we are also not going to sacrifice our autonomy for anything.”

Ward considered the police order not to chant insignificant, because protesters, by way of their signs and pamphlets, were already furthering their message.

“They had a strong principle they wanted to stand by,” he said of those who left the group. “I would personally challenge them that there is a much better venue for a moment like that if one is looking to be arrested or instigate the police. I would never recommend that, but if one were to, I would hope they would do it for something very worthwhile.”

Along with Pardo, ANSWER LA member Doug Kaufmann looks at things from a historical perspective, seeing that traditionally the role of law enforcement is to maintain the status quo, an objective that runs counter to those trying to improve the society they live in.

“The people who want to work with the cops, they view them as part of the 99 percent, because they view what is the capitalist class as the one percent, richest people in the country, not necessarily where they stand in society,” he said. “They are targeting Wall Street, which is good. And the ‘99 percent’ is the beginnings of a class analysis of what’s going on. But I think that clumping the police in with that is a mistake. They are viewing the police as people just doing their job, not as part of a social structure that was put in place to keep the system in place.”

After meetings held on the issue, it was agreed to incorporate police brutality into the structure of the occupy movement. An “End Police Brutality Committee” was formed and announced at that evenings general assembly.

Pardo became a member of that committee.

“We broke away from that group because we are against that group [praising] the police, while hundreds of our brothers and sisters in New York were brutalized by the police. We should be recognizing that,” he said addressing the group.

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One Response to Debate over police relations ensues within ‘occupation’

  1. Kla Tru on October 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Hey Dan, great article.

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