Convention Casualties 

Opposing views on police conduct

Wednesday, Aug 30 2000

As convention week and its melees, fracases and police assaults faded into history, the welts inflicted by LAPD rubber bullets began to fade as well. And as baton bruises turned from bilious purples to more muted hues, raw feelings among many media folks mellowed to a more philosophical, “it‘s-all-in-a-day’s-work” point of view. That perspective was widely held, at any rate, among reporters and photographers who got hurt mingling among protesters and music fans August 14, on the first night of the convention, in the forcible dispersal of the crowd attending the Rage Against the Machine concert in the free-speech lot.

But how long you suffer from rubber-bullet wounds or baton blows seems to depend less on the force of impact than on whether you believe you were an intended target or an accidental victim. More journalists this past week joined the ACLU lawsuit charging that the LAPD “deliberately targeted members of the media, clubbing and shooting them” in order to minimize coverage of its tactics against protesters. (And some journalists who would like to sign on have been told not to by their bosses.)

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Typifying the “no-big-deal” perspective were two Los Angeles Times reporters who asked that their names not be used. One was hit by a rubber bullet from “really far away” and -- though carrying visible press credentials -- was also clubbed from behind, but “Since I was moving away from the blow, I wasn‘t hurt badly.” The other, who caught a couple of rubber pellets, now feels, “It’ll be a fun story to tell the grandkids,” but adds, “That doesn‘t mean I think it was reasonable police action.” Both reporters were among crowds when struck by the pellet guns; neither felt specifically targeted. “Even if I had been singled out,” adds the second Times staffer, “I’d feel queasy about suing. We have our own kind of weapons to use -- publicizing these things.”

Rebeka Rodriguez of the San Francisco bimonthly Media File is experienced in publicizing police violence (“I‘ve been covering these things for years, taking pictures of people getting beat up”), but now feels the need to go a little further. With her right shoulder blade broken in the Monday melee, she is joining the plaintiffs in the ACLU suit. Rodriguez says she was snapping photos as she was trying to leave the protest area but was clubbed on the neck, head and shoulder by a mounted officer. “I’m learning to live with my left arm,” says the right-handed photog; her normally favored arm will be in a sling for four to six weeks.

Channel 52 cameraman Faustino Rodriguez (no relation to Rebeka) was likewise caught up in the Monday-night melee, but had no bones broken -- only his digital camera. “I was running backwards and shooting video,” he says. “As I reached the exit, suddenly there were horses a few feet away. I held up my press pass in my left hand, my camera in the other, and said, ‘Let me get out.’ [A mounted officer] hit the camera and broke it. A reporter said, ‘Let’s get out of here,‘ but as we started to run, I was hit on the head. It was swollen for a week,” he complains. “You can expect anything as a cameraman,” Rodriguez adds, “but I never expected this from the police.” He plans to join the lawsuit once he gets the approval of his bosses.

Also signing on to the suit is Kathryn Gleason of Mendocino County’s Independent Coast Observer. One of the last of the week‘s casualties, Gleason went unscathed until late Thursday night, when she was clubbed on the arm and knocked to the ground at the Seventh Street Metro station.

The new plaintiffs join five others named when the suit was filed on August 21 -- consumer advocate David Horowitz; Miami TV-commercial producer Al Crespo; audio engineer Greg Rothschild and cameraman Kevin Graf, working free-lance Monday for an ABC news crew; and audio engineer Jeffrey Kleinman, working for NBC.

At least one newsperson took a rubber bullet to the head without resentment, praising the perpetrators for having done “a great job.” While he “was a little upset” at being shot in the head, said Daily News photographer Hans Gutknecht, he blames the violence on “so many people with cameras” -- the “fake media,” with false IDs. “People with little blue badges messed it up for the rest of us,” he asserts, alluding to passes issued by the Independent Media Center to employees of Web sites and weeklies. “Anybody singled out was probably not dispersing,” Gutknecht surmises. “If [police] are making exceptions, they’re endangering their own safety -- they hadn‘t checked to make sure no one was armed.”

The broad mass of journalists -- without distinction between “fake” and “genuine” -- were fired on from within their own ranks last Thursday by New Times columnist Jill Stewart, who charged them on the KPCC-FM program Air Talk with having “caused the entire problem.” News personnel “put themselves between police and protesters” and so “became the story -- which, as far as I’m concerned, is incredibly unethical,” Stewart declared. In one on-air illustration, she cited a CNN newscaster‘s emotional description of a female colleague being hit in the ribs with a billy club. “What a wimp,” Stewart chuckled. “I’m so ashamed for my colleagues this week,” the columnist concluded.

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