Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter
U.S. District Judge Gary Feess’ ruling in favor of convention protesters sheds a little light on the paranoia of the LAPD.
Much has already been made of the judge’s scolding the city for putting convenience before the First Amendment. Nearly as important, for champions of an open society, was the judge’s refusal to go along with an LAPD request to seal from public view a three-page document.
The attempt to put the lid on the document, which deals with the mundane details concerning motorcades, parking for dignitaries and bus stops, has not received play in the local media, most likely because the details are not terribly interesting. However, the failed effort to keep it secret shows how shamelessly sinister the LAPD is making the convention protests out to be.
In the document, Democratic National Convention logistics manager Louis S. Vasta discusses the security justifications for a 186-acre protest-free zone around the Staples Center. The LAPD told the judge it was so explosive and revealing that it must be kept from the prying eyes of the press and black-masked anarchists.
“Disclosure to the public or to plaintiffs would jeopardize the security of the Democratic National Convention and the safety of all persons who will attend the event,” Deputy City Attorney Debra Gonzales argued.
The L.A. Weekly dug it up with the help of City Attorney James Hahn’s spokesman Mike Qualls and the ACLU, which brought its case against Chief Bernard Parks and the city on behalf of protesters ranging from the National Lawyers Guild to the better-known D2K umbrella of direct-action folks and backers of Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia cop and faces execution.
All of the details in the report were up in the air this week because of the judge’s rejection of the protest-free zone.
But, according to the document, in the “secure zone” — between Venice and Olympic boulevards and Flower Street and the Harbor Freeway — police planned to create a temporary cul-de-sac. The purpose of this “turnaround” — on 11th Street, west of Figueroa — was to keep dignitaries’ cars off Georgia Street so they won’t drive past the front door of the Staples Center.
“The cul-de-sac on 11th Street will allow for the drop-off of other officials, including predominantly speakers at the convention, on the east side of Staples Center. The vehicles must be allowed to remain in close access to their guests. Lot 8 is necessary for pick-up of these official guests without leaving the security perimeter,” the document says. In Lot 2, east of the entrance to Staples, parking for 500 “official vehicles” is provided.
Perhaps so that they wouldn’t seem entirely self-serving and lame, convention organizers also trotted out another bugaboo: their fear that bus service to and from the convention center would be disrupted if demonstrators knew where the “massive bus operations” for the event would be staged. “We know from past experience that buses are prime targets for demonstrators. If buses can be stopped, delegates cannot be picked up. If the bus shuttle system is disrupted, the result could be the stranding of thousands of individuals in downtown Los Angeles and the complete disruption of the Convention.”
Longtime bus advocate John Walsh suspects that “the plan is not to attack the buses; the plan is to lie down in front of the buses.” He predicts that downtown subways and the MTA’s Long Beach–L.A. Blue Line train will be stopped almost instantly if trouble breaks out to keep from giving demonstrators an alternative route to the action (or those stranded thousands a way out).
According to the Vasta document, the buses will be parked in lots 5, 6 and 7 and have to be within the perimeter “because of the large number of threats that have been publicly made by certain groups against this convention to the effect that they intend to interfere and possibly attempt to disrupt this convention.”
Chief Parks wouldn’t discuss the matter: “No, we will not comment on that,” he told the Weekly.
Indeed, he didn’t tell the chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee of any threats assessment the police may have developed to buttress Vasta’s claims. “They have not shared that information with any of us,” said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski’s legislative deputy, Adena Tessler.
In court papers, the ACLU offered a point-by-point rebuttal of virtually every claim the LAPD made about threats, saying most of the department’s claims were based on hearsay, lacked personal knowledge and expertise, and are attributed to unidentified people and unsworn out-of-court statements.
On one claim, ACLU lawyer Dan Tokaji noted that it “fails to set forth facts to explain the conclusions drawn by declarant about terrorist attacks and how the media encourages these attacks.”
And Walsh, a substitute teacher, knocked down the probable size of the protest contingent from 50,000 to 5,000, especially after national labor leaders infuriated local ones by saying they would encourage their members not to take to the streets.
“It’s like everything else in L.A.,” he said, invoking the torpid official celebration here on New Year’s. “It starts with a big buildup and then fizzles out.”