Calm before the storm?

Tuesday's protests were mostly peaceful, but Wednesday's action against police brutality could get ugly.

By Anthony York
Published August 16, 2000 12:57AM (EDT)

Demonstrations around the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday have been large, but, so far, peaceful a day after protesters and police clashed outside the Staples Center.

How the cops quelled the crowd Monday night was the main topic of conversation Tuesday morning around Pershing Square. While an LAPD spokesman praised the officers for their behavior, protesters used phrases like "police riot" to describe the same events.

LAPD Commander David Kalish said he spoke to Police Chief Bernard Parks Tuesday morning, and Parks said he was "proud of his officers who responded strategically and appropriately."

But James Lafferey, a member of the National Lawyers Guild, a group of volunteer attorneys and law students monitoring police behavior during this week's protests, had harsh words for the officers' actions Monday night.

"The LAPD demonstrated once again why they have the reputation in this country of being not only the most corrupt, but also the most brutal, the most unprofessional, and now we must add to that, the most cowardly," police force, he said.

Protests Tuesday were much more peaceful, though a handful of arrests were made. Many of the marchers were city and county workers, whose unions have endorsed the Gore-Lieberman ticket. But some activists speculated that Wednesday's demonstrations, which are focused on police brutality, could be the largest, and most confrontational, protests to date.

"There's a lot of people talking about the Rampart action on Wednesday," said John Sellers, director of the Berkeley, Calif., Ruckus Society. The LAPD's Rampart division has been the center of a major scandal in which cops have been implicated in violence, drug dealing and framing innocent people for crimes the police officers committed.

Sellers, who got national media attention after he was arrested in Philadelphia on misdemeanor charges and held on $1 million bail, says he's taking a low profile approach to this week's protests. But he has heard that activists have big plans for Wednesday. "It's going to be interesting," he said. "It's been very strategically done, incredibly focused, incredibly disciplined."

But California state Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) said activists may be in for a surprise Wednesday if they try to demonize the police. "These outside protesters better watch out. They just might get their butt kicked by the community," said Cedillo, who used to head one of the city's largest labor unions. "The people that live here, the community, loves that station."

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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