By: The Associated Press and E&P Staff
Three investigations have been launched into police officers’ tactics in dispersing a crowd at an immigration rally, where authorities wielded batons and fired rubber bullets into crowds. Among others injured were about half a dozen TV workers.
The Los Angeles Press Club has sent a protest letter to Police Chief William J. Bratton (see below).
Bratton said Wednesday the public has “an absolute and unqualified right to expect and demand an aggressive review” of the events at MacArthur Park late Tuesday, when officers fired 240 “nonlethal” rounds to clear demonstrators.
“The events of (Tuesday), with all (the training) that we do, should not have occurred,” Bratton said at a tense news conference.
News images showed police hitting a television cameraman to the ground, shoving people who were walking away from officers and injuries from the rubber bullets.
Rally organizers denounced the police action as brutal.
“They were pushing children, elderly, mothers with their babies and beating up on the media” said Angela Sanbrano, an organizer.
Bratton promised to investigate the treatment of reporters.
“We should never be engaged in attacking anyone in the media,” Bratton said.
The clashes started around 6 p.m. Tuesday, when police tried to disperse demonstrators who moved into a street, according to rally organizers and reporters. Authorities said several people threw rocks and bottles at officers, who used batons to push the crowd back to the sidewalk and then cleared the park.
A police order to disperse was in English and from a police helicopter, a likely ineffective tactic because of the noise and because many at the protest were Spanish-speakers, Bratton said.
Bratton said police were initially trying to deal with 50 to 100 “agitators.”
“The individuals were there to provoke police,” Bratton said. “Unfortunately, they got what they came for.”
Police union leaders urged against a “rush to judgment.”
“Our officers gave a legal dispersal order and were met with violence. In the coming days it will become clear what transpired,” said Los Angeles Police Protective League President Bob Baker in a statement.
Seven officers suffered minor injuries, and another was pushed off his motorcycle, Bratton said. About 10 other people were treated for minor injuries, though authorities expected the number to rise.
The investigations already under way include an overall departmental review of tactics, an internal affairs investigation into the behavior of the officers and commanders on the scene, and an independent review by the Inspector General, the investigative arm of the Police Commission, which sets policy for the Police Department.
John Mack, president of the five-member Police Commission, said he was “deeply disturbed and very disappointed” by the news images.
“This was not a pretty picture. This incident raises serious concern regarding the use of force by some individual officers,” said Mack, who is one of Bratton’s bosses.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who represents the park district, also asked Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley to launch an independent investigation into the officers’ actions.
He said police deliberately led troublemakers back to the peaceful marchers before beginning their assault.
“The only logical conclusion I can come to is that somebody wanted it to bleed into the march so that they can do some target practice on some of the immigrants that were marching,” Nunez said.
News organizations also condemned the Police Department for its use of batons and riot guns against members of the media.
“We are sorry for what happened to our employees and find it unacceptable that they would be abused in that way when they were doing their job,” said Alfredo Richard, spokesman for the Spanish-language network Telemundo, whose anchor and reporter were hurt.
The Los Angeles Press Club’s letter to Chief Bratton follows.
As Los Angeles’ oldest news media organization, we wish to express our concern about police officers’ attacks on news reporters and photographers yesterday during the immigration rally in MacArthur Park. There is no excuse for these attacks which sent several news professionals to the hospital for treatment of their injuries.
The press pass issued by your department clearly identifies reporters and photographers. It’s doubtful that your officers could have mistaken newspeople for protesters. The MacArthur Park attack was not an isolated instance. LAPD officers shot credentialed reporters and photographers with non-lethal projectiles that also caused injuries during the 2000 Democratic National Convention.
Besides the investigation into the incident that you have already ordered, we urge you to take extra steps to ensure these deplorable actions against the press do not reoccur. We urge you to require that division and bureau commanders order special roll calls to make it clear to every patrol officer and detective that news professionals are impartial observers who are off limits to attack, abuse or arrest as long as they are just doing their jobs. If our organization can be helpful in any regard to policy, please let us know.