By JOE SEIDMAN
During finals week at UCLA (Dec. 13-17), students were studying diligently for their upcoming exams. But during this week, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) gave all the students a first-hand lesson that they couldn’t learn from a book, and a lesson they won’t soon forget.
Traditionally, starting the Sunday night of finals week, students gather outside of their dorms and apartments at the stroke of midnight for a few minutes of collective yelling, screaming, and howling.
The “midnight yell” has been a tradition at UCLA for decades, a method to help relieve the stress that accompanies final exams. Occasionally students may light a small fire or throw something in the street, but even with these incidents, the yell remains harmless and peaceful.
But on the second night of this quarter’s midnight yell (Dec. 14, 1999), students were flabbergasted when, out of nowhere, close to 10 firetrucks and 30 LAPD cars blazed into the scene, sirens blaring, and over 100 cops jumped out fully decked out in riot gear. (They had the works: armor, clubs, shields, rubber bullets, and real guns). A police helicopter accompanied them, hovering over the area.
As you can imagine, this surreal scene seemed like something out of an action movie to these college students, most whom have never experienced anything like it, and moreover, firmly believed the police as a benign instrument to “serve and protect” the people. These illusions quickly vanished.
Shortly, the police began intimidating and attacking people, shooting rubber bullets and swinging their clubs; more police cars were brought in. As things cleared up that night, the streets lay in shambles-with trash, ashes, and broken glass all over. The LAPD had thought they taught the mischievous students a lesson; in fact, it was only a provocation.
The midnight yell is politicized
The next few nights, to the contrary of the authorities’ expectations, students came out in full force. As the media and riot police occupied the streets in the early evening, students began assembling on balconies, roofs, and streets. This time, people carried banners: “Riot police cause riots,” and “Students have civil rights.” People shouted from rooftops: “Bring in the Gestapo,” “LAPD is KKK,” and “Treat ’em like a (Rodney) King.”
The police thought that the “apolitical” students would simply give up after the first night of intimidation and brutality, but in fact, the actions by the LAPD triggered off the inherent switch of rebellion inside the youth when they saw first hand what the police, some of the most brutal enforcers of ruling-class interests, were really all about.
The next night, at least 500 students assembled in the streets to meet the police head on. When police came out with their clubs swinging, students locked arms and held their ground. The police rushed onto balconies, pushing and shoving people away, and broke down doors of private apartments, arresting many. By the end of the week, over 80 people had been arrested or detained.
A first-hand account
The author of this article was arrested/detained (the police used the two words interchangeably, so we still don’t know which one is correct) twice. The first time was on Dec. 14.
I and several other people were standing on the roof of our building, trying to figure out what was happening. The main action was two blocks away. After an hour or so, we were surprised when around 10 cops in riot gear grabbed us on our way down our stairs.
I and a friend, who is also a member of the YSA, were slammed against a wall and handcuffed. When I asked the cop why we were being cuffed, and why he wouldn’t read us our Miranda rights, he responded, “I don’t have to read you shit! Shut the fuck up!” We were brought down the stairs and pushed two blocks to Glenrock Avenue, where most of the action was occurring.
After about a half hour of them trying to intimidate us, with threats that “our school career was over” and that we were going “downtown,” they let us go. When I approached the chief about the action of the cop who handcuffed us, I asked to get this cop’s badge number. I pointed out the cop when he walked by us, and he said the chief would give me his badge number. The chief agreed.
But after the officer had left, the chief suddenly claimed he had no idea who the cop was and said he couldn’t help me. When I began to raise a fuss, he told me that since I wasn’t being brought in, I should shut up if I wanted to keep it that way.
Another cop then took me aside for a “man-to-man” talk, where he told me that he had seen me “assault a police officer,” who should have “slammed me on the ground” and “broken my teeth,” and that he would have helped him to do it.
Two nights later (Dec. 16), I was at an apartment on Glenrock Ave., right in the middle of the action. At the stroke of midnight, students filled the streets by the hundreds, trying to provoke the cops and show, as many students were saying, that “these are our streets.” As students collectively yelled, a few lit a small fire in the middle of the street.
As expected, the LAPD came in the hundreds, coated with their riot gear and rubber bullets flying. What the students didn’t know was that they had been stationed right around the corner, in UCLA lot 31, just waiting for the smallest reason to come and attack.
As I stood on the balcony of the fourth floor apartment with some other students, watching the action, a sudden loud bang was heard, and several cops broke down our door and ordered us onto the ground, waving clubs and guns.
After they had brought us out of the apartment Gestapo-style and put us all against the wall, we were arrested in “chain gangs” (about 20 of us) and brought into a police truck down on the street. We were not informed what we were being brought in for, nor were any rights read.
At the station, in Santa Monica, we were brought to an underground room, where we had to sit on the floor, in handcuffs, for over four hours. Still, despite our pleas, no one would tell us why we had been taken in.
Finally, at about 4:30 a.m., we were told we were being arrested for “inciting a riot.” We were supposedly throwing things off our fourth floor balcony, and didn’t disperse when we were ordered to. We were also told that the proof was on video.
But, knowing this was a lie, when we requested to see this video, it was denied. When we informed them that we had two home videos of our own, proving that they were lying, they told us that their video “had a bit of static, and nothing could be confirmed.” Close to sunrise, we were released into the streets of Santa Monica.
The role of the media
As you would expect, the media jumped right in to the action. All the big players were there: ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, WB, UPN, and some Spanish news stations. The days after the first night of “chaos,” they lined the streets, looking for the viewpoints of landlords, students, and other residents. The midnight yell-turned-upheaval remained the top news story for four days straight.
Yet despite the overwhelming sentiment of almost all students that the police were completely overreacting and that the brutality was uncalled for, the media virtually ignored this view. Instead, most of the airtime showed the riot police “protecting” all the students from harm.
The media helped almost as much as the LAPD in inflating the effect of the incidents and provoking the students. They gave the events such headlines as: “UCLA riots” and “Chaos on campus!”
This was not a surprise though. As always, the media does its best to please its owners and manipulators, the corporate ruling class.
Although, in all honesty, this doesn’t come close to being one of the worst examples of police brutality, it is a significant indicator of the trend we’ve been seeing in the past few years: the police are cracking down harder every day on workers, youth, and people of color.
This police crackdown has been epitomized by several events in the past years: the Rodney King beating; the torturing of the New York Haitian immigrant Abner Louima; the murder of Amadou Diallo, who was riddled with tens of bullets; and the killing of 19-year-old Tyisha Miller in Riverside, Calif., as she lay in her car having a convulsion attack.
One of the most recent uncoverings of police fraud concerns the LAPD, and specifically its notoriously brutal Rampart division. Just a few months ago, some officers in this division took a 19-year-old gang member, Javier Francisco Ovando, from his apartment, handcuffed him, and shot him in the back of the head as he knelt down. (It’s also now known that one of those officers involved in the shooting stole eight pounds of confiscated cocaine.)
They placed a .22 rifle by the side of Ovando’s paralyzed body in an attempt to frame him. He was then sentenced to 23 years in prison, only being released when the scandal surfaced to the public.
This case was not just an out-of-the-ordinary “blotch” involving the police. This attempted frame-up runs much deeper in the system, as indicated by several other emerging instances of similar atrocities. The Los Angeles Times reports that over 3000 cases are suspected of Rampart-type corruption, and will be “investigated.”
All these horror stories about the “boys in blue” are inevitable and will continue to occur under the capitalist system. With the increasing youth radicalization, attacks on our rights, and the growing support for issues like the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and anti-war activity, we can only expect the pace of suppression and terror by the police to intensify even more.
The only way we can put an end to police brutality and all the other horrors we endure because of capitalism is to completely abolish the system through a socialist revolution of all the oppressed people of the world. Until then, beware of those who “serve and protect.”