all photos by romana machado
The first tipoff that big things were afoot at Solidarity Park came in a flurry of panicky missives on OLA’s email list early last Tuesday evening. Wild rumors of National Guard movements, police surrounding City Hall and blue-boy battalions massing in Dodger Stadium were enough to get us motoring downtown, expecting to see, as Lord Buckley might’ve put it, “the absolute, swingest, hippin’, trippin’ end” come at last.
On the way, we tuned to KABC-AM, where a set of perfumed tonsils named John Phillips jabbered inanely of something big going down, making it sound like some hypertrophied C.W. McCall nightmare of bear-laden chicken coops and choppers blotting out the sky was already in progress. After a lot of confused jawboning with on-air cronies, the talkshow host invited someone, anyone, to call him up and confirm if what he just reported was accurate or not.
Of course, everything Phillips described, plus several other screwball curves, came later, but I wasn’t at all surprised when we rolled into the parking lot at 3rd and Hill to find just another Tuesday night going on. Rounding the rest of the way on foot, we ran into a calm, though somewhat swollen General Assembly where everyone seemed to be prepping for arrest. The inner circle of would-be arrestees had passed out pennywhistles—the better to band together in the event of the expected lightning cop strike—and the air was sharp with plastic trilling. Medics announced they were to regroup post-raid at La Placita Church on Main Street and a number of these volunteers were present in their homemade medic uniforms set off with crosses of red tape.
the occupyla treehouse
It closing in on 10 PM and most there was convinced the shit was about to go down. Candles were passed out as well and a few largely symbolic barricades thrown up by hands more frantic than skilled. Tent population was almost halved, but the new much-maligned treehouse looked to me like a suitable post-prosperity addition to park architecture, adding a touch of Battle for the Planet of the Apes to an already gamy landscape. L.A. RECORD asked for periodic updates and I phoned in a little after ten that a raid was imminent. Rockets burst harmlessly in air, providing festive relief from the constant hammering of propwash. Occupy reinforcements began to arrive in some numbers, many of them just off the Red Line at Civic Center and heading down First when the cops cordoned off Broadway about half past ten, isolating the newbies. Those on the park side yelled “Red Rover! Red Rover! Let ‘em come over!” at cops.
It was about eleven-thirty and we were watching a few tired protestors wrestle with a rickety bamboo structure when my old L.A. CityBeatcolleague Chris Morris rung to say he saw my mohawk’d head live on Channel 5 News and suggested I avoid getting it staved in. I waved the concern off, joking that OLA had the LAPD bull by the horns but there was no mistaking the ugly drift, nor the collective sense of impending doom as the minutes ticked away to midnight. Still, I didn’t feel too badly about not being at home writing the album review already due. L.A. RECORD also reported KPFK was playing the highly appropriate “All Along the Watchtower” and one maniac was lying in the street in jocular preparation for being made roadkill by cops.
from the city hall steps at midnight
As we neared the midnight hour, there looked to be almost a half-dozen helicopters in the air. My girl took pics of the treehouse while I sat on the south steps wishing I knew which chopper belonged to Live On 5 so I could throw all my friends watching at home a congenial finger or two. The clamor on First had grown more raucous and wilder than it had been only two nights before.
Chants of “Move your feet/And occupy the street!” and “All night, all day/Occupy L.A.!” rang through the concrete and glass canyon impressively.
It was at this point when my photographer pulled the girlfriend card, diffidently suggesting in her roundabout way it might be time to flee. I concurred at once, and we were speedily rounding the northeast corner of City Hall on a pre-planned route to Little Tokyo and freedom when she spied at least fifty paramilitary-looking riot police barreling out of doors and bounding down steps. I looked up from my phone—and a message from Mr. Morris about cops swarms and advising us to bail—to see several chorus lines of helmeted officers clutching batons and legging it Busby Berkeley formation in every direction.
the crowd at first and main
We’d almost made it to the north steps before they stopped and questioned us. A senior officer politely invited us to stand near a tree while his people rounded up others. What were we doing? he asked. Leaving, we answered. Did we have possessions in the park? No. He told us we’d be escorted out in about twelve minutes and that proved accurate.
Romana took a seat and rested contentedly while I messaged Chris M. the jig was up. The act of stretching my hamstrings against the hike I figured was coming helped to hide furtive counting of over a hundred and fifty Blue Meanies deployed raggedly on Temple street, all standing and most staring at us with varying degrees of unsympathy. Cops rounded up a few others, including a ragged clutch of the same medics we saw earlier in the evening.
Soon, coppers marched us all single file, one officer per citizen, to a remote corner of Aliso Street and Alameda, near Union Station. We were then pleasantly bade a safe evening and abandoned. I think I ventured some sideways remark about this being one of the skeevier spots that sentiment might’ve been wished in, but by then everyone was slogging south on Alameda. This being nearly the very escape route Romana and I planned for ourselves days ago, I hoped there would be a bit of peripheral action for us to see and that wish was too generously granted.
But first we celebrated our deliverance from the fell clutches of J.Q. Law, retreating across Alameda into the shadowy recesses of the Arts District, where we produced our respective medications. It was peaceful there and we enjoyed an interval of perfect stoner stillness before sounds of rising fracas out on Alameda drew us back to work. Two motorcycle cops blew past our well-hidden alcove, a broad hint something was up. Any lingering effects of the MJ break were soon to be displaced by adrenalin.
Back on what was quickly becoming a rolling battlefield, we crossed at Third Street. A few groups of young occupiers roamed both sides of Alameda, looking for missing friends and whatever action to be had. Suddenly a group of about thirty protestors ran past us toward some kind of action on Second. I made to hare off after them, more on instinct than in response to any plan when my photographer bleated, “It’s a trap!”
I did the freeze and squinted ahead into the dark. I saw cops working batons, clashing with kids just like that footage of ’68 Chicago we’ve all seen, only this time with all the news cameras pointed in another direction. What looked like more heavy action-adventure was going down in the direction of Central Avenue, but that was less distinct, but certainly noisy and confused. One guy shouted, “Here they come!” and a knot of protestors came running back down Second, cops at their heels.
Ruth Fowler, writer and OLA activist, saw events from another, closer angle. Quoted with her permission:
No bad treatment of protestors occurred while the mainstream media was watching—it was only at the end that this occurred, when the non-pool reporters were separated from the pool media, and the reporters not in the pool were shoved and hit by cops.
At this point I left, but other non-pool media refused to leave and wanted to stay reporting on the scene. Jared Iorio, our photographer, stayed for fifteen minutes after me and was hit repeatedly (twice) in the chest with a baton by a policeman until he left Solidarity Park. He joined a group of about 600 people on 1st and Main. After half an hour of being pushed back, the police called an unlawful assembly over the megaphone, and asked us to move or we would be arrested.
Approximately 300 of us walked down 1st towards Los Angeles, leaving 300 left standing by the cops. The police moved in after us, and kettled the 300 left behind. Seeing this, we ran, as a group, a couple of blocks to get away from them, losing people all along the way. Then suddenly a group of police emerged. We were blocked (kettled) in on Alameda between second and first. The police started running towards us—the group was now about 100 people by this point—and everyone ran into a parking lot to escape. The police ran after them and started beating protestors with batons repeatedly as they were running away trying to escape. I saw about ten police hit protestors. I did not get video footage nor photographs as I was running.
What little I could see of this made my own reaction to the press conference the mayor had the next day—when he wondered aloud if such hijinx weren’t the department’s “finest moment”—rather different from that of the Los Angeles Times.
This kind of quarterbacking was for a morning-after still far from certain. I hustled Romana around the corner to Third, through a deserted Skid Row and to her Jeep parked some distance away on Third. It was past 3 AM and we briefly toured a Hill street roiled with giddy young protestors moving back and forth between a reported rallying action at Pershing Square and the same confrontation with cops we saw hours earlier at Broadway and First, now grown quite ugly.
I put Romana in the Jeep and loped back the two blocks to First. A line of cops on Broadway were grouping into meaty human wedges and wearing themselves out rushing the crowd uphill, swarming protestors.
I lightfooted it back to the Jeep. Surface streets back to the westside weren’t crowded at all and we didn’t see a single patrol car.