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Technology in the belly of the beast
at the DNC 2000 in LA
by Jim Bennett (August 15, 2000)

As part of Reviews Online's ongoing coverage of technology in the political process, during election year 2000, Jim Bennett covered some of the events that occurred outside the Democratic National Convention on Monday, August 14th, 2000.

Peaceful Morning

Very early in the morning. I walked around the perimeter of the Los Angeles Convention Center and Staples Center looking at the tall, 12 foot high fence that surrounded the entire area,

along with the massive police presence

and unprecedented security.

North of the Staples Center is the "Protest Pit" where organizers come to protest against a wide variety of issues. I took digital images with the Sony PCG-C1X Picturebook and the Kodak DC-265 digital camera.

Later in the morning, Bonnie Raitt had a small concert for the protesters that had come to the site. This was a preview of what was going to happen on Monday night.

Energetic Evening

From Pershing Square, I followed a large puppet that the protesters had assembled to the rally.

There were many of these huge puppets throughout the peaceful protest area.

Initially the crowds for the concert were small but began to build.

There were 7000 to 9000 people attending the protest rally.

Close to dusk, the group called "Rage Against The Machine", an anarchist rock band, very effectively got the crowd energized.

I was up front, amongst the crowd.

Melee begins

The melee started during the concert, at about dusk, north of the Staple Center.

At 745 PM, a group of about 40 protesters started throwing things over the fence closest to the Staples Center.

Other protesters joined in and began throwing massive amounts of bottles, rocks, wood, rebar, parts of trees, pieces of concrete and large signs over the 12 foot high fence at the police.

At 750 PM, the intensity increased dramatically, but the police were still holding their own on the other side of the fence being taunted by an increasing larger group of protesters. There were hundreds of people pressed up against the fence, trying to egg the police on.

At 755 PM, the intensity had increased to such a high level that I had to move away, to the east, to avoid getting pelted by the material that people were trying to throw over the fence. Some of it was not being thrown high enough and it bounced off the fence on top of the protesters and some unlucky news crews.

A few minutes later, with activity at a fever pitch and with so much material in the air being thrown at the police, the police started shooting pepper spray and began calling up reinforcements. But there was that large 12 foot fencing separating the police from the actual protesters. Two protesters started climbing the fence, and now this melee was clearly starting to get out of hand.

At 800 PM, the organizers of the concert made an announcement that the police were going to shut them down, unless this massive protest stopped. While some of the crowd complied with this announcement, especially those around the stage that were peaceably listening to the concert, but the protagonists that were over by the fence were increasing their level of unlawful activities.

Concert is over

At 805 PM, the police did cut the power to the music and the lights on stage. The police were taking control of the situation. Immediately after the power was shut off, a policemen (with evidently mobile power) made a P.A. announcement that this was an unlawful gathering and the concert would be shut down. He gave everyone (law-abiding or otherwise) 15 minutes to disperse. This was not a lot of time for the nearly 9,000 people, in a confined space, going through a single exit.

Within fifteen minutes, many people were complying, including myself, and I moved through this very dense crowd and finally made it to the police command control center at the corner of Olympic and Figueroa.

I felt that I would be safe there and I could continue my coverage.

I with joined other media journalists and watched what was happening.

Some of the anarchists came out, directly in front of the police, and some began to taunt the police in a variety of ways by dancing, swearing and giving obscene gestures as they had throughout the day.

This turned into a very aggressive confrontation between protesters and the police at the intersection of Olympic and Figueroa. I observed news media getting pushed aside by the police and protesters being thrown about and shot with rubber bullets.

The smell of pepper spray was quite prevalent in the area and the police sweep began.

The police move in

At 822 PM, the police got the signal to move in. They moved in quite swiftly, with great force, firing tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and bean bags.

It was like a hot knife cutting through butter. I saw people being thrown to the ground and being arrested with plastic handcuffs. People were moved away with great speed - like a tactical military operation.

Unfortunately, some of the news media got caught up in it and colleagues got shot with rubber bullets and bean bags and sustained some injuries. This end came when wave after wave of police officers were dispersed in the belly of the beast.

People were still trying to get out of the rock concert area, but there was quite a bit of confusion.

At 835 PM, the concert area was starting to thin out, but police sent in horses to get the remaining people out that were in the South end. Out of range of what I could photograph, but I noticed that there were fires being set. More tear gas was fired. Protesters were getting angry. Some of them started fights with the police, which protesters did NOT win. About 10 arrests were made, a fairly small number according to the size of the gathering.

At 840 PM, the area had been cleared out except for the rock concert organizers who had gathered on the stage with their crew members to protect their equipment and themselves. The police asked them to leave the area and to abandon their equipment. The organizers complied with this and the police completed their final sweep.

The Final Sweep

There were massive amounts of police presence - not hundreds, but well over a thousand officers with all their equipment, including motorcycles, horses, black SUVs with side running boards and police helicopters.

Even a military style helicopter hovered overhead probably equipped with infrared imaging.


The officers were equipped with helmets, face shields, batons, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets - they were ready for business and they were not fooling around with these people.

Massive amounts of pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets were being fired at the west end of the complex, which I could clearly observe from the command post.

It appeared that they were pushing the people back into an alley area,

behind the Figueroa Hotel where I have attended many technology press conferences. This is a strong show of force by the police to demonstrate to the protesters that they weren't going to put up with any disobedience at all.

Convention lets out

At 850 PM, bewildered convention delegates came out of the Staples Center looking at what was happening. This tough action against the protesters and some anarchists shocked not only the demonstrators, but convention delegates as well. Delegates flowed out for at least an hour after the convention. Some the delegates were quite shaken, while others were fairly cool about it. Protesters were saying late Monday night that on Tuesday they were going to take additional action to "deal with the Pigs" and to (expletive deleted) the police. They said that they wanted to show who was really running this convention.

Wrap Up

In total, about 10-12 people were arrested, a few scaled they 12 foot high fence, lots of tear gas and military repellents were being used, but the police did clear everything up, without any serious problems. Transportation out of the area was extremely difficult, since public transportation was shut down. It took several hours to get home due to the stations closing and route I had to take.

This was happening when Clifton was speaking and I think that it was timed by the protesters to coincide with his speech. There was a large video screen prominently on display in the concert area.

I spoke with Ariana Huffington who is hosting the shadow convention. She was shocked by the amount of police violence and aggressiveness that had taken place. She felt that instead of concentrating on a few troublemakers, they treated everyone, including children reporters and even some delegates, as a threat to public safety. The police were aggressive as some media people were shot with rubber bullets - one of which almost went through the eye of a friend of mine at KFI, a local talk radio station. Ms. Huffington also said that there were bomb threats in the area, but I was not able to confirm this.

While images I had taken earlier in the day, showed fairly peaceful protesters with large puppets and peaceful demonstrations in the street, there is a group of protesters dressed in black, with black neckerchiefs across their faces, that were very aggressive and even taunted news people. I was no more than two feet away from them and took digital images of them with the stealthy Picturebook and they didn't realize it. Obviously, these anarchists are not technology savvy. Some stared at me quite a bit, but probably felt I was some geek fiddling with his computer. They did not try to come after the camera or myself.

At Patriotic Hall, Ms. Huffington's group is having news conferences and speakers - which will continue on for the remainder of the Democratic convention.

The Technology

To communicate from the field, Jim used a Motorola Time Port, tri Band worldwide standard cellular telephone. It works anywhere in the world and has been EXTREMELY reliable.

The Sony PictureBook is a Sony PCG-C1X with a 266 MHz processor, 128 Mb of RAM and a 4 Gb hard drive along with that wonderful VIDEO camera attached. All in less than a kilogram (slightly over 2 pounds). It is extremely versatile and flexible under all conditions.

The Kodak DC-265 was used primary for the daylight photographs.

Rick Smith used Adobe Photoshop 5.5 , Adobe PhotoDeluxe Business Edition, Netscape Communicator and Ipswitch WS_FTP Pro during the processing of these images.

Copyright 2000 Jim Bennett All rights reserved.

   
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