Thursday 03 May 2007
One day after several reporters and camera operators were injured while covering an altercation at an immigrant rights rally in MacArthur Park, news organizations condemned the Los Angeles Police Department for its use of batons and riot guns against members of the media, and some said they were considering legal options.
“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, of the anchor and the reporter who were hurt during the evening rally.
Other members of the media who were injured included four employees of KVEA-TV Channel 52, a KTTV-TV Channel 11 news reporter who suffered a minor shoulder injury, a camerawoman who has a broken wrist and a reporter for KPCC-FM (89.3) who was bruised by a police baton.
“I was dumbfounded,” said the KPCC reporter, Patricia Nazario. “I’ve covered riots. I’ve covered chaos. I was never hit or struck or humiliated the way the LAPD violated me yesterday.”
Nazario said she was walking away from riot police when she was hit in the back.
Wearing a press pass and holding a microphone, she turned around and told the officer, “Why did you hit me? I’m moving. I’m a reporter,” Nazario recalled.
Then the officer hit her on the left leg, she said, knocking her to the ground and sending her cellphone flying.
“I was shocked, trying to scramble to my feet,” she said. “At that point, I just started crying…. I just felt totally vulnerable.”
Pedro Sevcec was anchoring the evening news for Telemundo when he saw the riot police moving slowly toward the news crews.
A few dozen people had gathered to watch Sevcec do his live broadcast.
“The next thing I heard was the shotguns,” he said.
Police knocked over monitors and lights and hit reporters and camera operators with batons, he said.
Sevcec said police hit him three times and pointed a riot gun at his face before pushing him out of the park.
An emergency anchor in Miami took over the broadcast.
“It was so ridiculous,” Sevcec said. “They know what a TV camera is. This is not a secret weapon.”
Telemundo reporter Carlos Botifoll said he was hit by a baton as he was waiting to go live on the broadcast.
He was carrying a microphone and standing in front of a camera.
“We were obviously reporters,” he said. “There could not have been any doubt whatsoever.”
Police Chief William J. Bratton, who promised an investigation, said at a news conference Wednesday that a key part of the inquiry into the officers’ actions would focus on why they used force against members of the media.
“We should never be engaged in attacking anyone in the media,” Bratton said.
The use of force on news crews came despite a legal settlement signed in 2002 calling for the Los Angeles police and city officials to recognize journalists’ right to cover public protests even if there is a declaration of unlawful assembly and an order to disperse.
Under the settlement, the city agreed to assign a press liaison to such events and to set up designated media areas.
The pact resolved a lawsuit brought on behalf of seven journalists who said they were assaulted by police officers while covering the 2000 Democratic National Convention in L.A.
Peter Eliasberg, an ACLU lawyer who helped negotiate the settlement, said that based on broadcast news reports he has heard and viewed, “the police went way over the line,” using force that “violates the law and the Constitution.”
Marc Cooper, associate director of the USC Annenberg Institute for Justice in Journalism, said the video he viewed of the clash led him to believe that the use of force by police was “unjustifiable and excessive.”
“From what I saw, it just seemed gratuitous to go after the reporters,” Cooper said. “They weren’t really in the way, they didn’t really pose a threat and, of course, they were trying to do their job.”
KPCC-FM News Director Paul Glickman said the LAPD’s actions against Nazario, who clearly identified herself as a reporter, raised questions about whether the department’s policies and procedures are sufficient to guarantee the safety of reporters.
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Bratton Oversees LAPD Inquiry at Critical Time
Wednesday 02 May 2007
Only days before officials will decide if Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton deserves a second term, he found himself Wednesday overseeing another high-profile investigation into allegations of police abuse on his watch – this time, whether officers used excessive force against immigrant rights protesters in MacArthur Park.
Even as organizers of the May Day march called for the chief to be fired and police union officials winced when he said he was “disturbed” by some video scenes, Bratton was impressing others, including one member of the Police Commission, the body that will decide his fate, with quick and decisive action.
As he has done in the past, Bratton moved fast to get in front of the controversy, postponing a planned trip to El Salvador and holding two news conferences in two days to assure the public that the latest videotaped incident would be fully investigated.
In the frank style that made him a favorite of the tabloids when he headed the New York Police Department, Bratton told reporters early Wednesday that he was “disturbed” by videotapes that showed the confrontation and thought that the actions of some officers who used batons and foam bullets to clear the park were “inappropriate.”
He later took a barrage of aggressive and challenging questions at a news conference at City Hall, where he voiced “regret” for the incident.
March organizers were not satisfied.
Javier Rodriguez, a leader of the March 25th Coalition, called for the Police Commission to reject Bratton’s request for another term.
“He should be turned down. We should find someone with more sensitivity,” Rodriguez said. “We firmly believe that there was a decision to attack the crowd. In any country other than the U.S., the man at the top would be fired.”
Other community leaders, including Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles), said they viewed the incident and the chief’s handling of it as a sort of final exam.
“The speaker – and the entire city of Los Angeles – will be looking at the chief’s handling of this situation before giving him a vote of confidence,” said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for Nuñez.
The incident also deeply concerned Police Commission President John Mack, who said he was confident in the chief’s ability to thoroughly investigate the matter but was unsure what role it would play in the decision on the chief’s tenure.
“That’s something to think about,” he said.
Still, others praised his actions and observers inside and outside city government said they did not believe that the controversy would derail Bratton’s request to be given a second, five-year term.
Hours before the park incident, 13 of the 15 City Council members had endorsed Bratton for another term, and he was expected to enjoy smooth sailing when the Police Commission takes up the issue Tuesday.
That optimistic appraisal has not changed as a result of the MacArthur Park incident.
“He’s handled it very appropriately,” said Police Commission Vice President Alan Skobin. “He’s on top of it. He’s engaged and promising a thorough investigation. If anything, I think his handling of it has been a big positive.”
The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to ask Bratton to appear before the body within 30 days to explain what happened at the park, and how policy might be changed to avoid incidents in the future.
Even as council members said they were shocked by news videos showing the officers’ actions, many singled out Bratton for his swift and forceful response.
“I want to thank the chief,” Council President Eric Garcetti said. “This wouldn’t have necessarily triggered the involvement of the Police Commission because it is not a life-threatening use of force.”
Added Councilman Jack Weiss: “It is very clear we have a chief who is determined to get to the bottom of it, and get the facts out immediately. This is not your father’s LAPD, and this is not your father’s chief.”
Even Councilman Herb Wesson, who likened the incident to the police beating of civil rights leaders in the South in the 1960s, praised the chief’s response.
“I’m proud that the chief said quickly that some inappropriate actions took place,” Wesson said.
But the chief’s comments concerned officials in the union representing officers, who worried that they were forceful only to appease police commissioners who would decide whether he would be reappointed.
“There is a feeling he is forgetting his own comments of the past that police work is sometimes ugly and that there should not be a rush to judgment,” said one Police Protective League official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified because his statement had not been approved by the union board.
Experts said they believed that the incident would not derail the chief’s application for another term.
It would take something “much more scandalous” that directly involved the chief to upset his request for a longer tenure, said Jaime A. Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs.
“It doesn’t hurt him,” Regalado said of the latest incident. “He still has 13 votes in the City Council. If he loses one or two that won’t make a difference. And he still has widespread community leadership support.”
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LAPD Gone Wild. Again
Thursday 03 May 2007
All of a sudden it looked like the bad old days this week in Los Angeles. A peaceful pro-immigration rally in the downtown area Tuesday descended into chaotic violence as the LAPD charged in swinging with batons and firing more than 200 rounds of foam bullets.
The melee was sparked when a small group of protestors, their faces covered in bandanas, broke off from the rally, blocked traffic and starting peppering riot-ready police with epithets and filled water bottles.
These antics which marred the wonderfully peaceful tone of both this year and last’s pro-immigrant demonstrations certainly merit excoriation. But not the heavy-handed over-reaction by LAPD.
Local news stations and Youtube brim with videos showing the cops swarming into the park where nothing was happening except thousands sitting on the grass listening to speakers. Several journalists and reporters were also manhandled and clubbed sparking a chorus of outrage from professional press organizations.
The violent police action comes just as Chief William Bratton is up for renewal of his tenure. Even his critics agree that Bratton has made noteable strides in reforming a once notorious department. A near unanimity of the 15 member city council had been leaning toward his re-appointment precisely because of his demonstrated support of authentic and deep police reform.
To his credit, Bratton came quickly to the scene of the confrontation. And his in his day-after press conference the Chief agreed that what he had seen had been both “disturbing” and “inappropriate.” He announced two probes of the incident, but California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez has called on the L.A. County District Attorney to open his own independent investigation.