Human beings do not soon forget encounters with law enforcement. Officers with lethal weapons empowered to take away your freedom are going to leave an impression, even on a routine traffic stop, and all the more so during incidents where there are thousands of confrontations and hundreds of arrests.
During my detention following the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) raid on the Occupy LA camp at LA City Hall, I was charged with a crime (failure to disperse from an unlawful assembly) for the first time in my life. I came into contact with dozens of police officers, sheriffs deputies, and detention officers. Some left a positive impression on me; some not so positive. Most of my time in jail was spent taking to Occupy LA protesters and their supporters who, like me, got swept up in the November 29, 2011 raid.
I had no intention of getting arrested. In fact, I took steps not to be arrested so that I could document the event from start to finish. As it turned out, I watched the police raid wind down from the LA County Sheriffs Department bus you see in a photo below, which I shot hours earlier with no idea I'd soon be locked inside it.
On a night when 292 people were arrested, the dozen or so who were arrested with me were probably the most surprised by the occurrence. We were not inside the Occupy camp, which by all reports was the target of the raid. We were on 1st Street about 80 yards away in what looked to be an area from which to observe and/or express disapproval of what was happening inside the park. The park that had been occupied for the past two months was on the southern side of Los Angeles City Hall. Many of the Occupiers who intended to be arrested were seated at the center of the camp surrounding a symbolic tent that had been placed there shortly after hundreds of officers had stormed in to establish control of the space. There had been a few arrests as the officers established their spider web of lines and circles crisscrossing park. I saw recycling bins and tents violently abused by officers who, either disliked camping gear or wanted to exhibit power in order to discourage anyone from challenging them physically. I did not see any protesters so much as motion aggressively toward police, and, I did not see any police act aggressively toward protesters, at least not in the park.
As I reported in my live tweeting the raid unfolded in stages (see more live tweet photos). Warnings were issued intermittently via megaphone, stating that we were being ordered to disperse from what had been declared an “unlawful assembly.” One in particular, Officer Brian Morrison, went to great lengths to communicate to the seated protesters the danger of being trampled in the event of widespread panic. Officer Morrison addressed the growing cluster of occupiers at the center of the park to ask if anyone was elderly or had trouble ambulating. One man explained that he did, but I did not see what happened to him or how he was treated. At first, the seated protesters had used “the people’s mic” to amplify Officer Morrison’s words — they would shout in unison to repeat each of his sentences. But, after about 1 minute of this, he said, “Okay, I have a loud voice so just let me talk. There are a lot of you here, so we’re going to be here for a long while. If at any point one of you decides you want to be escorted out of here safely and peacefully, raise your hand to get my attention.”
It was a few minutes later than another officer offered me the same deal. I took it, and was one of the last to leave the park before police closed in on the 60 or so protesters who, by then, all had their arms locked at the elbows with the person sitting next to them as a method of prolonging the occupation just a little bit longer. The officers were going to have to yank them apart in order to handcuff them. It was not going to be pretty.