Most of these folks didn’t know or understand that behind the scenes, and even several years before they decided to go out and protest a plan had been put together to engage in a wholesale invasion of their privacy and their civil rights in the name of national security, and that as a result of this only served to make many people more distrustful of their government and the police. 

For those like myself who had started covering protests in the late 90’s, it was now becoming apparent that the perceived threat of a great anarchist uprising was not going to happen, if in fact it had ever been seriously considered and that the leadership and the energy of that original group of protest leaders that had come together to help organize the  Seattle protests and went forward as part of the leadership of the protests of 2000, 2011 and 2012 were beginning to wane and drop off.


Anti-war protesters were still a big issue in 2008, but the protesters were not showing up in the numbers that had drawn them into the streets in the early part of the decade.

Veterans For Peace showed up in Denver and St Paul, but their supporters now numbered a few thousand, instead of the tens and even hundreds of thousands that had marched in Washington and other cities in earlier years, and when it came time for volunteers to step forward and get arrested for the cause, the first to step forward were grandfathers and grandmothers.

Ron Kovic, the Vietnam vet who wrote the book, Born On The Fourth Of July, led the first march.

Veterans marching in Denver.

Veterans marching in St Paul.

Someone’s grandmother volunteering to get arrested in St Paul.

Like an old car that had come to it’s last gallon of gas, the rag-tag collection of anarchists and supporters that remained from the feared dystopian bands of anarchists in 1999, showed up first in Denver, and then some who managed not to get arrested and managed to scrape up the gas or bus money went to St Paul.

Although a couple hundred or so “anarchists” in Denver took part in the march on the first night of the convention, it was later revealed by the ACLU that among the leaders of that group who attacked police and prompted the Pepper Spraying in the second photo below, were undercover cops from the Denver Police Department, including a couple of those in the photo below who obviously had reason to cover their faces.

Their participation was unknown to the cops in the bottom photograph who kept pointing out specific protesters who they kept adding to a changing shoot list if things got out of hand.

Most of the major protest event in Denver centered around veterans and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and like Boston in 2004, a designated Protest Zone was established that absolutely no one visited during the convention.

From Denver, the roadshow went to St Paul, the home of Prairie Home Companion. When the time came to start the convention it was a hurricane, and not protesters that threatened its cancellation.

Republican Conventions always attracted a larger and more vociferous crowd of protesters, and it looked at the beginning like there might be some semblance of the protest movement from earlier in the decade, especially since many of Ron Paul’s supporters in their distinctive Z Masks joined the ranks  of traditional Democratic protesters.

A lot of effort had gone into organizing the St Paul protests, and the police sensing trouble, as well as going back to the tactic of going after the leadership before the convention started got search warrants to raid the headquarters of the RNC Welcoming Committee as well as stopping and searching cars and buses coming into the city looking for explosives and anything else that they could find.

This activity carried over during the protests when the police started going out of their way to be confrontational, arresting dozens of news people and hundreds of protesters, including those in the photo below who inexplicably were marched by their leaders as far away from the Convention Center as possible and ended up on the riverbank where they were easily stopped and arrested.

Police and news media were quick to label the activities of a handful of troublemakers on Tuesday afternoon who broke windows and set a couple police cars on fire as the work of anarchists, but whether they were  anarchists, wannabe trouble makers or undercover cops intent on creating a plausible justification for the hundreds of arrests that took place in the days that followed, they were at best a dozen or so out of the more than 10,000 folks estimated to have shown up to protest during the convention.

The biggest problem that occurred in St Paul was not so much in the actions of the protesters, as much as it was in the actions of the police who engaged in willful, provocative acts such as establishing arbitrary time limits for protests, then demanding the protesters hurry up and disband when the time limit ended. When the protesters didn’t, the cops declared that the protesters were engaging in an “Unlawful Assembly.” In response, protesters started sitting down in the street in protest.

The police spent the afternoon and evening of the last day of the convention in what appeared to be a conscious effort to rack up a significant arrest count.  They did this by riding bicycles into crowds and arresting protesters,  or dressed in riot gear and gas masks came in along with horses to try and break up the crowds that refused at that point to be chased from one end of the State Capital grounds to the other, and would force them to move by using Pepper Spray.

One of the last protesters arrested in St Paul on the last night of the convention

In 99.9% of the major political protests that have occurred in the last decade or so, and by that I mean the political conventions and anti-war protests, the police always had the upper hand well before the protest even started, either because the protest groups were riddled with informers, or because they managed to infiltrate undercover police into these groups during the days of protest and were then able to monitor and direct the activities of the protesters on the street.

On the days of protest some protest events had dozens, if not  hundreds of fake protesters who were actually cops to march ready at the first indication of trouble to snatch up the trouble makers, such as what happened below in Miami during the FTAA protests in 2003.

Of course the question was how many of the perceived threats were real, or orchestrated attempts by the cops to disrupt the protest.

This was in addition to all the high-tech spy software like Stingray that tracks cell phone activity, and key stroke programs and screen grab programs developed as a way to spy on everyone, including Americans.

At the G8 protest in Brunswick, Georgia in 2004, it was revealed after the event that “almost one third of those who marched in the initial protest march were undercover agents from the FBI.”

The notion that in addition to all of this spying and often illegal undercover behavior, the continued approach of federal law enforcement was to go to communities in advance of these presidential conventions and use the photos and videos of anarchists in Seattle and elsewhere as boogymen to secure the passive cooperation and collusion by community leaders to allow their cities to be fenced in, shut down, and surrounded by armed police looking and acting more like occupation troops in their fancy new riot gear,and armored vehicles all in the name of security begged a question that was now nudging the consciousness of those who were paying attention: When does the the craziness of all of this become apparent?


That question was in part answered in 2012 in Tampa when the Republicans came to town for their convention. Like St Paul four years earlier, the event almost didn’t take place because of a hurricane.

Had the hurricane hit Tampa, very little would have been required to empty the downtown area, because thanks to the fear instilled into the civic leaders of anarchist events all over the world and by what had happened in St Paul in 2008 - which several business owners admitted to me had been a significant part of the presentation they had received from government officials in the briefings leading up to the convention - even though none of them really knew what had happened in St Paul, or how and why it had happened, the decisions were made that turned downtown Tampa into a fenced in ghost town.

When people drove through downtown - and most convention goers didn’t even do that since they were housed at the fancy beach resorts in St Pete and Clearwater and bused daily to and from the convention center - all they saw was block after block of city streets fenced off with signs saying that the roads were closed and an inexplicably large number of Blue portable toilets in several locations attesting to a belief that someone had convinced the City Fathers of Tampa that the streets would be filled with tens of thousands of protesters needing to pee a lot. 

City Hall was fenced off, and for good measure traffic cones were added to make sure that nobody would decide to park anywhere near the building. Other government and business buildings had shuttered their window like they would in preparation for a hurricane.

Many business closed their doors, shuttered their windows and told their employees to stay home. No one wanted to take the chance of being caught on the streets when the crazed, anarchists came marching into town.

Unfortunately, nobody bothered to tell the town folks that the anarchists weren’t coming, nor for that matter were many protesters of any kind. 

Some folks claimed that the reason that so few out of town protesters showed up was the cost to come all the way to Tampa; some said it was the hurricane; some claimed that they were all going to Charlotte for the Democratic Convention, but no one really knew, and the possibility existed that maybe a lot of folks had just run out of gas when it came to marches and rallies. 

Those who were committed to social change today have so many other viable options that provided more reward and less stress than taking part in a march or rally unless it’s close to home.

If it hadn’t been for the Occupy New York folks who financed two buses of protesters to come down down from the Northeast, the cops and city fathers would have had to use some of the $50 million in government money they got to go out and rent protesters to make it look like somebody actually showed up to protest.

Oh, there the were a couple hundred folks who showed up to march through downtown, and through Ebor City, and along the way shouted the obligatory chants and carried the obligatory signs, and thanks to the 2 busloads of protesters there was even the obligatory photo opportunity involving protesters looking mean and covering their faces with bandanas sitting-down and blocking an intersection, although the protesters were out numbered by the photographers trying to take their photos.

After the photos were taken the group got up, turned around and made their way through empty streets to the designated protest area in a makeshift park heavily fenced and barricaded that was far enough from the Convention Center that even a major league batter on steroids couldn’t have hit a ball far enough to hit it.

When it came the turn of organized labor to have their permitted march, they were either so dispirited or cowed that they gathered outside their union hall, marched around a 4 block square of streets bordered by a parking garage, a few office buildings and vacant lots, and called it a day.

All in all, even the worst Gasparilla Parade in the history of Gasparilla Parades fielded more marchers and more rowdy drunks and trouble makers than all the supposed dangerous protesters who walked around Tampa during the  week of the Republican Convention.

It was so bad as Johnny Carson would say, that one of the protesters who was pretending to act like an anarchist actually apologized to me for not looking mean enough, and the PETA pigs agreed to pose for photos with the homophobes from the Westboro Baptist Church because they had nothing better to do.

Again, $50 million was spent on security so that the streets of Tampa would be safe enough for the little PETA piggies to pose with the batshit crazy homophobes from Kansas without being attacked by anarchists.

When the circus arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina a week later, the biggest protest march of the week happened before the convention even started. 

Following the pattern of Tampa, the obligatory photo-op sit-down and stare-off between protesters and cops at a major intersection occurred on Tuesday afternoon, and then for the rest of the week a couple of sparsely attended marches made their way through downtown. Those marches, coupled with actions by Code Pink and Right To Life activists made up the week of protest in Charlotte.

The most violent activity of the week came as a result of a Christian street preacher grabbing a protester by the neck during an argument over the Bible.

After a protracted argument with the cops who refused to believe the protester’s version of events, another protester ended up getting arrested for holding onto an “illegal” stick in what appeared to be little more than a way to justify the time and energy the cops wasted listening to the protesters calling them names for refusing to do anything to the street preacher.

And of course at the Main Entrance to the Convention Center, in a crowd including delegates, a couple celebrities and national political figures was the ubiquitous police officer wandering around with a rifle designed to fire non-lethal projectiles, because extra vigilance must always be shown whenever a guy with a boot on his head is loose in the city.

I would be remiss if I did not identify the guy with the boot on his head.  His legal name is Vermin Supreme, and it’s been my pleasure over the years that I covered presidential conventions to talk with and photograph Vermin in most of his various costumes.

As a perennial presidential candidate, performance artist and anarchist I cannot imagine an America that did not have a guy like Vermin Supreme to mock our political system, and in his case posing for photos with his fans.


I wrote this story in part as a response to what has been happening in Ferguson, Missouri, and also because I’ve sat and watched the way in which our country, and our political leaders - of both parties - refuse time after time to address and tackle the serious issues that are reaching a point where the affects of continued inaction will harm us all.

People on all sides of the political spectrum are angry with their government, and while not all sides of that political spectrum merit equal weight because not all sides have equal merit, the fact is that the anger and frustration that we see in Ferguson over the shooting of Michael Brown, or the murder of Eric Gardner by a police chokehold New York, or the other recent deaths of Black people in various parts of the country are when juxtaposed against photos of White people walking through stores  and down city streets with guns on their shoulders, or the photo of a White guy with a rifle taking aim at Federal officers during the protest by Cliven Bundy and his followers over his refusal to pay for his cattle grazing on federal land a reinforcement - as if reinforcement was needed - that we live in an unequal society where race has always been a problem, and where class is becoming an equal problem.

The difference in the response to a Black man getting killed by a cop and a White man refusing to pay for feeding his cows unfortunately illustrates a consistent willingness on the part of law enforcement officials to solve complex social problems through the barrel of a gun when it comes to dealing with problems occurring in Black communities.

At the same time, we as a society don’t necessarily want or expect those who are entrusted with law enforcement and public safety to be serious social thinkers; we want them to protect us when the bad guys show up, and if necessary to be accurate shooters if needed.

How does this relate to the political protests that I’ve made the centerpiece of this post?

I think that in the aftermath of The Battle For Seattle, the thing that really scared political leaders and law enforcement folks not only in Seattle but nationally was not the couple hundred anarchists running around breaking windows - they would always be relatively easy to deal with - but the tens of thousands of White, working and middle-class folks who marched to the entrances of the convention center, sat down in the street and refused to move even after the cops fired all the tear gas canisters and Pepper Spray they had in an effort to get them to move so the WTO Delegates could enter the building.

While our country has had it share of large protest marches numbering in the hundreds of thousands over the several decades, they’ve all been orchestrated events where the people came, protested and then went home.

The actions in Seattle were more in line with the union strikes and boycotts of a hundred years ago, and even though The Battle For Seattle only lasted one day, that day was enough to convince the political class that they did not want to see a similar event occur again.

It was after all, Secretary of State Madeline Albright who told the Mayor of Seattle that he had to clear the streets because a failure to do so would be an embarrassment to President Bill Clinton.

The “anarchists” became the symbol and the boogymen for what became a well financed and orchestrated effort by Federal law enforcement officials as they traveled from city to city to insure that when it came to political nominating conventions, there would never be repeat of Seattle.

The real threat, and the one that poses a concern that should not be underestimated is the realization that there are perhaps hundreds of American’s in Syria and Iraq who could come home and do with one bomb more damage than a real horde of anarchists running through the streets breaking windows.   

The hundreds of millions of dollars spent on riot gear, weapons, armored cars, helicopters and on the thousands of police employed during each of the political conventions was not really to protect against an imaginary army of “anarchists” coming to town, or even so much on possible terrorist threats as it was to protect against the possibility of tens, or even hundreds of thousands of angry White working and middle-class folks embarrassing politicians attending one of these conventions,  as it was taking to heart the famous cry of Howard Beal in the movie Network, “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

Of course, in the years since a lot of people have become “mad as hell,” but the efforts to keep those people separated and incapable of coming together in some unifying force capable of demanding real change have been well-financed by powerful interests who would rather, regardless of the eventual outcomes, like to see things remain the same.

One might argue that the recent efforts at militarizing our police forces is just a form of insurance against a real Howard Beal one day soon convincing Americans that they should be MAD AS HELL, AND NOT TAKE IT ANYMORE!







Al Crespo 
(C) 2104

There are no easy answers when it comes to how billions of dollars since 2001 - that billions with a B - in re-purposed, and sometimes brand new military equipment and weapons have found their way from military stockpiles to local police departments around the country.

We are now learning the amount, and we know from newspapers and TV stations around the country some of the more bizarre items that have ended up in front of small town police stations across the country who have been among the recipients of this hardware.

We also know the way in which police departments and law enforcement officers have attempted to defend their acceptance of these tanks, armored personal carriers, military weapons and the like with the claim that they have to keep up with the criminals who’ve increased their own lethal firepower, although most of the real and imagined high-tech firepower used by criminals tends to be in movies and TV shows and not in real life. 

Movies and TV shows have a way of convincing some folks that what they see on the screen is actually a reflection of reality, which is why so many people now believe in Zombies and the Walking Dead.

But let’s error on the side of caution. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and there’s no question that we have too many crazies with access to regular pistols and rifles to spare in America.

Every time one of those crazies goes into a school, a movie house, or just drives down the street shooting at people as target practice, people understandably get scared that it might happen in their town next.

Probability says it probably won’t, but try telling that to someone whose lost someone to one of these crazies.

So we have a problem.  In fact we have quite a few problems and for a long time now not too many people have wanted to look at those problems honestly or with a desire to do the kinds of things that might help them go away, or at least become less of a problem.

That’s why we now have all of this talk about the militarization of our police departments because the easy solution to dealing with the fear of a crazy with a gun was to go out and get a bigger gun, or an armored personal carrier, or a drone or even a tank.  A tank will trump a Glock or a AR-15 anytime.

But besides the most obvious cases involving crazed and mentally unbalanced gunmen invading a school or a movie house that contribute to the zeitgeist of our time, there are other examples of how we’ve been conditioned to accept an erosion of our civil liberties and a manipulation of how we view each other and our fellow citizens all in the name of national security and public safety.

Here is one of those examples.

The year was 1999, and a lot of Americans were becoming concerned with the effects of globalization.

Jobs in America were being transferred to foreign countries, and a coalition of organized labor, environmental organizations, human rights groups, student groups and even Anarchists concerned or opposed to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) policies decided to come together in the months before the scheduled conference in Seattle to mount a number of protests and actions in opposition to the actions of the WTO.

I was by then about a year into a long-term photo project documenting protests in America, and just beginning to understand and use the internet as a resource tool. As the various groups began organizing I followed with interest from the other side of the country

By mid-November it was evident that this was going to be a seminal event and that the projected numbers of 50,000, 60,000 or even 100,000 protesters showing up on the streets of Seattle was going to be the kind of protest event that had not occurred in this country since the big anti-war protests of the 60’s.

I had made previous commitments that prohibited me from arriving in Seattle until the day after the big street protests on Tuesday November 30th occurred, and therefore missed what has since been called The Battle Of Seattle.  Many folks have written about that day, and I refer you to the Wikipedia 1999 Seattle WTO protests page for both an overview, and references to the many subsequent reports and studies that have attempted to make sense and/or explain what actually happened that day.

As a photographer covering my first really major protest, my goal was then, and continued during the time that I traveled the country covering protests, was to make sense of the chaos. Not only try to make sense of the immediate cacophony of sight and sound in front of me as I struggled and jostled my way through crowds trying to take photographs, but in a larger sense to try and understand what motivated people to sometimes travel considerable distances in order to protest, and what was behind the way that various police departments handled these events.

I was also interested in the larger public policy issues that drove both the protesters, the police and civic leaders responsible for trying to provide public safety as to how they went about balancing the individual’s First Amendment Rights, against those of a community’s need to insure safety for its citizens.

It was never easy, but over the years of talking with protesters, cops, lawyers acting as monitors, business and civic leaders during my travels I began to see patterns of policy and behavior reveal themselves, and more importantly it started becoming evident, at least to me and I’m sure to other people that what was happening on America’s streets as people came out to protest against issues like globalization, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, gun control, civil rights, and a whole list of other concerns was that protest in America was like a game of multi-layered chess that challenged the saying, “What you see is what you get.”

It turned out almost everyone was seeing different versions of reality.

Protesters thought they were exercising the rights afforded them by the First Amendment, even though some of them were only concerned with exercising their own rights, at the expense of everyone else’s rights in what I came to describe as the political version of extreme sports. They neither knew, or much cared about the issues as much about the excitement and thrill of being part of a large crowd.

Police and civic leaders on the other hand often saw themselves as the community’s protectors against the hordes of anarchists and other trouble makers coming to wreck havoc on their communities, and were often more than willing to suspend or undermine civil liberties to stop that from happening.

It seems looking back that The Battle For Seattle was the opening move in what has now, 14 years later, turned out to have been a conscious and thought out plan by federal law enforcement officials from agencies like Homeland Security, the Secret Service, the FBI that made it their goal to insure there would never be another Battle For Seattle in an American city.

That goal I believe has played a significant part in what is now being recognized as the militarization of America’s police forces.

SEATTLE 1999 (N30)

The single most alarming story that came out of what happened in Seattle, and the one that law enforcement seized on and used as it’s mantra for years afterwards, was that America had suddenly acquired an anarchist problem.

Anarchism? What anarchism? Those who paid attention during their American history classes in high school might vaguely remember having heard the word anarchism in passing, but anarchism for most people if they have any thought about it was something European, and certainly not something that the average American in 1999 would have given much thought to.

It was the photographs of the young people, mostly teenagers dressed in Black and wearing masks and identified as anarchists who were the ones breaking the windows and throwing trash cans into the streets during The Battle For Seattle that became the indelible images of that event.

It was those images, coupled with the word anarchy, that sent shivers through the hearts of civic and business people in communities all over America in the immediate years after Seattle when the possibility of a major protest was mentioned as coming to their city.

The photos and videos became the center point of the presentations made by Federal law enforcement teams who visited the sites of all subsequent major protests after Seattle, especially the cities where the Presidential Conventions took place.

As a new century began, an old political philosophy was making a comeback, and it started scaring a lot of people.


Four months after Seattle, at the World Bank protests In Washington D.C., it became evident that the police had rather quickly figured out an effective method for
dealing with the anarchists who employed the tactic they called the Black Bloc; a formation where all the anarchists linked arms and marched in unison.

It involved a relatively simple maneuver of surrounding them with police officers who with batons and tear gas canisters marched alongside them allowing the anarchists to chose the route until they marched themselves into an area that could be blocked off.

Once they were contained, there would be protracted discussions and negotiations, sometimes lasting for hours that led either to the anarchists being allowed to drift away in small numbers or being arrested.

It wasn’t rocket science, and it didn’t solve the problem of small roving bands, but it pretty quickly provided a way to neutralize the large scale formations of anarchists marching through city streets.

As a photographer, I and many of my colleagues covering protests at the time would trade information on where the anarchists were supposed to be staying and what their plans would be even before arriving in a city to cover a protest.  Following the anarchists around was where the action was.

Because I was working on a book about protest at the time, and because I wasn’t a member of the mainstream news media which was perceived as the enemy by many of these anarchists I was able to develop a few contacts who would talk with me when we met at protests.

On occasion I would hear complaints that the police had staged an incident intended to inflame public opinion against them, and the anarchists that I talked with were always paranoid about being infiltrated by undercover police and informers who they claimed were always trying to plant evidence and make up fanciful stories as a way to set them up.

In the years that followed, I would hear those kinds of claims often, and was even able to witness instances where it looked like a situation has been staged,and over the years I came to the conclusion that the biggest problem in talking with these anarchists was whether the ones I talked with were really anarchists or undercover cops.  There’s a reason to feel paranoid when people are actually chasing you, and from the beginning the anarchists were not only being chased, they were being groomed for a starring role in the little morality play that law enforcement officials put on for the local folks about to have a Presidential Nominating Convention show up in their town.



By far the largest protests, causing the biggest fears in law enforcement circles for a potential incident, either involving protesters or terrorists - and in too many instances law enforcement was all to willing and eager to link protesters and terrorists in the same sentence - was in the cities where the Presidential Nominating Conventions were held.

This in turn resulted in the $50 million dollar security grants that all of these cities got, and in turn resulted in these cities using some of that money for the additional police units brought in and the massive overtime that resulted in having thousands of police on 12 hour shifts. A large chunk of that money also went to buy new riot gear, weapons, fancy new armored vehicles and a an increasingly sophisticated array of computer software and equipment to spy on citizens.

The 2000 Republican and Democratic Nominating Conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, were the first after Seattle, and the tactics used in each city provided an opportunity each city to try new strategies on how to deal with this new generation of protester.

The money that was used to buy all of the new hardware also played a part in contributing to the process that allowed and encouraged other, smaller cities and even towns and villages to apply for money to buy their own riot gear, and as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down to apply for and receive re-purposed military equipment not longer needed so that they too could have some of the toys that their big city counterparts were obtaining.

Protesters too saw the opportunities to experiment and try out new tactics, but
between being infiltrated by informers and undercover cops, and limited by money and an effective way to have real command and control over thousands of protesters, they were less able to apply the lessons they learned.

In Philadelphia, Chief John Timoney decided before the protests started to try and disrupt the protesters by raiding Convergence Centers where they had set up their version of Command and Control operations.

Philadelphia was also the place where protesters tried blocking access to an interstate ramp, and chained themselves using duct taped tubing to make it more difficult for the police to separate them. 

This practice lasted longer as a story than as a real strategy, but it was just one of the many examples that became part of the presentations that communities got about what might happen when the protesters came to visit.

The tactic of using horses and bicycles didn’t always work out either.    


Philadelphia was also where protesters decided to use paint filled balloons to repaint the town and where the group Billionaires for Bush first appeared.

By the time the protesters rolled into Los Angeles a month later, the environment for protest had changed for the worse.

The LA Lakers had won the championship and in the aftermath of the celebrations fans had gone into the streets and set fire to cars and behaved more like rioters than fans, and unfortunately for the protesters coming to town, the police had been accused of not being aggressive enough in dealing with these rioting fans.

I will always remember driving into the City several days before the convention was to start and seeing large numbers of cops dressed all in Black marching through the streets around UCLA, and realized that cops dressed in Black on a hot
summer day in late August did not bode well for what might come when the protest started.

I was right.  On the first day, police and protesters engaged in skirmishes on downtown streets, as the cops attempted to convey the message that no matter how many times the protests hollered, “Whose streets, Our Streets,” the
streets were going to be owned by the cops.

The anarchists commanded the attention of photographers and cops, and while they walked around looking mean they mostly spent that first day in and around the parking lot next to the Staples Center, with occasional small groups going off to march around the city.

The strategy of the LA Police was clear: They were intent on in letting everyone know that Los Angeles was going to forget about civil liberties that week, and it came into clear focus that first night when under the pretext of some pieces of brick being thrown over several fences in the direction of the Staples Center, the police ordered the electricity powering the free concert taking place in the parking lot next to the Staples Center by Rage Against The Machine.

There were somewhere between 5-7 thousand folks in the parking lot watching the show, and after the power was cut off the police declared that the gathering in the parking lot was an “Unlawful Assembly,” forcing those people into the streets. 

Within 15 minutes of that happening the first group of police on horseback and armed police carrying shotguns marched into the intersection of Figueroa and Olympic and started firing volleys of rubber bullets at the protesters down each of those streets.

Hundreds of people, including dozens of news media folks were beaten or wounded
by rubber bullets that night, including me, when in an effort to get closer to a group of cops who were shooting at radio employees on a rooftop remote on the corner of Figueroa and Olympic I was hit with a half dozen rubber bullets including one to the head, that might have come from the cop in the photo below getting ready to fire at me.

There were folks that night who suffered very serious injuries as a result of the rubber bullets, including one young woman lost an eye.  It was a totally unwarranted use of these weapons because most of the folks had already started walking away when the cops opened fire, but it sent the message that the cops wanted to send.

In the aftermath, I became the lead Plaintiff in the lawsuit against the LA
Police Department that led to the department’s requirement to allow the news media to cover unlawful assemblies and other civil disturbances.

The aftermath of the wholesale shooting of so many people on Los Angeles streets had some affect on the protest that took place in Boston later in the campaign when Ralph Nader was denied an opportunity to be be included in the First Presidential Debate at the University of Massachusetts.

A combination of protesters, including City Firemen protesting over a new contract showed up in front of the university where it soon became dark and dangerous as hundreds of protesters tried to breach the barricades. 

It could have easily turned into a blood bath, but it didn’t, and at the end of the night I talked with a Police Commander who acknowledged that what had occurred in Los Angeles had influenced their decision making process, and that in a City with numerous colleges and universities, the last thing that anyone wanted was to see a bunch of kids bloodied and beaten over a political rally at a Presidential Debate.


The 2004 conventions were in Boston and New York. In Boston the first serious attempt to corral the protesters into a designated protest area was formulated. The area designated was under an Overpass, fenced in with netting and barbed wire, and became more of a location used by protesters to mock the notion of being forced to protest within a fenced in pen.

While a smaller group of what was assumed were anarchists wandered around dressed in Black and snarled at photographers over being photographed, their numbers were no where near the numbers of that had been in Los Angeles or at the anti-war and globalization protests in Washington and elsewhere in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

In their place were a lot of wannabes. They were kids - almost all were teenagers - who proclaimed they were anarchists, yet looked and acted completely like what they were - kids wanting to be part of what they thought the next fad was going to be.

Although the protests in both Boston and New York reflected the concerns of the myriad of groups and causes one would expect to find at a national convention for the selection of Presidential candidates, the strategy continued of using the threat of anarchists and violence as the justification for scaring the the bejesus of of the local business community as a way justify the often nonsensical and draconian measures that the police argued were needed to protest the community against these marauding hordes.

In Boston, I happened to sit next to a family having supper on the Sunday evening before the convention started and heard the father telling his wife and children about the possibly of terrible violence that might occur that week because there were anarchists coming to Boston.

I couldn’t help but lean over and interrupt him to ask where he had heard that information. He told me that he was a business owner and that he had attended several meetings of business owners and community leaders who had been briefed by federal and state law enforcement officials about what might occur when the protesters arrived in Boston.

Yes, there were crazies and trouble makers among the protesters, people acting out their own psychodramas involving authority figures and people looking to try and agitate others to do what they were themselves afraid to do, but there were also hundreds of thousands of regular Americans unhappy with the state of the country, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and any number of other concerns who showed up in those two cities, and the vast majority had no knowledge that they had become pawns in a in a massive abuse of civil liberties that included wholesale spying on protest groups and leaders, especially in New York.

Those who showed up to protest were anti-Bush and anti-Kerry.  They were pro-abortion and anti-abortion. They were anti-war and pro-war, they ranged from participants of Critical Mass to Chinese Americans supporting Falung Gong. The Billionaires for Bush and the Missile Dick Chicks showed what political satire and an attitude could accomplish,  and when the Republican Convention rolled into New York an estimated 400,000 protesters of all colors and persuasions marched down 7th Avenue on the Sunday before the convention began, and by the end of the week over 1,800 people had been arrested. 

The overwhelming majority had not done nothing illegal except to exercise their First Amendment Rights.

Here are some of those people.

AUGUST 18, 2014