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Tuesday, August 15, 2000 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Gore, Oil and Indigenous People
2000-08-15

Police Beat Demonstrators as Bill and Hillary Speak

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Last night, Rage Against the Machine threw a concert just outside the Staples Center just as President Clinton and Hillary Clinton were arriving to give their addresses to the Democratic Convention. Reports have been pouring into the Independent Media Center of widespread police attacks on demonstrators. We are now joined by three people who were in the streets during the concert. [includes rush transcript]

Guests:

  • Natasha Blake, with the Artist Network of Refuse and Resist.
  • Michael Slate, a writer for the Revolutionary Worker.
  • Erica Krumpl, was in the streets.
  • Jennifer Bleyer, a reporter for Alternet who was behind police lines.
  • Danny Schechter, "The News Dissector" is the executive editor of Media Channel. He is also author of "The More You Watch the Less You Know."
  • John Sellers, the Director of the Ruckus Society and was recently released from jail in Philadelphia where he was arrested during the Republican Convention. He had been held on $1 million bond.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez, broadcasting from the Independent Media Center in Los Angeles, just blocks from the Staples Center, where last night, in the midst of a concert that included Rage Against the Machine, police moved in.

We’re joined by a number of people right now in the Independent Media Center who were eyewitnesses to what happened next. Natasha Blake is an artist, is with the Artist Network of Refuse and Resist. Michael Slate is also a part of that group. This group was among a coalition of groups that sponsored the concert. Erica Krumpl was also in the streets. And Jennifer Bleyer was a reporter last night who was behind police lines.

Let’s take a listen to what the police were doing. We`re actually watching video right now of horses moving in, police in riot gear. We are watching the police hitting protesters.

Michael Slate, can you describe for listeners who are not watching on Dish Network or on public access cable stations, just listening, what exactly took place?

MICHAEL SLATE:

There was a concert that had been organized as part of a rally, but first an opening rally of the D2K protest, and it was a concert by Rage Against the Machine and Ozomatli. There was also Culture Clash, a Chicano comedy troupe were hosting it. And what happened was about Rage —- well, actually, what happened was, in the beginning, the vibe that was there, the beauty of the crowd, people were very peaceful, they were really -—

AMY GOODMAN:

How many?

MICHAEL SLATE:

Actually, there was probably — it began at 6:30 in the morning with people coming in, because this concert had been announced on KROQ and then announced in the L.A. Times, and by the time it began, before the march even got there, the entire space that had been allocated for it was filled up. So there may have been upwards of 20,000 people in that area.

And people were tremendously peaceful. We had an orientation from the very beginning that we were each other’s brothers and sisters, that this was family there. We were there to protest. We were there to make our voices heard, and we wanted this music to be heard.

And basically what happened was that Rage Against the Machine played, Sabia, a group that sings Central American traditional music, opened it up. And, you know, if anyone has ever been to a Rage concert, you know people are generally very eager to have Rage play.

Well, here, this is the kind of vibe that was here, because we had set that orientation. People listened to this music. They cheered it. They loved it. They waited for it. They listened to speakers. D2K speakers came up. We welcomed the marchers in. And then Rage came on. They played a tremendous set. We just brought people’s spirits way up and just gave them that thing that good culture of resistance does, in terms of giving people vision, getting them — planting seeds in their brain.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Well, actually, I was there around that time. In fact, it was right after they finished playing. I came back, headed back here to Patriotic Hall, and everything seemed extremely peaceful at that point. People were beginning to leave. And what happened afterward?

MICHAEL SLATE:

What happened after that was after a few speakers, Ozomatli came onto the stage and began to play. And at that time, they got through about three-quarters of their set — they had two songs left to do, less than ten minutes — when the police announced to us that they were going to pull the plug. They were turning the power off except for one mike that they had in their hands. And then they stood behind this huge fence and kept announcing, like some Darth Vader voice standing there announcing to people that they were reading the Riot Act, and it was time for people to disperse. And they gave — and at that point, there were thousands and thousands of people still left in that crowd, and it’s a very — it’s a U-shaped crowd, so there was no way for people to get out. They gave them ten minutes to get out. And then they started [inaudible] rubber bullets, gas.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Erica Krumpl, could you tell us what you saw?

ERICA KRUMPL: Yes, during the ten minutes that we had to leave, I was basically in the crowd, and whichever way I looked at the person in front of me and saw this glazed, shocked look on their face, and I turned over and I saw a barrage, maybe fifty horses running, like coming at me. And I basically moved forward. I started to run. And then people were screaming, “Please don’t run! Please don’t run!” because then you have, you know, the possibility of trampling other people.

And so, I started walking quickly, and where I was led to, where we were being herded, was basically out on this — well, there was basically one little area, which was an exit, and that was barricaded, so where we had to exit was a very small space and barricaded space. We were completely fenced out, and we were given ten minutes. And beyond the barricaded space, there were basically another like troupe of cops, and they were — they had the rubber bullets. So that was our only, you know, exit.

AMY GOODMAN:

Natasha, what did you see?

NATASHA BLAKE: Well, right after Ozomatli was shut down, I was standing right next to the fence right in front of the Staples Center, and the only thing separating me from that building was a huge line of police. They were really ready for any kind of trouble, and they were just standing in line. And at this time everybody was just trying to leave. They were trying to get out of the space, and there was only one exit. And there were young kids around, and everybody was, you know, really just trying to just to leave, and they just didn’t give us time. They just — they just started, and it happened very quickly.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Jennifer Bleyer, you were reporting for Alternet, and you were behind police lines. What did you see?

JENNIFER BLEYER:

Well, I was on the Staples side of the fence, the side of the Staples Convention Center, and I was standing behind probably four rows of police officers in full riot gear holding batons, pepper spray, guns, teargas cannisters, all sorts of tactical equipment.

What they were basically responding to was a group of maybe twenty protesters who were throwing empty water bottles, perhaps full water bottles, that exploded and sprayed the cops with a little bit of water on the other side.

The fence separating the Staples side, the Staples Convention Center, from the lot where the protesters had gathered was about twelve feet high, curved at the end, embedded in two-foot-thick concrete slabs. There was really no way that the protesters were going to scale the fences, but the cops were reacting to the throwing of water bottles as if it was a really serious threat.

And I saw them have a stand-off for about an hour, in which they opened fire with — I don’t know if they were spraying rubber — if they were really shooting rubber bullets. What I think it was was paintgun pellets, because I was talking to superior officers on the other side who did not know who I was reporting to, who were very open in telling me what’s going on. He said, “Oh, yeah, we’re spraying paintgun pellets. We have the ability to load in teargas pellets at any moment.” They started spraying pepper spray capsules that explode on contact to irritate the eyes, nose and throat.

And at that point, I saw what these other guests saw, which was that about twenty to thirty mounted police chased after the protesters on horses. The worst thing I saw was four, what looked to be, Chicano teenagers thrown up against the fence, being beaten repeatedly by police officers on horses with their batons. They had nowhere to run. They were pushed up against the fence, being hit repeatedly, until they could finally escape.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Well, you know Amy, in the last couple of days here in Los Angeles, I have been amazed at the degree of massive police force. We were in Seattle for the WTO protest, and even the Seattle police did not exhibit the level of intimidation of the demonstrators and the huge concentrations of forces that we’re seeing here under the administration of Mayor Riordan and the police department here. It is a frightening display of pure intimidation in the large numbers of groups of cops that are circling and cordoning off a huge area of downtown Los Angeles around the convention center. It seems that they are determined to prevent any kind of demonstrations that might develop into disruption, even to the point of these preemptive strikes that they’re making on people who are just gathering peacefully.

AMY GOODMAN:

The LAPD is quite notorious around the country. You’ve got the Rampart scandal, which just seems to be the beginning.

But I wanted to move into what was happening here at the Independent Media Center as the protest and the concert was going on at the Staples Center. It is quite remarkable right now that we even broadcast. In fact, there are two national shows that are going out of the Independent Media Center. One is Democracy Now!, which is airing around the country on radio and cable television. The other is Crashing the Party, which airs every night. And when Crashing the Party began its premier broadcast here in Los Angeles at the Indepedant Media Center, we were all together here in the newsroom of Patriotic Hall. They were going on air in about half-an-hour, Laura Flanders was co-hosting the program, and all of a sudden it was said that there was a bomb threat, that there was a van outside that was believed to be filled with explosives. This was a van driven by three young people, two girls — twins, I believe — and a boy, who had come up from another part of California, and they’re part of the radio team here at the Independent Media Center. They said their car contained explosives, and before we knew it, the shadow convention was cleared out on the first floor. That’s Ariana Huffington’s group, where they were having hundreds of people come and look at campaign finance issues. And on the sixth floor, where we were, we were then told that the broadcast truck that was outside, because it was near these kids’ van, was being shut down, and they could not broadcast their show nationally.

Now, when we were in Philadelphia, something similar happened. Right as we were about to go to air, there was a jumper across the street at the car park, not clear what was going on. They closed off the entire area. Someone, they said, was going to commit suicide, who ultimatley didn’t.

Here, it was a bomb threat. They encircled the area. They cleared half the building out. The most important thing is they shut down the broadcast truck. Right next to it, the broadcast truck for shadow convention was not shut down. And then the police started to clear the floors. It was then that the head of the Los Angeles County for Public Safety moved in and came to the convention, came to the Independent Media Center, and started to be questioned by a group of us reporters, and this is what he had to say.

    REPORTER:

    Any type of explosive devices? Could have blown up the whole building maybe?

    LT. NEWTON: I have no idea.

    REPORTER:

    So it could have been anything?

    LT. NEWTON: Could have been — could have been anything.

    REPORTER:

    So were the proper precautions taken to secure the safety of the people in the building, the shadow convention?

    LT. NEWTON: With the information we had, yes.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Was the van searched?

    LT. NEWTON: The van is being searched as we’re speaking.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Was it searched originally by sheriffs?

    LT. NEWTON: It was searched by county police, yeah.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And what did they find?

    LT. NEWTON: They found nothing.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And so, what’s the problem?

    LT. NEWTON: Well, they didn’t do a complete search, because I pulled them out.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Why?

    LT. NEWTON: Because it was an explosive device, and we don’t search for explosive devices. The officers had made an error.

    REPORTER:

    Did the bomb squad get called?

    LT. NEWTON: The bomb squad is here now.

    REPORTER:

    It took how long for the bomb squad to respond?

    LT. NEWTON: You know, I don’t really know.

    REPORTER:

    Around two hours, maybe?

    LT. NEWTON: I would say that’s a good estimate.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Why wouldn’t they have responded faster? Do you get so many bomb threats in the city every hour?

    LT. NEWTON: Again, please, I do not work for LAPD. The LAPD bomb squad responded to our request, that I had submitted through their command post. So I don’t know why the delay.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Who do you work for?

    LT. NEWTON: I work for the Los Angeles County Office of Public Safety.

    REPORTER:

    Is there a representative from LAPD that we could speak with?

    LT. NEWTON: I don’t know if there is or not, but they have a sergeant downstairs.

    REPORTER:

    What’s his name? King?

    LT. NEWTON: But I think they were heading to the basement, just so they could continue, you know, with their speakers and everything. But then, as soon as LAPD clears the van, then we hope to let the shadow convention back into the auditorium.

    REPORTER:

    Why weren’t we allowed to move our truck to do the same thing? Because our television show is not allowed to go on because of this action, even though we were trying to get clearance.

    LT. NEWTON: It was right next to the vehicle that we suspected of having an explosive device.

    REPORTER:

    One thing that I actually discovered is that, you know, a good twenty-five minutes after our satellite operator had been evacuated from his van, I went and found another production truck that was actually much closer to the suspected vehicle, that was full of production staff from the shadow convention. Were they not of concern? Was that an oversight on the officers on the scene? Or —

    LT. NEWTON: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    REPORTER:

    Well, there was another production truck that’s parked, actually, right on the corner. It says RVP on it. And I went down after our satellite truck guy came up here, and it was full of people, I got behind the lines, and there were people in there. They weren’t evacuated.

    LT. NEWTON: That shouldn’t have happened. I was not aware of that.

    REPORTER:

    OK.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    So you planned to evacuate up here?

    LT. NEWTON: No, no. What — again, basically, you have to understand, that I have very limited information.

    UNIDENTIFIED:

    Excuse me, could I introduce the senior executive.

    LT. NEWTON: How are you doing, sir? We’ve already met. Again, LAPD does not share all information with us. They don’t — it’s, you know, the old military “need to know.” We were informed that a vehicle matching that description was suspected by LAPD of having an explosive device or somehow being involved. Based upon that information, we called LAPD. After they had looked at it, they agreed that there was a very good likelihood that that was the vehicle. They then confirmed our request for the bomb squad, and the bomb squad rolled.

    REPORTER:

    Was protocol followed for this?

    LT. NEWTON: As far as I know, but again I’m not with LAPD.

    REPORTER:

    [inaudible] like a two-hour delay in response of the bomb squad [inaudible]?

    LT. NEWTON: My experience has been that it is sometimes longer than this.

    REPORTER: Downtown?

    LT. NEWTON: Yeah. The bomb squad does not roll on every bomb threat that comes in.

    REPORTER: [Inaudible] here now?

    LT. NEWTON: Yes.

    REPORTER: What have they found?

    LT. NEWTON: I don’t know. I’m up here talking to you.

    AMY GOODMAN: And what about the —

    REPORTER:

    Well, they’re clearing the building right now, as we speak.

    LT. NEWTON: No. No, we’re not clearing the building. No, we’re not clearing the building.

    REPORTER:

    I just got thrown off the eighth floor by about fifty helmeted officers. Could you explain that?

    LT. NEWTON: I think that you were told to leave that —

    REPORTER:

    I was told to leave the eighth floor.

    LT. NEWTON: No, I can’t explain that.

    REPORTER:

    An officer up there, wearing your uniform, told me that they were clearing the building. Is that false information?

    LT. NEWTON: That’s false information.

    REPORTER:

    Why are they clearing the eighth floor?

    LT. NEWTON: I don’t know, sir.

    REPORTER:

    You have a truck with — allegedly with explosives in the back of the building. You have approximately 500 to 1,000 people in the building. You’ve known that there was a bomb threat for two hours. You’re now clearing the eighth floor. But you can’t give us any information about what’s going on?

    LT. NEWTON: I thought I just did.

    REPORTER:

    What is it?

    LT. NEWTON: Well, I’m not going to repeat the whole scenario.

    REPORTER:

    No, but I’m asking you about why —

    LT. NEWTON: No, I’m not going to answer that question.

    REPORTER: What’s happening to the bomb, to the truck?

    LT. NEWTON: I don’t know, except that the bomb squad is there.

    REPORTER:

    And you’re not clearing the building?

    LT. NEWTON: I am not clearing the building, I am —

    REPORTER: Then why are the LAPD

    LT. NEWTON: I am evacuating — or I’m — you’re through [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: And you are listening to Lieutenant Newton, who heads up the area here, of Los Angeles County Office of Public Safety. And, Juan, it may not come as a surprise to people to know that fifteen minutes after the window closed for the satellite time for Crashing the Party, which would have broadcast out around the country the voices of protesters, and people were here to voice their views about the Democratic Party and the convention, fifteen minutes after that window closed, they opened the broadcast truck.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Well, it has become a pattern now — we’ve seen it now in Philadelphia and here in Los Angeles — that there is a determination on the part of law enforcement to make sure not only that order is maintained, but that the images of these conventions are not interrupted across the country, and I think it’s something that should become a major concern for many Americans, that if the issue of dissent and of the right of people to dissent and to protest peacefully — we’ve seen the preventive detention pickups in Philadelphia and the high bails, the enormously high bails for people on misdemeanor charges, and now we’re seeing several — the beginning of incidents here at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles.

AMY GOODMAN:

We have to break for stations to identify themselves. When we come back, we’ll be joined by Danny Schechter, the News Disector, and get the final comments from our guests. You’re not going to see them very much in the mainstream media, as they describe something that was taking place as Hillary Clinton and President Clinton were talking about peace and prosperity in the country today. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez in an unprecedented broadcast, bringing together community media — that’s community radio and community television — around the country. The tape we just heard, among those in the questioning, was Brian Drolet, who is one of the people involved with Free Speech TV, that is involved with the broadcast both of Crashing the Party and Democracy Now!, as we broadcast on Dish Network at 9415 and people’s public access stations, as well as community radio.

Juan, as we were being closed down here, very difficult to do work, the police were moving in, and they were moving out. Outside, Gore Vidal was forced into the street. He was giving the convention — he was giving the shadow convention speech, as he was then holding a megaphone and doing it. And at that point, they moved in paramilitary forces, all in black, coming in in black cars, riot troops. They got out, and they said that they heard — and our cameraman Skip Lumberg was videoing all of this, what they were saying — that there was rioting in the streets, and so they were moving in, on top of the bomb threat.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

As I say, it’s remarkable, the degree of mobilization that Los Angeles is undertaking to basically deal with — this protest, of course, was the largest, but it was —- as I said, I was there for -—

AMY GOODMAN:

This was over at the concert.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

This evening at the concert, it was very peaceful and very racially mixed and a variety of issues, and that they would use this technique, which has been used in other cities — it was used in New York by Mayor Giuliani’s police — to pull the plug on a protest and attempt to move in like this is really something that’s indefensible.

AMY GOODMAN:

And yet, Michael Slate, today in the — or yesterday at night in the network news, saw no news of protest. Granted, this happened afterwards, what was taking place, Rage Against the Machine. There was nightly news concert — contest, but there were the nightly news shows, but there were protests that were taking place all day.

MICHAEL SLATE:

Yes, I saw — personally, I saw a lot. I saw a lot that was going on.

AMY GOODMAN:

People arrested in the morning.

MICHAEL SLATE:

Yes, people arrested in the morning. When I was walking from Pershing Square to the Staples Center, I saw hundreds of police. At the slightest moment, they were doing U-turns on one-way streets. When we were walking out of the Staples Center, trying to get away from the thing after it was over, after the concert, we saw hundreds of police again, police running down the street chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” in full riot gear.

AMY GOODMAN:

Jennifer Bleyer, you were behind police lines, because you had credentials at the concert last night. What were the police saying to you as they were beating up these Chicano kids?

JENNIFER BLEYER:

They were basically giving me very candid explanations of what they were doing. I mean, when I saw that one very horrifying moment of the four teenagers who were slammed up against the fence being beaten repeatedly with batons by mounted cops on horses, I asked one officer why are they were doing that, and he certainly didn’t deny what we had all seen in plain view. On our side of the fence, things were fairly calm, and he said, “Oh, they have to disperse. They were told to disperse.”

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And these were people who were not arrested, right?

JENNIFER BLEYER:

No, nobody was under arrest. And when I left the site, after everyone had been cleared, I asked a few officers, had there been any arrests tonight, and they said that as far as they knew, there had actually been no arrests, and they had given people a warning to disperse. Actually, when the horses came in, it looked like all the people who were being chased down were trying to disperse. They were heading off in kind of a southbound direction. They were chased back towards the north side of the lot by the horses and cops, so these were kids who were trying to leave, who were chased back into the lot by the horses.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And it’s important to note that when a policeman beats someone, they usually arrest them and charge them with assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. So if they’re beating people and then not even arresting them, then it’s clear that what’s involved here is intimidation, is attempts to basically break up these protests, and without having to have the paper trail of arrests and the kind of situation that developed in Philadelphia.

JENNIFER BLEYER:

At one moment I asked one of the superior officers who was on my side of the fence where I was standing if the protesters indeed had a permit to gather, and he said, “Yes, well, they had had a permit, but cops have the right, at any moment, to make a lawful assembly an unlawful assembly,” and they decided at some moment that this was an unlawful assembly, and therefore everyone could be arrested. At a moment’s notice, they can make that decision.

AMY GOODMAN:

At a time like this, I think we need to bring in Danny Schechter, the News Disecter. You’ve had some interesting experiences this week, hearing about what editors at corporate newspapers and networks are telling their reporters to cover.

DANNY SCHECHTER:

Well, for one thing, the protest has been covered in the local press here in Los Angeles, and it’s covered as “the protest,” but without any reference to any of the specific issues that people are protesting, so protesters versus Democratic National Committee, protesters win rights from federal court, all this has been almost page one in the Los Angeles Times, but if you really want to know what the protest is about, why people are out there, what they care about, what their concerns are, you have to jump into the depths of the paper, and certainly you don’t get very much of it on TV. I mean, tonight, or last night in Los Angeles, there was a lot of local coverage leading up to the network broadcasts, which showed the protest, because the, you know, local news — this was kind of the action news formula and format that they live for.

But once the networks hit the air with their newscasts, the protests all but disappeared, because the script or the frame of the news was what was happening inside the hall and, you know, previewing Bill and Hill, previewing what was going to be said, and painting the picture of the Democratic Convention. And in a sense, in that respect, the demonstrators were considered persona non grata. They weren’t really part of that script and were therefore marginalized from it.

I mean, the networks have the capacity, if they want to, to give you a picture live from the moon at the same time as they’re inside the Staples Center. They could have shown what was happening outside the hall. And in Chicago in 1968, they did. They split the screen. But they’re not doing it here in Los Angeles, in part because the ideas that are animating the protest are not considered part of really the debate here. The debate is about, really, will the Democrats get through this convention with Al Gore and anoint him in his coronation, and that’s really what the networks are covering.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Natasha Blake, why were you out at the concert? Were you just there last night to see a concert and to have a good time?

NATASHA BLAKE: No, with my involvement with the Artist Network of Refuse and Resist, this has been planned for a long time, to plan a peaceful community event that would bring together all groups of people with a peaceful march from Pershing Square to outside the Staples Center. And unfortunately, it just goes to show that in this country, your right to free speech is shut down, and in this country, you know, this is what democracy looks like right now, and last night was a really unfortunate turn of events.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Well, Erica Krumpl, what brought you here to participate in some of the demonstrations? What were the issues that motivated you?

ERICA KRUMPL: Well, actually, I was born and raised in the [inaudible] district of Los Angeles, so I’ve seen and experienced a lot, you know, since I was a child, and that includes a lot of police brutality. So that was my, you know, major issue. And since then, you know, Mumia has been something that’s been very close to my heart, you know, his issue, and I was there for the march yesterday. And being a part of the Artists Network, we — that’s what we try to do. We are building a culture, you know, of resistance that includes music, that includes performance art, that includes all these things, and so we try to, you know, in the protest scene, you know, we want art as a form of expression.

DANNY SCHECHTER:

You know, speaking of Mumia — and I’m here with mediachannel.org, which is a global website monitoring the media, and I’m writing a daily dispatch on the media coverage. And I was told by someone today —- I spoke to two press photographers, one for the LA Times and one for the New York Times, who basically were instructed or told that pictures of the demonstration with likenesses of Mumia would not be put in either newspaper, although the New York Times did, for the first time that I’ve seen in a long, long time, actually carry a story about the Mumia march here in Los Angeles. So that was, in a sense, a breakthrough, but generally speaking -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Which may well have more to do with the persistence of the reporter than anything else.

DANNY SCHECHTER:

But there does seem — and I got a call earlier. One of the things we do on our website is publish whistleblowers’ stories. Let’s say a Juan Gonzalez at the Daily News was writing something, and the editors wouldn’t publish it. We’d encourage him to tell his story on the Media Channel if that was ever the case.

Well, I got a call from a reporter for a news magazine, who was basically telling me that he is going to be writing a piece about his battle with his editor, who basically said, we’re not interested in protest stories, period. So, no question there has been an attempt, both by the media and by the Democratic Party, to marginalize the protest, but that’s not so surprising if you realize that the media is a part of politics today. It doesn’t stand apart from politics. The media is part of the governing class, if you will. There wouldn’t be politics in America without the media, and these conventions wouldn’t be happening without the media, and probably we wouldn’t be here either. But the main point is that politics is — media politics is politics in America today, and this is something that we have to understand as part of our analysis .

What bothers me is that the protesters here are not marching on the media. They’re not protesting the media, somehow. They’re protesting, you know, the Gap, you know, but not the media, and I think that that may change also, as more and more activists become more conscious and aware of the role of the media in our society .

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re also joined in the studio at the Independent Media Center by John Sellers, who is the director of Ruckus Society, who just got out of jail in Philadelphia. A million-dollar bail was set for him, then reduced to $100,000, and he’s out. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JOHN SELLERS:

Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN:

So what happened to you in Philadelphia?

JOHN SELLERS:

Well, like hundreds of other people in Philadelphia, I was arrested on fraudulent charges and had an outrageous bail amount set for me and was mistreated by the system, the same system that we were speaking out against.

AMY GOODMAN:

Explain why. What were the charges that were brought against you? What were you picked up with? What were you carrying?

JOHN SELLERS:

Well, I was literally walking down Market Street in downtown Philadelphia. When I was arrested, I had my cell phone, my wallet and my Swiss Army knife on me. They confiscated my cell phone and my Swiss Army knife, calling them instruments of crime, so I guess I was guilty of using a cell phone for dastardly purposes in Philadelphia. And the original charge that I saw was actually aggravated assault on a police officer. They later took that charge away and dumped eight charges, fourteen counts onto my record, all misdemeanours, which they charged me a million-dollar bail for.

AMY GOODMAN:

Explain what the Ruckus Society has been doing , what its role is in the protests in Seattle, Washington, the World Bank/IMF, Philadelphia, the Republican Convention and here in Los Angeles.

JOHN SELLERS:

Well, the Ruckus Society is a community of activists that specialize in the use of nonviolent direct action and creative protest for positive change, and we conduct action training camps where we bring hundreds of activists together for four to six days to share skills in a dynamic learning environment and really hone how social change works in a nonviolent way and how to create very powerful symbols to educate the world about complex issues and bring about just social change with regards to human rights, the environment, fair trade, labor issues, a whole host of different issues that we service different communities.

DANNY SCHECHTER:

John, do you think you were targeted by federal government officials. I mean, there was a clear involvement of federal agencies in Philadelphia and probably here in Los Angeles, as well, and there’s been a lot of talk of the targeting of so-called protest leaders.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, the police commissioner said himself — right? — John Timoney. He said that we have to bring federal agents into this, like the FBI, to stop these protests from taking over city after city.

JOHN SELLERS:

Well, one of the things that the district attorney of Philadelphia is throwing around is some kind of twenty-eight-page dossier that she keeps referring to, specifically on me, that she will not make public right now. So I think that they’re — you know, obviously, I’ve been seeing an escalation in the use of surveillance and sort of underhanded, low-level interference with regards to the action, you know, community, and we’re seeing more and more of that, specifically targeting folks from Ruckus, so I would say that that’s definitely true.

DANNY SCHECHTER:

Do you think, though — did anyone say to you or did you get any sense that you — they knew who you were, you had been identified in some way, that you were the big fish?

JOHN SELLERS:

Oh, I absolutely got that sense. I’ve never had the pleasure of being arrested by that many officers. You know, it was incredible. It was three or four lieutenants, a couple of captains and finally a deputy commissioner came out to make the arrest. I was alone, but they moved in with about thirty-five guys and had this race through the streets of downtown Philadelphia, with motor cycles weaving in and out. They cut off four one-way streets to take us zipping down the wrong way. It was just — it was like, you know, a bad SWAT movie. And, you know, they specifically said that they knew who I was. They had had a lot of information about Ruckus. I was very transparent and open with them about giving them more information. I said we had nothing to hide, but, you know, the district attorney was very candid in saying that she set the bail amount for me because I was the ring leader, a person who created the context for the mayhem and destruction that happened and that she was specifically interested in keeping me off the streets and away from LA.

DANNY SCHECHTER:

Did they want to keep you out of Los Angeles?

JOHN SELLERS: She — sorry.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

I just wanted to ask one question in the terms of the development of Ruckus. One of the things that struck me most, when there was the big meeting at the United Nations, where various corporations began developing their partnerships with the UN, at the press conference, one of the participants there said, “Remember Seattle.” If —- and his basic message was that something had to be done for corporations around the world to begin changing their image. One of the things, I think, John, that you’ve been very good at in Ruckus is being able to, as you say, develop creative ways to get a message of what corporate globalization is doing to the environment, to various other issues, and it seems that the very proliferation of the media -—

AMY GOODMAN:

We only have thirty seconds.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

— just like in war, means that people have to be able to cut off any bad publicity, however small, because the word spreads among the population. Are you getting the sense that your effectiveness is increasingly putting the price on your head higher and higher?

AMY GOODMAN:

Yes or no, John?

JOHN SELLERS:

Yes, there’s a concerted effort, no question about it. I think Tom Hayden said as social movements become more effective, governments become more repressive, and I think that’s what we’re seeing right now.

AMY GOODMAN:

When is your trial date?

JOHN SELLERS:

September 16th.

AMY GOODMAN:

In Philadelphia, another set at a million, half-a-million, $450,000 bail?

JOHN SELLERS:

Yes, there are still twenty people in the prison system in Philadelphia and two people with extraordinary charges still there.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, I want to thank you, John Sellers, director of Ruckus Society; Danny Schechter, the News Dissector, mediachannel.org; as well as the people who were out at the protest last night, who have come in to witness — bear witness to what took place with the police in Los Angeles.

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