Monday, December 19, 2011

We're Just Here to Watch the Game, Officer


Riding the high of our freezing, raining, slightly disorganized and overwhelmingly policed action at the Port of Long Beach on Dec 12th, a table full of soaking wet comrades came up with an idea for a brilliant autonomous action. 

Ruth Fowler, who wrote a great piece on what we did, was the origin: she signed up to receive LAPD chief Charlie Beck’s tweets some time ago, to keep tabs. She got an announcement for what appeared to be a public relations event: the LAPD basketball team going to the Midnight Mission on Skid Row to play a team comprised of people who work at the various missions/outreach centers there. I kid you not: The LAPD “Young Gunz” vs the “Skid Row All-Stars.” The press release itself is a work of manic rhetorical genius: the LAPD are "just men doing what they love" on the court. Competition between the teams "shows the level of mutual respect." And other bizarre obfuscating tripe.
Our instant suspicion of the event was not paranoid: the LAPD is notorious for its harassment of the residents of Skid Row, even more notably since the Safer Cities Initiative was passed. This initiative has resulted in the area of Skid Row, which has low incidence of violent crime, hosting the highest concentration of law enforcement anywhere in the country. The money for services never materialized from the Initiative, and the cycle of homelessness and incarceration has not been broken, it has been reinforced. The missions in the area, while providing much-needed shelter, food, and care, especially to people attempting to get sober, support the Safer Cities Initiative and thus still contribute to the criminalization of homelessness. Please read more about the issues- this is a political quagmire, safely hidden from view as the gentrification of downtown Los Angeles rolls along per Mayor Villaraigosa's plans. 
Like I said, we were still high on adrenaline from the port action, and trying to ignore our freezing wet clothes while we occupied a breakfast spot in Long Beach, and it was decided: Sometimes you just have to mic-check the police chief in his basketball shorts. 
The following day, we descended on the offices of LA-CAN (Los Angeles Community Action Network), also located in Skid Row, and talked with organizers there about our plan to crash the LAPD’s little PR stunt. We wanted to make sure we weren’t jeopardizing any important relationships with the Midnight Mission, that there would not be repercussions on Skid Row residents, and that we were covering the right issues in our planned statement. We got some great advice on the statement and a smirking green light on the action from long-time activists we trust. 
Nine of us walked into the Mission that afternoon with a script, a video camera, and hopes to show a few people that OccupyLA has the brains and the balls to disrupt self-congratulatory band-aid media stunts from law enforcement. We watched the cops serve meals, with sidearms visible under their plastic aprons. (Very friendly.) We sat in the stands, we stood for the anthem, and then when the players were getting introduced, I pulled the script from my pocket and screamed “MIC CHECK!” 
This is what we said: 
"We, the 99%, do not accept the criminalization of the 15,000 homeless people on Skid Row. Shelter is a human right, and by shelter we do NOT mean jail cells under the so-called Safer Cities Initiative. The police presence on Skid Row is highest in the world, with a greater deployment of law enforcement than anywhere but Iraq. We want real community change, not empty public relations efforts. We are here in support of the RESIDENTS of Skid Row, and all those who are doing what they can despite the violent selective targeting of City Council and the LAPD. "
The LAPD scrambled to figure out how to kick us out without arresting us in the middle of a nice little time. They yanked on Ruth a bit, but we were escorted out of the building with no further incident. 
During the mic check, one of the officers kept saying, “This is private property, you can’t do that here.” It was hilarious logic: everyone in the stands responded to us, mostly with favorable cheers and “Skid Row! Skid Row!” as we left. If we’d been chanting something short and supportive, like “Go Allstars!” We would have had no problem. What we did was say a little too much, with a little too much conviction, and puncture the veil of Public Relations to remind everyone that the problems of our city are not only not being solved, they are being exacerbated by the LAPD. 
There’s really nothing finer on a rainy afternoon than some good ol’ disruption of business-as-usual. 

23 comments:

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