Behind The Kettle: Can We Call It Fascism Yet?
Kettle: When police cut off your path and block off all exits
After the news broke that Daren Wilson would not be indicted, the nation p broke out in protest. Here is my report back from the uprisings and protest that took place in Los Angeles.
The protest began in south LA, near Lamert Park. As the march begun, there was little police presence in the beginning. Only a few police blocking off certain sides of the street, as they would if the event had been permitted. We’ve seen this tactic used before by LAPD, orders had clearly been given to keep their distance. As the march headed north on Figueroa we begin to see a police kettle form. A few people broke threw allowing for their to be protesters on both sides, forcing the riot line to disform, and the police officers to retreat. As it appeared that the march was headed to the Staple Center, the police precense begin to amp up. Decisions were split on where to move forward, and those who chose to continue on the march heading west on Pico blvd. The police in riot gear blocked off both entrances to the freeway. As options became limited, people tore down the fence and begin assisting each other over the dirt hill. Those who made it on to the freeway yelled at those still standing down below chanting, “join us”. And with that, protesters had shut down I-110.
Highway Patrol cars swarmed up, exited their vehicles and begin moving forward in full riot gear, and not-so-lethal weapons. As people begin to leave the freeway, assisting eachother on the way down, making sure not to leave anyone behind as we moved down steep dirt hill. When we made our way down we found ourselves with a more familiar LAPD, the LAPD that had been waiting for this very moment the whole night, ‘cause there is nothing trigger-happy cops love more than an excuse to use their freshly bought new toys: it was time to declare this group an unlawful assembly. The night wound down with a few protesters remaining in the streets, shot at with rubber bullets; some were hit before the police attempted a large kettle that forced resisters to leave the scene or risk arrest.
The next day, with news of freeways being shut down, LA was still a buried story. Few heard about our hours-long march to take the highway and our getting shot at by the LAPD. This is the point of the police avoiding mass arrests. In the usual fashion, this marks the beginning of co-optation as undercovers start to assume leadership positions. My assumption is that they participated in the first march to learn how the process worked and used that to control on the following night. When I arrived, people had already chosen to take the same route that we had taken the night before, but instead ending at the LAPD headquarters. This crowd, who were likely inspired by the night before, were eager to take freeways and push against police lines. But every time, outside pacifiers were quick to chant “we are peaceful” at any moment things seemed to lose “control”. The cops had the LAPD building surrounded as if they were worried that protesters were going to rush their $437 million headquarters, their precious glass castle. Somehow people were organized away from the police line into two separate marches. We had been successfully drawn away from conflict with the police and divided – we must remember that “the people united will never be defeated” isn’t just a slogan.
I chose to follow the march that RCP wasn’t leading and it looks as if I chose right. We arrived at the 101 freeway entrance off of Grand and Cesar Chavez and, like the night before, people took to the highway. And in true collective fashion, the people broke chain fences and carved out new paths for those who dared to take the highway. It was beautiful, the sort of thing the news never reports; it reminded me of the passing of the bricks in Turkey. The highly militarized highway patrol arrived and immediately begin to show their force. They kicked and beat some of those who were on the freeway. One young woman’s face was completely beaten, leaving it covered in blood. It was the second night now and it was time to intimidate everyone from continuing or thinking of coming back the next night.
As people were trying to rush for safety away from the storm trooper-like brigade, we quickly realized that we were kettled without any options to leave. And just like the year before, we were held in a kettle for about 40 minutes, begging the question from many in the streets: was this about to be a mass arrest? “Hundreds Arrested for Shutting Down the Freeway” is a headline that I’m sure Mr. Garcetti did not want to see. And so they let us go, with one cop ominously tapping his gun and smiling at us as we passed by. They were getting antsy for a fight.
Again a dispersed crowd went their various separate ways and most headed back towards downtown. There I found the other march, the people who didn’t make it to the freeway and instead stayed back at City Hall. This march appeared tame and less colorful than the one I had just previously been on. With the demeanor of a military officer, one guy familiar from the night before lead the march. Insistent upon people stopping at every intersection for 5 minutes for no apparent reason, it was clear this person’s judgement may not have been in the best interest of insuring the safety of the group but instead with the safety of property and the police. He and another individual — who also appeared to be facilitating the direction of the march — insisted on paths that anyone who’s ever marched in downtown, or really just practiced some common sense, would have thought would lead to an immediate kettle. Going through dark underpasses and down poorly lit alleyways are not really the best choices for getting towards your end goal, especially when you’re only one block from your destination if you just continue moving forward. In no real desire to find myself in a police trap, I continued with others on the path I felt safer on and waited at the Staples Center for the rest of the march. The march appeared about 5 minutes later next to riot cops that had been waiting for them. The leader of this march then continued to lead them down the commercial part of LA Live where the Ritz Carlton and Regal movie theater met. They then went down another alleyway that led to a dead end as I and others followed, yelling, “what are you guys doing?!” We found ourselves successfully locked into another kettle. – I be damned if I got arrested for this shit.
The cops being unsure whether or not they were supposed to let people through (there were also consumers coming from the parking lots trying to make it through to the movie theater), they let white and other lighter skin individuals through and decided to stop when it came to me. Was I being targeted? I had been vocal both nights. Or was it simply that I was of dark skin and the same racist white supremacy and anti-blackness that led to the murder of Michael Brown would result in me being singled out to not be let through. Through the power of friendship I was able to make it past their police line and through to safety. It was there after almost finding myself in danger that I decided to no longer participate in a march with those so eager to continue to follow someone who was so obviously not working in their best interest. News later came out that there were 180 arrests made that night, including those who continued to follow the “General”, the self-appointed leader – Always trust your gut.
The next night I returned more cautious, since I didn’t have my usual trusted affinity group with me. I had came alone and decided that it would probably be a wise decision to wear my press pass. When I had arrived, the same splintering had already happened, with one group marching to twin towers, demanding the release of those who were previously arrested, and the other march, which I found myself a part of. This march had an undetermined location but muffles of Staple Center were heard around. This march appeared to be more cautious, successfully spooked from the large number of arrests from the night before. This march was determined to avoid arrest. In an attempt to make sure there would be no more freeways taken that day (the 101 freeway was shut down earlier that morning by activist with cars),
the police had Figueroa covered and it was clear there would be no exit. The best tactic would be to continue marching down another path. But while people debated on what to do, a police formation was coagulating from behind and I found myself in another police kettle. This time the line was weak and with the unity of the people it easily could have been broken. But with peace police shouting through mega phones and the number “183” lingering in everyones head, people were scared out of doing so. The police then made a dispersal order and people marched up Flower, which is a one way street. In my experience it is safer to march against traffic than with it and it was also clear that Figueroa was blocked off. But instead of going up Flower, people continued towards Figueroa, where the march was again met with police. Here we were forcibly made to take the sidewalks until we reached the corner of Flower and 5th. It was very clear we needed to march east on 5th street. To the west and south of us there were cops and those from the west were quickly rushing to block the north. It was head east or find ourselves in another kettle. But for some ungodly reason, people headed south towards the police lines and some stayed back unsure exactly what was happening or where to go. We quickly found ourselves in another kettle, which led to one black man being charged at by the police and getting arrested. He did absolutely nothing but be a black man on a street corner.
At that point it became clear this march was going nowhere and I was not about to spend the next few days in jail because of the indecisiveness of others. Familiar with downtown and having worked and lived here, I asked passersby if they saw any cops down at Hope and continued to walk through the library, down the steps that I knew would lead to 6th and Hope. Others who also caught on to this did so. We did it quickly, knowing at some point the cops would realize what we were doing and send more troopers to cut us off. Someone yelled to other people that theres a path this way, so about 30-40 us went. As soon as we reached 6th street, two black pick up trucks full of fully militarized cops in riot gear drove by. In my head I thought, “fuck this is it, we’re about to get snatched and beaten,” but the truck full of cops continued down 6th street and instead made a circle. We ran down 6th street and someone yelled “Stop.” As people began to turn around and walk back towards 6th and Hope, we saw that two of the same cars with the same amount of police officers had parked on 6th Street in front of the Standard and successfully kettled the rest of the march.
And there sat 100-120 people, kettled into a corner, surrounded by 200 or so police officers, with more constantly flooding the intersection. The scene of aggressive cops kicking and swinging their batons at protesters on the ground and terrified local media cameras hanging in the back… I’m sure you did not see that on your nightly news. As the police buses began to arrive, it was clear that arrests were going to be made, to continue to set an example and punish those who dared to resist. Smiling cops looked on as drunk patrons sat on the patio of the gentrified bars, drinking their wine and laughing at the protesters – Fascism.
As I walked away from the protest to catch public transit, I passed by bars, tourists and families either unaware or unbothered by the scene only a block away from them. The night before, passersby in front of the movie theater complained about how the protest better not interrupt their chance at viewing the most recent Hunger Games release. Sigh, I know…
For a lot of people this was their first protest, their first unpermitted march and un-organized action. This explained the trusting nature of so many in allowing for these suspicious individuals to lead them down so many unsafe paths. What was interesting is all the fear-mongering and peace-policing of any attempt at property damage or conflict with the police had neglected to point out the real danger that was occurring on these marches. It was not the various tactics people wanted to practice but rather it was the police themselves. The police are the most dangerous thing on the streets right now and those who are not of black or brown skin and don’t have to deal with their brutality need not attempt to control those who experience that violence on a daily basis. And for those who were people of darker skin who also engaged in the peace policing, I know they did so from an understandable caution. But they also should realize that it doesn’t matter if your hands are up, if you went to college, if you dress in your Sunday best or lay on the ground, in this country: the police, white and light skinned people are allowed to murder you. And shit, not only are they allowed to murder you and get away with it but like we’ve seen with George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson, they actually are monetarily rewarded for this.
At the Ezell Ford march a few months back, which was organized under the hashtag #Handsup, we started chanting “Hands down, Fist up”. There is no need for us to walk around these murderers with our hands up screaming don’t shoot.‘Cause the police are going to show themselves to be the violent force that they are and if this institution is going to continue to allow them to act with impunity.
So stop attempting to pacify these actions, and instead redirect your energy at making sure the police are the ones that are being peaceful. The mass arrest that happened over the past week weren’t because people weren’t being “peaceful” but instead happened because we live in a police state that is expanding it’s fascism from out of just the black community but to others as well. Those 323 people were arrested to flex their power, so that they could scare us, intimidating us back into repression.
But, for those of us with a constant target pointed at us, the 323 people arrested doesn’t scare us. We already have 2.5 million in jail, we don’t have to march down the street to be confronted with police violence. Our mere existence alone is enough to justify our murder. The 323 people being arrested was to scare off the white bodies that decide to join in, because for you this is something that you can opt into, you can choose whether or not to participate. For us, we were born into, it is passed down in our DNA through years of enslavement and attempted dehumanization.
So every time you spill our blood, you only spread the black revolt.
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