Welcome back to my Democratic convention diary. For those who missed Part I of my adventures among the knuckleheads, here’s the briefing: I am an officer in the LAPD. Last week, my partner and I drew the “scout” assignment for the DNC — charged with circulating among the protesters and uncovering any plans for mayhem.
With night one of the convention now in the books, we brace for three more days of pointless marches and general lunacy.
Tuesday, August 15 We are told at roll call that the knuckleheads (a.k.a. anarchist protesters) tried a new tactic — joining the legitimate protesters for a few blocks on a march before branching off on their own in search of an unguarded window to break or an unattended cop car to burn. They were unsuccessful and some of them land in the pokey. We arrive at Pershing Square to find that the only protest scheduled for the afternoon is the Gay Rights march to the Federal Building. We think it unlikely that the knuckleheads will sympathize with the homosexuals’ cause and demonstrate with them. But this is the only show in town at the moment.
“We’re gonna walk with these fags?” a sinister young man asks a comrade from behind his black bandana.
The event is billed as the March for Civil, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Disability Rights. It occurs to me that the continued addition of aggrieved subgroups to these gatherings must be vexing those who paint the requisite signs and banners. Soon they’ll be forced to hire those people you find at craft shows who, for five dollars, will write your name on a grain of rice. Can the day be far off when we see the March for Civil, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Disability, Lactose-Intolerant, Toenail-Fungus-Afflicted, and People-With-Bad-Haircuts Rights?
Prior to the march there are, of course, speeches and exhortations from gay activists — including a self-described “Mexican butch bull-dyke lesbian.” At a height of only 5′3″ and weighing in at 230 lbs. (with a shaved head), she is a living argument for genetic homosexuality. She is followed to the microphone by a man who complains that the police are harassing gay men who are having sex in Hollywood’s Griffith Park and other less-than-private settings.
(I remind the reader that we are not at this rally with the intent to obstruct lawful protesters from petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. If, through the unbridled exercise of your First Amendment rights, you can change the hearts and minds of sufficient numbers of voters or legislators and thereby persuade them that the American commonweal would benefit from the open practice of sodomy in the public parks, knock yourself out. I, for one, will have long since left the country by then, or at least moved a safe distance from any parks — but that’s my problem.)
Then, an added bonus: a Kiss-in, at which same-sex couples are invited to engage in public displays of affection as the band plays. A fiftiesh man in a garish Hawaiian shirt drifts over to me like a guy in Times Square zeroing in on a woman as the ball is about to drop. I am flattered that of all the lone males present he has chosen me, but my zeal to protect my undercover guise does not rise to that level. I move to a safe location among some fellow cops, none of whom, I am relieved to see, seems eager for a smooch.
We follow close behind the knuckleheads as we leave Pershing Square, and we are led in the chant: “Queer, straight, black, white; same struggle, same fight.” But the Mexican butch bull-dyke lesbian insists that the word “brown” be added. She is not a woman to be denied, and rhythmic cadence is surrendered to the spirit of inclusion. Two petite Asian women attempt to add “yellow” to the chorus, but they are ignored. Three other cops join me in carrying a large banner for much of the march. I envision friends and family watching the news at home and saying, “So that’s why he’s not married.” The knuckleheads, faced with platoons of cops at every corner, behave themselves.
Wednesday, August 16 The August 21 issue of Newsweek arrives in the mail at home. On its cover is a photo of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman smiling with all the sincerity of used car salesmen trying to unload a ‘71 Dodge with a crankcase full of sawdust. The sound I hear is that of thousands of undecided voters jumping off the fence and into the Bush camp at the sight of that picture.
I again make the mistake of turning on the news and am greeted by the jarring image of Ted Kennedy and Rob Reiner reading from a picture book to a group of preschoolers — some of whom seem to be asking, “Why are these two fat guys talking to us like we’re idiots?” Kennedy later incoherently addresses the California delegation. Then, while being led away like a circus bear, he is asked if the Democratic convention is more fun than the Republican one. “Democrats have more fun,” he says. Well, sure, Democrats who happen to be Kennedys certainly do, if at the occasional expense of a young woman’s life.
There is a march from MacArthur Park, near the Convergence Center, to the Rampart Division police station. A number of marchers wish to be arrested — they inform the cops — and they propose blocking the street in front of the station. Well, the cops say, go ahead and sit down on the hot asphalt for as long as you like, but we’re not arresting anyone for that today. There are hurried negotiations. “What would be an appropriate violation of the statutes?” the protesters ask. The cops suggest that they block access to the station by sitting on the steps — figuring that the steps are in the shade at that time of day and they won’t have to risk lower back injuries by carrying protesters too far. The deal is struck. Thirty or so protesters, presumably the lighter among them, plant themselves on the steps and are soon carried inside for an unforgettable journey through the criminal justice system.
Thursday, August 17 The afternoon march is to protest sweatshops. My partner and I park our unmarked car in a place where the knuckleheads are unlikely to find it and set it ablaze. We walk down 7th Street and meet the march in progress, but the knuckleheads are nowhere to be seen. We walk to the protest zone and mingle among myriad groups and individuals with all manner of axes to grind. My favorite signs: “DOWN WITH BULLS**T” (who could argue with that?) and “DNC BAN BREAST FEEDING NOW!”.
Marijuana smoke hangs heavily in the air, but it is a welcome mask to the other odors wafting about. I’ve spent many years as a cop on the streets of L.A., I’ve ridden the subways in New York, I’ve been to the stockyards of Chicago; I therefore assumed that I had smelled and become immune to any and all unpleasant odors emitted by man or beast. But none of that prepared me for the funk of the bodily secretions given off by these people who have now been marching and carrying on in the August heat for four or five days — some of whom have not had significant contact with water since rampaging in Seattle.
We sit on a concrete barrier lining the sidewalk where conventioneers must pass. A few protesters heckle them, but there is no violence with several hundred uniformed cops standing in the street nearby. I recognize one of the cops and step from the curb to take his picture. This alarms some of the cops, but my friend recognizes me and restrains the others, sparing me from a sure bruising.
A man resembling Al Hunt stops near me with an attractive younger woman. The man calls the cops Nazis, but not loud enough for them to hear. I pray that somewhere out in the street there is a rubber bullet with his name on it. Circulating in the crowd is Tom Hayden, the former Mr. Jane Fonda, now a California state senator, and in 1968 a member of the “Chicago Seven” and a leader of the riots outside that city’s Democratic convention. He wears the down-for-the-movement uniform of jeans and a T-shirt as he shakes hands around the protest zone. He seems disappointed, though, let down by his motley successors. You could hear him think, “These people call themselves protesters? A few rubber bullets and they turn to mush. Oh, for the heady days of Chicago.”
My partner and I suddenly attract an inordinate amount of attention from a fierce-looking Mexican guy. Had we arrested him once? We don’t know, but he has definitely made us for la jura. We decide not to be brave at this late juncture and head to the roof of the Hotel Figueroa across the street. From that vantage point the protest zone looks more like a street fair. The knuckleheads have arrived and they move about as a contiguous mass, like a school of black sardines. A friend observes that it’s like seeing a tumor in an X-ray. As the convention concludes, a spontaneous march goes from the protest zone up Figueroa Street, heading for the county jail on the other side of downtown. But the revolutionary fire in this bunch has been snuffed; they are the Confederates straggling toward Appomattox. At each intersection along the way more and more drop out and disappear into the shadows of downtown until the few that remain on arrival at the jail are chased underground to the subway tunnels and into oblivion.
Standing on a bridge watching the sorry remnants pass beneath him is a beaming Bernard Parks, chief of the L.A. police. We have very likely saved his job. This ain’t Seattle, folks. Thank you for visiting and please drive home safely.