The way federal police under a Democratic administration violently suppressed a pro-abortion protest could be chilling foreshadowing.
For the I-don’t-know-how-many-th time at this point, I witnessed police brutally suppressing activists fighting for what should be universal human rights in downtown Los Angeles. This time, the initial culprits appeared to be officers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who I observed beating protesters rallying against the repeal of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of 5th and Hill Street, right next to Pershing Square.
I passed small streams of protesters trickling out of the rally as I got there, and the action appeared to be winding down. Then some of the activists alerted the crowd to police in an unmarked car who had started harassing them. Some of the protesters bluntly (and accurately) informed the officers they were not welcome at the rally and instructed them to leave.
The officers refused and decided to brandish “less lethal” firearms, strike protesters with batons, and attempt to drive their vehicle through them, in what is their version of “controlling the situation.” One officer lunged at me for filming him as he shoved a protester onto the hood of a squad car, but alas, this writer was too light on his feet to be caught.
What DHS (one of the over 53 law enforcement agencies operating in LA County), was even doing at the rally is unclear, as is the mission and scope of authority of that department on city property. The mayor’s office could not be reached for comment on the matter at the time of publishing.
Something worth mentioning is that these were federal police under a Democratic administration quelling a protest against an abortion ban, in case anyone is wondering what enforcement around this issue might look like moving forward. The role of police remains the same no matter what party is in control.
The coverage of violence against protesters by the media and liberal politicians does seem to change, however, depending on who is in power — now that Democrats no longer need to use the issue to get elected.
An example of this is the almost nonexistent coverage of the mass shooting at a BLM rally in Portland this February. During the attack, a right-wing extremist took the life of a 60-year-old woman named June Knightly, and severely injured three more protesters.
While Kyle Rittenhouse has become a household name across the US, I could hardly find any mention of the Portland shooting from anyone other than local activists and news stations. I posted about it on social media several times after it happened, asking my mostly activist friends and followers if anyone has heard about it. I was told numerous times by people who are usually very much in the know about these things that I was the first and only person they had heard it from.
At the same time that activists exercising their first amendment rights were being assaulted by cops downtown, comedian Dave Chappelle was tackled to the ground by an audience member at the Hollywood Bowl, only a few miles away. The man who stormed the stage (and who appears to be a pro-Trump cisgender man), was beaten by security and taken away in an ambulance. While he was being detained, Chappelle joked that he must be “trans.”
My own survey of the LA Times Twitter feed found that they had posted about Chappelle’s assault 33 times so far since Tuesday. They posted four times about the pro-abortion protest in its immediate aftermath, with no posts mentioning the assault of protesters by police.
Their first article about the event once again frames state violence as a “clash” between police and protesters, and fails to mention anything about the DHS. A follow-up article frames the attack by police on protesters as “squaring off” — a thing that cops, with a monopoly on the use-of-force, and regular people can’t actually do — and tacitly implies that the mere presence of the marchers “escalated” the situation.
One of these assaults is receiving vast coverage and is being portrayed as having possible chilling effects on freedom of speech. The other was perpetuated by the most powerful government on the planet and is barely being mentioned.
If there is any doubt as to the newsworthiness of these two events, the one video I posted about the pro-abortion protest has received far more attention on Twitter than all 33 LA Times posts combined, despite them having nearly 4 million followers to my 3,500.
The LA Times also wrote about how the man who tackled Chappelle was found to have a knife and fake gun in his bag; the fact that the people who assaulted unarmed protesters all carried real guns was not worth mentioning.
These DHS officers are also likely the very same people who harassed and arrested Occupy ICE LA activists nearly every day during the three-month occupation of the Metro Detention Center in summer 2018.
The occupation, organized in protest of Trumps immigration policies, received zero coverage from the LA Times despite being four blocks away from their building. A Times photographer was, however, sent to take a picture of the Occupy encampment for a larger piece about similar protests.
During that occupation, I watched the LAPD arrest an activist on behalf of the DHS for allegedly silently “mouthing” a threat to a DHS officer. It was perhaps the most surreal suppression of freedom of speech I’ve ever witnessed.
This is also the same DHS that will be given control of our city during the 2028 LA Olympics, a mega event which mandates ultimate police authority be handed over to the federal DHS and Customs and Border Protection (in a city where 10% of the residents are undocumented).
If there is any wonder as to if and how the LAPD will collaborate with DHS, look no further than Tuesday night; they initially kept their distance from the rally, then jumped in to beat and detain protesters once DHS felt threatened, and eventually declared the group of activists rallying for a fundamental human right an “unlawful assembly.”
After escalating, the protest was suppressed relatively quickly, as tends to be the case with such actions held in downtown LA. The fortress-like geography of downtown creates an area deliberately designed to be hostile to pedestrians and public gatherings, and to maximize the government’s ability to police and surveil. This has been documented by Mike Davis in City of Quartz, and witnessed by myself firsthand numerous times.
The first time I was kettled by the LAPD downtown, I was at the Battle of Spring Street in 2020. It was the first days of the uprising following the murder of George Floyd. I temporarily lost the use of my right arm after getting shot in the elbow with a foam round while I photographed the police with my DSLR outside the LA Times building.
Despite facing such a hostile environment and vastly disproportionate violence, it appears protesters were able to successfully de-arrest at least one fellow activist, as can be seen here in a video initially captured by Twitter user @jessrayerogers:
While police in the US have typically been hands-off at large feminist rallies in recent years (such as with the widely attended Women’s Marches), no one should forget that reactionary violence against those providing abortions is a staple of this country. Assassinations, bombings, arson attacks, and even an anthrax scare have all been used to terrorize abortion doctors and clinics for years.
Repealing and restricting the right to an abortion by the state in recent years is also nothing new in this hemisphere, with radical feminist organizers bravely facing down riot police and water cannons across Latin America.
If things continue to get worse in this country, perhaps something can be learned from them.