By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
According to Austin, the Long Beach Police Department has constantly harassed Info-Shop residents—and often its visitors. "I've seen gang-enforcement units park directly in front of the door and watch people come in and out. Cops would videotape the place. . . . Several times, I would leave the Info-Shop, and I would get followed by an officer and get a ticket."
On one such occasion, Austin said, it was clear that the officer who stopped him knew who he was and where he lived. "They gave me a bike-light ticket and had me there for a half-hour talking about why I hated cops. People would get followed to their houses or apartments if they dressed a certain way, even if they weren't affiliated with the Info-Shop. The police would search them or question them. One kid was crying because the cops had him on the ground and had a gun at his head and were asking him questions about the Info-Shop."
Austin said the last time he saw Lamont was April 20, 2002, the night he was arrested by La Habra police. "He called me later that night and said he was in jail," he recalled. "I think the traffic stop was politically motivated. He was previously targeted. If he was an ordinary person on the street, he wouldn't be in jail right now."
One of Lamont's biggest supporters—who asked to be identified only by her first name, Rosalinda—has helped organize numerous benefit concerts to raise money for Lamont's legal defense. She says she learned not to announce the nature of the benefit in advance because the cops would typically show up and shut down the show.
"I sincerely believe that Matt did not intend to hurt anybody that night," Rosalinda said. "I've known Matt for a few years, and the accusations seem completely out of character. I think Matt was targeted because he was an effective and uncompromising activist. The circumstances surrounding his arrest indicate that Long Beach detectives went out of their way to target and silence him."
Besides raising money for his defense, Rosalinda also attended Lamont's trial. "The judge herself admitted that the stop was illegal," she claimed. "Most of the 'evidence' amounted to items that anyone could be carrying in the trunk of a car on any given day. A fair trial was not possible, given current sentiment and the conservative political climate of Orange County. In light of Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq, many Americans are feeling ultra-patriotic, and any acts of dissent, or any 'crime' that can be misconstrued as a terrorist act, is going to be met with extreme bias."
"I knew him really well," said Lamont supporter Sheila Ketabian, who said Lamont was "one of my best friends. He got totally fucked over and is paying the consequences." However, Ketabian said Lamont was one of the most militant of the anarchists who lived at the Info-Shop, and she isn't exactly surprised that he ended up in jail. She said Lamont's poltics tended to alienate even many of his fellow anarchists. "He is definitely one of the crazy ones," she said.
"Hardly anyone in the anarchist movement agreed with his politics," Ketabian continued. "Everyone was weirded-out by the things he would say and how aggressive and militant he was. He liked to protest and provoke riots and was confrontational. He had a really good heart but was a little on the crazy side. He never really did anything, though; it was 99 percent talk. But that's what got the attention of the police. He liked to tell random people that came into the Info-Shop things like, 'Fuck the pigs,' stuff like that—crazy, aggressive things. He tended to freak people out."
Ketabian says she no longer has anything to do with the Info-Shop. "I think it has just been tainted by this whole police-repression thing," she said. "It's dead now. We can't do anything, not even good things like Food Not Bombs. I just want to finish school and forget about it for a while and do my own thing. A lot of other people have quit, too. They're just burned-out on it."
* * *
The Info-Shop, a purple one-story storefront wedged between a real-estate office and a hair salon on Redondo Avenue, recently changed its name to Reach Center. In one corner, there's a desk with a computer that offers free Internet access. Beer cans are stacked up against one of the walls of the center, ready for recycling. Flies buzz in the air, which is heavy with the odor of human urine. The back door is painted with a skull and crossbones and the motto "Dead Capitalists Tell No Tales."
Inside, a handful of anarchists pile clothes into plastic bags and inventory their bookstore, which mostly consists of cheaply produced pamphlets on anarchism and a smattering of political science and general literature paperbacks. They have to sell the books because, on May 3, they're being evicted, thanks to repeated noise complaints.
The eviction seems to spell the end for any kind of anarchist collective in Long Beach. Austin said he and other residents have no plans to reopen the Reach Center somewhere else. According to the sign on the front door, the Reach Center is already "permanently" closed. "The attorney prosecutor, hand in hand with the pigs, have gotten us evicted," the sign states. "On April 26, there will be an "everything must go sale and dance party that night."