A Clean, Well-Lighted Raid
Photo by James Bunoan"Perspective" did what every red-blooded American should do on Flag Day: he proudly waved Old Glory. Then he burned it.
"I love my country and hate those who kill it," explained the Long Beach native. "I burn the flag to burn down the insane system that's in power."
The 16-year-old joined about 60 other people as part of the Long Beach Infoshop's Flag Day celebration. The embattled anarchist collective held a benefit concert that night to raise money for the community space. But before the music began, the cooperative held a two-hour street commemoration of the red, white and blue.
Underneath a torn, upside-down flag stating, "Your leaders will get you killed," about 20 people brandished upside-down flags outside the storefront on the corner of Seventh Street and Redondo Avenue before the show. Many twilight-time drivers honked their approval to the demonstrators; then again, the commuters might have honked because the almost-all-teenage crowd was shouting, "Lakers!"
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Afterward, everyone went inside the pamphlet-filled Infoshop for the concert and flag-burning ceremony that Matt Martínez of Over the Counter Intelligence (which was scheduled to perform) promised at the end. "So stick around, and let's gather 'round to see some flags burn," he said in his typical impish manner.
First up was trio Yukon Ho, which confused the audience with its melodic, almost country and western punk. This take was great, but the set soon turned into an unfortunate mess of noise, not helped at all by Yukon's steel-wool-on-rust-voiced lead singer.
Chicano punk outfit Cuauhtémoc was to be next, but at exactly 10:40 p.m., the real pyrotechnics began: eight of Long Beach's finest marched single file into the tiny Infoshop. After demanding to know who was in charge, two officers grabbed Martínez by the arms and took him down the block to an Albertson's parking lot to question him for allegedly "disturbing the peace." The Infoshop soon emptied, as the concertgoers followed the officers to make sure no funny business would occur.
"Don't spit," Martínez shouted to his supporters, a sly reference to his citation for the crime at an anarchist news conference about two weeks ago in the same city (see June 14's Shoot!). After about 10 minutes, Martínez was released.
"All we asked him is if they would turn down the music," explained Officer Paul Munson, who claimed the department had received a noise complaint ("I don't know when") and that it took 12 cops to investigate because "it's safer for us that way."
Onlookers scoffed at that explanation, alleging that one officer told an activist earlier in the week that they knew of the scheduled flag burning. They added that police cars had been circling the Infoshop nonstop since 7:30 p.m.
"When I break the noise ordinance in my home, I get two cops," observed Sheila of Long Beach. "Here, they get 20."
"They said we were stupid, unorganized kids who didn't know what we were doing and that I was taken away because we were giving them a problem," Martínez said later. "They also talked about you. They said, 'The media's here. They're trying to get dirt on us but we didn't do anything wrong.'"
Once the smokies cleared, it was time once again for Cuauhtémoc. Poor Cuauhtémoc: they never get to play full sets because police seem to raid every concert they play. The boys had just come from an anti-police rally in Anaheim and—inspired by their witnessing of the raid—tore into their songs with even more political aplomb than usual. But Cuauhtémoc played only three songs before two officers attempted to enter the Infoshop yet again at 11:25 p.m. The same officer who had detained Martínez let concertgoers know that if they didn't turn off the music, police would arrest everyone. Infoshop denizen "KT" then asked the officer if he knew of Section 8.80.140 of the Long Beach City Code, which states that any citizen's complaint regarding noise must be tested by the police to make sure it is higher than 55 decibels before investigating the source.
"Yes," replied the officer, "but I'm following the California Penal Code, which states this concert is disturbing the peace. I don't have to follow the city code."
The concert was finally quieted but not finished. "Let's burn the fucking flags!" someone shouted, and everyone quickly pulled out their star-spangled banners, putting them in a pile on the band pit floor. Someone lit a match, and with Rage Against the Machine's "Bombtrack" blaring, the crowd gazed in awe and anger at the highly flammable flags, still trying to figure out what exactly had happened.
"Isn't it a coincidence that they [the police] only raid activist parties?" Cuauhtémoc's lead singer said as his yard-long flag was reduced to ashes. "But they can't get rid of all of us. The more they repress us, the angrier we'll get."
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