Photo by Brian DavilaTroy Pickard arrived in downtown Long Beach on May Day expecting a carnival, and all he got was a lousy police riot.
"The first thing I saw was something really weird: a huge police vehicle that was painted in wild colors and looked like a medieval war machine," he said.
What Pickard saw was a Long Beach Police Department armored personnel carrier. It was waiting—along with about 200 helmeted, baton-carrying police officers—to help control what police thought might become a violent anarchist street protest.
As it turned out, the anti-capitalist May Day demonstration did become violent and ended in the arrests of 95 protesters. But according to Pickard—one of the few protesters not arrested, billy-clubbed or shot with rubber bullets by police—the violence was the result of police misconduct.
Police claim that the roughly 125 members of the LA-based anarchist group Black Bloc were armed with bags of feces and urine and threw rocks at cops.
Pickard said that never happened. "Seriously, nobody threw anything," he said. "The cops said they found bags of urine. Those were not bags of urine but bags of vinegar [for the protesters] to soak their gas masks in case they got tear-gassed by police. I have no problem believing that maybe one guy had a bag of urine—and that he was likely an agent provocateur—but that's about it."
Pickard said he attended the May Day rally with eight friends, all of them dressed in orange, Hawaiian, short-sleeved shirts and orange bandannas; Pickard carried a big orange flag. Most of the contingent were students from Chapman University and all were fellow members of the Orange Bloc, which Pickard said he organized and named to lampoon the more radical Southern Kalifornia Anarchist Alliance, or Black Bloc. And unlike the Black Bloc, Pickard and his Orange Bloc cohorts didn't come to Long Beach ready for a fight.
"We were anticipating a carnival atmosphere," Pickard explained. "Once we got there, it didn't look like we envisioned it. The Black Bloc was sitting there, milling around in a park. The cops were everywhere. I commented to my friends that once the protesters started moving, the cops were going to go apeshit. . . . It didn't seem well-organized."
While the Black Bloc seemed to lack a coherent strategy or (naturally) leadership, Pickard claimed the Orange Bloc had a plan: avoid getting dragged into an unwinnable fight with police. "We thought, okay, there are 120 Black Bloc protesters and about 300 cops, so do we want to stay in this area? The general consensus was no, we want to stay away. So we stayed back," he said.
What happened next made international news (see "How Not to Smash Global Capitalism," May 18). Without warning, Pickard and other witnesses claimed, cops began striking protesters with riot batons, a frenetic attack clearly visible in video footage shot by police, who provided a tape to the Weekly. Pickard said he saw police herd Black Bloc protesters against a building, lined up like a firing squad and then shot rubber bullets into the crowd.
"I could see the protesters up against the wall," he said. "A lot of them had their hands raised. It was basically a bunch of kids who thought they were about to get shot. And right then, the police started shooting people [with the rubber bullets]. I was upset and wanted to get closer, but police were keeping us about a block away so we couldn't approach the scene."
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Pickard may have been saved by his efforts to satirize the Black Bloc. Because of their orange shirts and flag, the Orange Bloc was fairly conspicuous. "There was never any attempt to arrest us because the police were really singling out the Black Bloc," he said. "They didn't see us as a threat. The reason the Black Bloc dresses in black is so that if they become aggressive with the police, they can disappear into the crowd. We didn't do that, and that disarmed the police toward us."
The sight of fellow protesters knocked to the concrete by a hail of rubber bullets was both frightening and disgusting, Pickard said. "I think it reinforced my belief that there are some good cops out there but that most of them are not," he said.
The weirdness didn't stop with the police riot. Pickard pointed out that police prevented him—and anyone else who tried—from entering the Long Beach courtroom to observe the anarchists' arraignment. (Note: When I attempted to enter the same courtroom, police at the door asked me for a press credential. When I presented the credential, they directed me to an office in Monterey Park to obtain permission to watch the trial.)
"I think it is really clear that the police broke the law with this demonstration," Pickard concluded. "The police shot unarmed civilians. Now they are trying to cover it up. . . . We need to stop police brutality—even if it is used against a cause you don't believe in—because we have a fundamental right to assemble in this country. That's the most fundamental right we have."