- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

LOS ANGELES Police officers wielding batons yesterday charged hundreds of protesters angered by Vice President Al Gore's ties to Occidental Petroleum Corp. in the first street clash of the Democratic National Convention.
"There were so many [officers], and they got there so fast," said demonstrator Steve Etcheverry. "People were running over each other trying to get out of their way. Then I smelled pepper spray and got out of there."
Late last night, police in riot gear fired pepper-spray balls and bean bag bullets at protesters as a crowd of about 8,000 began to leave a concert by the rock band Rage Against the Machine in a protest area near the Staples Center convention site.
The melee began after some concert-goers began throwing chunks of concrete and firing steel balls from slingshots at police.
Hundreds of police, many on horseback, swept into the area, firing balls of pepper spray from paintball guns at a crowd of about 300 people. The group began dispersing as the nose- and throat-irritating spray spread through the crowd. A mobile medical unit treated scores of people for superficial wounds and inhalation of pepper spray.
The evening melee ended almost as soon as police herded the demonstrators to the far end of a designated protest area, pushing them away from the convention hall.
The confrontation took place beneath a huge TV screen on the outside of the Staples Center carrying live video from the speeches inside. Hillary Rodham Clinton had just finished speaking, and President Clinton was starting.
In the ealier clash, police arrested about 10 protesters and booked them on charges of failure to disperse. With their hands tied with plastic straps, they chanted, "Al Gore, cut your ties, stop the drilling, stop the lies."
Mr. Gore, who controls at least $500,000 worth of stock in Occidental Petroleum, has ignored pleas from environmentalists to fight the company's plan to drill for oil on sacred Indian land in Colombia.
The Gore family stands to benefit substantially if Occidental finds the 1.5 billion barrels of oil it estimates are buried beneath the pristine forest inhabited for centuries by the U'wa Indians.
The 5,000-member tribe is threatening mass suicide if Occidental goes forward with drilling. Colombia's government has granted Occidental the right to conduct exploratory drilling a few miles outside the boundaries of the U'Wa reserve.
"Al Gore bills himself as an environmentalist, but he's not putting his money where his mouth is," said Michael Mossberg, a protester from Seattle. "What I'd want him to do today is use his power to get Occidental to stop drilling on U'wa land."
The afternoon clash, which lasted less than an hour, began when protesters sat down and joined hands across the middle of a downtown street at an intersection about six blocks from the Staples Center, site of the Democratic convention.
Police warned them to leave and then, minutes later, charged with batons and pushed back about 200 protesters. About 400 others watched from up the street.
"This is what a police state looks like!" protesters shouted at the police.
In the confrontation with police, demonstrators used their own bullhorn to taunt officers. Others danced in front of the officers to the beat of a drum. The smell of vinegar permeated the air. Demonstrators poured it on rags to withstand tear gas, although none was fired.
At one point, a line of officers charged, knocking people down. Protesters yelled, "We're nonviolent."
"The police are acting in a very aggressive way," said Medea Benjamin, a Green Party activist and founding director of the San Francisco-based activist group Global Exchange.
Another protester said the officers' strategy was to break the march into segments in order to control them easier.
"It makes sense, and that's fine," said the man, who called himself Shanti. "But some people got smacked, and that's not cool. These people were just protesting peacefully."
Police defended their response.
"If you were here, you saw there was a lot of restraint and that all the training has paid off," said Sgt. Michael Barela, who was at the scene.
"We are honoring people's First Amendment rights, and they are free to protest, demonstrate or rally, but if any laws are violated, we will respond swiftly and handle it," said another Los Angeles police officer who did not give his name.
Later yesterday, at least 1,500 activists marched from Pershing Square toward the convention site, protesting a proposed missile-defense program. Demonstrators carried 50-foot replicas of Trident nuclear missiles bearing the slogans "$35 Billion for Nuclear Weapons, Pennies for Our Schools."
Elsewhere downtown, hundreds marched past buildings housing the offices of big corporations they accused of undue influence in political life. Some of the protesters called for campaign-finance reform. Others wanted to highlight purported corporate abuses.
"We're going to beat, beat back, the corporate attack," shouted the protesters, some of whom wore pig costumes to symbolize corporate greed.
Thirty officers, riot hats on, tear-gas bags dangling from their hips and rubber-bullet canisters fastened to their chests, stood guard as the march passed the Wells Fargo building.
"I just got shoved by my first cop," said one man carrying a sign critical of Mr. Clinton.
Sunday's rally for convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal was marked by the overwhelming number of police, but a very peaceful march.
By late afternoon yesterday, that number had been bolstered by some additional bike-patrol police and troops from the California Highway Patrol.
"Clearly, the LAPD is trying to send us a message," said Don White, an organizer for several of the protest groups. He directed marchers to keep away from the police, who stood at attention as the protesters marched by during the day.
The officers' stoic stance was contrasted by the animated sign-carriers and the black-clad marchers, who chanted and sang as they walked.
"It is simply a show of force," Mr. White said of the seemingly endless parade of officers that enveloped the parade as it wound through the streets on a "Tour of Corporate Shame," which protested the nation's foreign-trade policies.
The day was packed with protests and celebrity. Bonnie Raitt and former Doors drummer John Densmore each performed on the stage at Pershing Square, about eight blocks from the Staples Center.
Johnny Lydon, alias Johnny Rotten, former Sex Pistols vocalist and now a radio talk-show host, made an appearance. He signed autographs and spat on a newspaper-vending machine.
An evening rally will end at another protest site that basks in the neon glow of the Staples Center. Political activist rock group Rage Against the Machine was scheduled to play as President Clinton gives his speech.
"There will be something that happens from that," Mr. Etcheverry said. "I think that is really going to blow things up. Their music really does incite people."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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