- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

LOS ANGELES This city is bracing for a crisis, fearing it could be a target for extremists and demonstrators when the Democratic National Convention comes to town in mid-August.

Groups ranging from the anarchists who turned last fall's World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle into a festival of riots to a coalition of the homeless now say they are targeting Los Angeles.

While about 40,000 demonstrators are expected for the Republican convention in Philadelphia two weeks earlier, some activists say they may put twice that many into the streets of Los Angeles.

At the same time, convention organizers have had to overcome problems ranging from a shortage of buses for ferrying delegates from their far-flung hotels to the Staples Center convention site to a shortage of cash for the privately financed event.

The convention will bring more than 4,600 delegates and alternates to town, along with 17,000-plus media personnel. They will stay in 84 hotels in six cities in and around Los Angeles.

Convention organizers are not concerned about the 6-month-old Staples Center, which was under construction when Democrats picked their convention site.

"The facility is exceeding all expectations," said a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "We expect to provide broad Internet access for the first time, so that if someone in any state wants to see what their delegation is doing, they will be able to track it."

But the potential for massive protests worries authorities.

"Certainly, we have to have contingency plans for any potentiality," said Police Chief Bernard Parks.

Police are working with the FBI, the Secret Service and 30 other state and local agencies to prepare for the convention.

"There's a message that needs to be sent, and that is that the law enforcement community will be prepared to deal with any civil unrest or any other incidents that may occur," said Special Agent James V. DeSarno Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office.

Reinforcing that message, California Gov. Gray Davis this week included more than $4 million in his proposed state budget plan for police overtime and equipment to be used in preparing for riots, vandalism or terrorism.

Such warnings do not faze potential protesters. The San Francisco Examiner reported early this month that about 200 professional demonstrators and amateur anarchists will attend a summer camp to prepare for their Los Angeles effort.

"I think we're at a particular moment, an historical moment," said Jai Ching Chen, 27, an organizer with Youth Action for Global Justice, an Oakland-based group that expects dozens of its members will be in Los Angeles.

Added anti-globalization activist Leone Hankey, "L.A. is a good reflection of the injustices of the global economy because it is one of the most globalized cities in the world."

Meanwhile, advocates of the homeless, led by longtime activist Ted Hayes, are planning a convention of their own the Los Angeles National Homeless Convention just six blocks from the Staples Center.

Mr. Hayes, working from a small enclave of domed homeless-shelter huts set up during the late 1980s just across the Harbor Freeway from the convention site, hopes to mobilize many of Southern California's estimated 80,000 homeless.

"We think the convention is an opportunity to call attention to the plight of homeless veterans," says Celes King, longtime local head of the Congress of Racial Equality.

Police have already roped off a block-size area near Staples, near the junction of the Harbor and Santa Monica freeways on the south edge of downtown, as a "protest pit," like those set up at past national political conventions.

But activists say they are determined not to be confined to any small area. They have enlisted a network of lawyers to help them.

"The Constitution is not set aside for the week the Democrats come to town," said Jim Lafferty, executive director of the Los Angeles office of the National Lawyers Guild.

Added organizer Margaret Prescod of the Every Mother is a Working Mother Network: "The protest pit is like a prison."

And Los Angeles police say they can't close off a section of the city near the convention hall, as police did last month in the District to contain demonstrators at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings.

"Ideally, we'd shut down the buildings and block the streets like they did in D.C. and have a closed environment," said Police Cmdr. Thomas D. Lorenzen, head of the DNC 2000 planning group. But pressure from local businessmen, who are counting on delegates to spend heavily, precludes that, he said.

Convention organizers say they believe the joint law enforcement task force will hold protests in check, just as a similar force prevented any violence when Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Olympics, where terrorist violence was considered even more of a threat than it is this summer.

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