L.A. RCYB Member Faces Unjust Charges

Revolutionary Worker #1225, January 18, 2004, posted at rwor.org

The following is a correspondence from Los Angeles.

On January 20 of last year, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday, over 50,000 people gathered in South Central L.A. to celebrate and commemorate the life of MLK. The MLK Day parade has become the largest gathering of Black people in the L.A. area. Like previous years, many from the Black community, along with others from different nationalities, lined the sides of the street to check out local radio station personalities and Black celebrities, community drill teams and high school marching bands, and community organizations and activists participating in the parade. As in years past, the police were everywhere too -- on horseback, on bicycles, and on foot. With a show of force that looked like an occupying army, they were doing their usual intimidation and harassment.

What made last year's parade different from previous years was what was on the horizon. Looming in the air was the buildup to the war in Iraq. The massive bourgeois media machine was in high gear, lying to the public about the need to invade Iraq and getting people ready for military devastation, killing, and imperialist occupation. The ruling class was moving fast and heavy to unleash "shock and awe" on the Iraqi people.

In lockstep with the military propaganda machine that was up and running full throttle, branches of the military and the ROTC were well represented in the parade. Marching with guns in hands, they called on people to support and join in to fight and die on the frontlines in this unjust war. Ironically, decades earlier MLK himself had stepped out to oppose the unjust war in Vietnam--and at this celebration his name was being used to build support for an unjust war on the people of Iraq and the world.

Antiwar Message vs. Pro-war Message

The "Youth Are the Future, We Demand a Better World" contingent secured a spot to participate in the parade. The contingent was made up of youth from Watts (including the Watts Drum Corp), members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, and activists from the Not In Our Name coalition. They were determined to take out a strong message opposing the juggernaut of war and repression, planning to reach thousands of people before the start of the war. The contingent was equipped with a spirit of resistance, placards, flyers, bullhorns, and a huge banner that said "Not In Our Name."

But the parade organizers had another plan. Right before the contingent was about to begin marching in the parade, the organizers decided that this message wasn't going to be heard, and they denied the contingent the right to march in the parade. First, they told the contingent that they weren't allowed to carry the "Not In Our Name" banner because it was too big. Next, the contingent was told that their group was too large. They were told that unless they got rid of the people from the "Not In Our Name" coalition, they wouldn't be allowed to march in the parade. Lastly, after these excuses were challenged, the parade organizers came out with the real reason--they flat out told the contingent that they weren't going to allow this antiwar message to be a part of the MLK Day parade .

Recognizing the importance of getting this message out to the people (and under the "watching eyes and following feet" of the LAPD), the contingent took to the side of the parade route, talking to people and passing out flyers calling for resistance to the U.S. juggernaut.

From Expulsion to Police Brutality

This parade was the christening for new L.A. Police Chief William Bratton. Only a month or two earlier he had been sworn in as Chief. Bratton brought his "quality of life" (translation: war on the people) approach straight from New York. This parade was going to be his first chance to let the people of L.A., especially the Black masses, know what it would be like under Bratton's baton. He continued with the history of past MLK parades--massive police presence, police harassment, intimidation, and brutality. The L.A. Times reported that ten people were arrested during the day.

Not long into the day, the police started attacking an older Black woman near where the antiwar contingent was standing. She had come to see the parade on her bike. This evidently wasn't allowed, and the police began pulling her off the bike. Her daughter stepped up to defend her mom. The cops grabbed the daughter's arm, twisted it around her back--dropping her to the ground. Outraged, a crowd formed. In the middle of this crowd, a Black RCYB member from Watts stepped out and began chanting "Let her go, let her go!" Many followed this RCYB member's lead.

Soon, there were over 200 people facing-off with the police. The police on horses trampled the crowd while swinging their batons. They quickly singled out the RCYB member--and five cops jumped on him. They swept him to the ground, hit him with batons, sprayed his face with pepper spray, and arrested him. Out of the 200 people in the crowd, only this RCYBer--along with the two women who were being harassed in the initial incident--were arrested. To this date only the RCYB member has charges pending and is still going to court.

It is unclear if the expulsion of the "Youth Are the Future..." antiwar contingent from the parade was directly related to the later arrest of the RCYB member. But this much is clear: the police followed the contingent from the time they were booted from the parade; they knew what groups were in the contingent and what message it was taking out to the people; and they quickly came after the RCYBer as soon as they had a chance. It's not unreasonable to think that the arrest was a further attempt to silence the antiwar message from being brought out and heard at the parade.

Prosecution of a Young Revolutionary

The RCYBer was charged with four misdemeanors: two counts of resisting and obstructing a police officer, assault on a police officer, and assault on a police horse on duty. These charges are bogus and outrageous. The police were in the process of brutalizing two women right in front of the people--and when the people protested against this injustice, the police just extended that brutality on the crowd. It isn't a crime (and it shouldn't be seen as one) for someone to call out the cops in an attempt to prevent police brutality and abuse. In fact, such an act is something that should be supported and defended. The police are aiming to cover up and justify their brutality on people by charging the victim with assault. It is in fact they who brutalized the people, and the people were simply standing up and defending themselves against that brutality.

As for the charge of assaulting a police horse--beyond the absurdity of this charge, it has come out through the course of discovery motions in court that this horse and his police rider have been involved in other incidents of brutality--including attacking protesters at an October 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality march in L.A. a few years back.

Drop the Charges Against the RCYBer

This young RCYB member is a youth from Watts who has taken up revolutionary politics and has become a leader among the people. People in the Nickerson Gardens Housing Projects in Watts know him to be a fighter for the people, someone who displays a tremendous amount of love for the masses and who would put himself on the line to defend the people.

In an interview, the RCYBer spoke about why he was out at the 2003 MLK Day parade. He answered, "The scene out there, with the masses, was beautiful. We were out there with the Watts Drum Corps. We look forward to this day every year. It's a chance to unite with the basic masses and people from other strata... This time was significant because it was on the eve of the war. They were about to strike, and people didn't know when, but they knew it would be soon. We were there for a reason: to unite with the people of the world to say Not In Our Name!"

He went on to speak about how he's viewing his case: "This is the first time something like this has happened to me. I knew that the system goes after people all the time--they use that against the people to say `this is the reason why you can't go out there and unite with people and resist the system.' They try to scare people. One thing I'm learning from all this is if you don't accept their terms--they try to force you to accept their terms--the people can still rally against them and defeat them."

That's what must happen in this case. The people cannot accept the system's terms--and these charges must be dropped. The politics at play now--the climate being created from the highest level of the government--are aimed at tightly controlling the people and silencing dissent and opposition to their rule. If they are able to get away with locking up revolutionaries who dare to stand up--whether it be to oppose the war, protest police brutality, or fight other injustices--then they will be gaining ground on their repressive domestic agenda. And further, they will be taking real leaders--leaders precious to the people--off the streets. Our brothers and sisters who are being railroaded, especially revolutionaries who are fighting against this unjust system and struggling for a better world, must be supported and defended. If you oppose the rising tide of domestic repression, police brutality, and the ugly unjust world that the people are being forced to live in; if you have a sense of justice--then you must support and defend this young revolutionary and demand that the prosecution of this RCYBer be stopped.