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THE NEW FACE OF THE LAPD? COPS, DON'T MESS WITH L.A.'S PRESS.

Byline: MARIEL GARZA

THE LAPD should know by now that in America, riling up the press corps is about as good an idea as poking at a hornet's nest.

Injustice to regular people is one thing, but meting out injustice to a reporter trying to do her job is like a getting a tattoo when you're drunk -- you'll never be free of that one stupid mistake.

And thank God for that. Without that little measure of protection for the people gathering information for the masses, there wouldn't be that many people gathering information for the masses. We just don't get paid enough to get whacked around.

But Los Angeles Police Department officers must have forgotten the hard lesson learned most recently in 2000 at the Democratic National Convention. Roughing up reporters and ordinary people cost the city more than $5 million in settlements, and showed the nation what a paramilitary organization looks like when it gets too excited about controlling the crowds.

By now, anyone who's interested has already seen the disturbing images of the calamitous ending of Tuesday's immigrant march in downtown Los Angeles. It's all over Fox, CNN and the real force, YouTube.com. Along with rally participants, the press corps at the park were hit with batons and shoved, shot at with foam bullets, pushed to the ground and their expensive equipment tossed around like trash.

As the 600 LAPD officers decked out in riot gear descended on the crowd at MacArthur Park saying, "Double time, it's tussle time," they didn't distinguish between reporters and agitators. With something that almost seemed like relish, they plowed through anyone in their way.

And why not? They were finally getting to let loose on a group of people who pick on them all the time with impunity: journalists.

The Police Protective League, the police officers' union, responded with a request for people not to rush to judgment. OK, but how is it rushing to judgment to say cops shouldn't interfere with journalists who are doing their job -- a job protected both by the U.S. Constitution and city policy, as agreed upon after the infamous DNC clash?

Maybe it wouldn't be prudent to rush to judgment if journalists were throwing rocks or plastic bottles, as the small group of "anarchists" who reportedly provoked the police were doing. But with their TV cameras, recording equipment and LAPD-issued press badges with the bright purple stickers, it was unlikely anyone with the intelligence to pass through the LAPD academy could have mistaken them for anything other than journalists. C'mon, no man wears that much makeup unless he's in drag or on TV.

Maybe in the minds of some cops, the reporters were doing worse than throwing rocks. They were recording what was going on.

The job of government and, by extension, its law enforcement proxies and journalists are naturally in mutual opposition. Government tries to limit information and access; journalists try to push for information and access. But usually it's a metaphorical struggle. Tuesday, it manifested itself in an unfortunately physical way that has and should shake up the LAPD.

Fox reporter Christina Gonzalez, with a microphone in hand and beautifully coifed hair, and her camerawoman carrying a large TV camera, were clearly not rally participants. Woe to the officers who knocked the camerawoman to the ground and shoved Gonzalez when she tried to help her partner up. The video was aired on Fox affiliates across the nation.

She wasn't the only nonparticipating, nonthreatening reporter to get hurt by the cops that day. KPCC radio's Patricia Nazario was trying to get out of the way when she was hit twice with a baton. TV cameramen were pushed and shoved. One video clip showed a large cameraman pushed to the ground, where an officer calmly kicked him.

So much for the kinder, gentler LAPD that the federal consent decree supposedly created.

If officers feel they must stop their actions from being recorded, you can bet they are doing something they don't want people to know about, like that Rodney King thing in 1991.

"Believe me, this is something we will dig into," Chief William Bratton told a group of angry reporters the next day in a City Hall news conference. Nearly 24 hours later, they were still fuming from the treatment. "There are a lot of friends in this room," Bratton said.

Don't doubt he means it, and not just because now even the FBI is looking into the clash. Bratton's a cop's cop, but also a savvy politician who adheres to the old theory that you keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

And you never, ever give them a reason for righteous indignation. That will last way longer than a "Budweiser" tattoo across the chest.

CAPTION(S):

drawing

Drawing:

(color) The new face of the LAPD?

Illustration by Patrick O'Connor
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 6, 2007
Words:809
Previous Article:COPS, DON'T MESS WITH L.A.'S PRESS.
Next Article:BRATTON SHOULD GET 2ND CHANCE TO REFORM LAPD.


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