Journalism As Criminal Vagrancy: City Of LA Finally Charges Me For Reporting On LAPD's Occupy LA Raid
"Let me say publicly what I said privately earlier today: no person in any country should be detained for exercising universal freedoms of expression, assembly and conscience" —Hillary Clinton in Burma on December 1, 2011
After a bit of good-natured wrangling and legal indemnities on both sides, Paul Carr and I finally agreed to terms last week. Barely had the ink time to dry on my employment contract with NSFWCORP, when I learned that the City of Los Angeles had filed criminal charges against me for reporting on a political protest that happened a year ago. My arraignment is set for December 6, only 369 days after I was bailed out of jail on a $2,000 bond. What's the rush, right?
The notice arrived in my mailbox on Saturday. As I stood there on the sidewalk reading it in my slippers, the letter brought back warm and fuzzy memories of that night in late November, reminding me of what happens in America to those who exercise their 1st Amendment right to peacefully protest against the power of the financial oligarchy—or in my case, simply report on people exercising their 1st Amendment right.
I was arrested on the night of November 30, 2011 in downtown Los Angeles while attempting to report on the LAPD's paramilitary eviction raid on Occupy LA. The shock and sweep operation was carried out by nearly 1,500 cops decked out in riot gear, many of them agitated for having to work on their off day, and itching for a fight. Something like 300 people were arrested with me that night, including two other journalists who were unexpectedly caught in the raid. One of them was a photojournalist named Tyson Header, who was brutally assaulted by a pack of stormtroopers for having the guts to protest their rough treatment of the press. The attack, which was caught on video, left Header's face a bloody and bruised mess.
I didn't get it so rough, but my experience was by no means pleasant.
A few hours before the raid, I got word that the LAPD was amassing a small army at Dodger Stadium. By the time I made my way from Venice to the Occupy LA encampment located on the lawn of City Hall in downtown LA, dozens of reporters had arrived on the scene. We were all shocked to learn of LAPD's brand new—and almost certainly illegal—press policy: All reporters who were not part of the "official press pool" were not allowed to report on the raid, and in fact would be arrested without question if they failed to leave the staging area. Official press pool? Turned out that the day before, the LAPD had selected a handful of local news organizations and given them permission to report on the action from an embedded position. If you weren't on the list, you weren't a journalist. It was that simple.
Most journalists complied, but I chose not to. The LAPD doesn't have any legal right to decide who is and who isn't a journalist, or to strip journalistic identity just because they fear negative coverage. So I stayed with the protesters behind police lines to continue my reporting, and was arrested along with everyone else.
Two cops zip-tied my hands behind my back and frogmarched me to a prisoner transport bus operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department, which is infamous for the third-world brutality of its jail system, the largest in the country. There were 30 or 40 people on there, and we waited for about an hour until we were unloaded at the central city jail no more than 3 blocks away from City Hall. That entire time we listened to the piercing screams of a woman in an isolation cage at the front of the bus. She begged for someone to loosen her handcuffs, which were cutting into her skin. The guards were a few feet away from her cage, but did nothing. Everyone on that bus felt her pain—and I mean, we literally fucking felt it. The zip-tie handcuffs they used on us sliced into our flesh. It was like having our wrists garroted—which I think was the point. Intense constant pain is a pretty good way to incapacitate prisoners, if you ask me. It was impossible for us to resist, talk or do much of anything else other than squirm and fidget in our seats in pain. One of the guys on the bus already had a bloody gash forming on his wrists. Another's hands had turned a deep, almost black purple—the color of gangrene.
I spent the next two days locked up in the city's central jail. There were around a hundred of us there—all men. We spent the first night sleeping on the bare concrete floor of a secure internal prison garage, our hands handcuffed behind our back. We had no access to water or food for most of that time. People who had been hit with "less-lethal" bullets from shotguns or had been stomped and bloodied by amped-up cops in some other fashion were denied medical care. A guy who complained of a broken arm didn't get any medical attention. After a while he seemed to go catatonic from shock, and just stared straight ahead unresponsively. There was even a minor celebrity in there with us: Patrick Meighan, a writer for "Family Guy". His forehead was caked with blood—a souvenir from the LAPD, who thought it would be nice to plow the pavement with Patrick's head before frogmarching him out of the camp.
I found out from my cellies that a bunch of other people arrested during the raid had been sealed in a prison transport bus for seven hours without food, water or even bathroom breaks, forced to urinate in their seats. They remained sitting in their own piss, watching it mix together and splash around on the floor as the LA County Sheriff deputies drove the bus around the city. Hell, these boys clearly were in no rush, and even had time to stop for a late nite Pollo Loco snack break.
Later, they took away our shoelaces and crammed us into tiny holding cells. There was no place for most of us to sit or lie down, except on the grimy, urine-soaked floor. But most of us were so tired and sleep-deprived that we didn’t care. I remember waking up in daze on the floor near a toilet, looking up at a guy taking a piss no more than a few inches away from my head and then going right back to sleep again. I spent my last day passed out on a bunk with a thin jail blanket over my head to blot out the bright 24-hour fluorescent lights.
The irony of all of this was that my family emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States 23 years ago. We came as political refugees, after bouncing around refugee camps in Europe for over six months, to escape a totalitarian police state where political activity, religious freedom and real journalism were considered criminal acts. Now, there I was, sitting in a cell, trying to call my parents collect so they could bail me out of jail for committing the same political "crime" that would have landed me prison back in the Soviet Union.
The brutality of the LAPD and their harsh treatment of peaceful protesters also reminded me of the way I saw Russian cops treat protesters for demonstrating against the rule of the oligarchy under President Putin in Moscow and St. Petersburg. I reported on the protests in 2008, shortly before my paper The eXile (founded by none other than NSFWCORP's Mark Ames) was shut down by the Russian government. At the time, the Western media condemned the sadistic, heavy-handed tactics of Russia's notorious OMON paramilitary police force, and I myself was briefly detained at one of the protests. Now, all the major news outlets were applauding the LAPD for its "restraint" during the raid, praising it for, as the Los Angeles Times put it, taking a "major step toward shedding a reputation earned over decades for heavy-handed crowd control." Not surprisingly, these congratulatory reports were put out by some the "same official press pool" journalists that were embedded with the police during the raid.
Compared to what others had to endure at the hands of LA's finest, I thought I got out of it unscathed. Only later did I learn that the LAPD left me with a parting jail gift on time-delay. Three months after my arrest, I found out that I had picked up a gnarly case of scabies while in jail—probably from an infested blanket.
For those fortunate enough not to know, scabies is a highly contagious skin condition caused by a burrowing parasite called the Sarcoptes scabiei. These little arachnid buggers use their claws and suckers to latch onto your body during skin-to-skin contact, or during prolonged exposure to infected bedding, and then quickly get down to the dirty business turning your dermal layer into parasite war machine. Your irritated, scaly skin provides them with everything they need: food, housing, toilet facilities. Female parasites plow your skin like a fertilized field and lay their eggs just below the surface. After their babies mature into larvae, they drill up to the skin surface and start crawling around looking for a suitable place to bed down and grow into mature, fertile adults. In time, these too will leave their burrows, find a mate, copulate using their chitinous "volvo-anal" sex organs equipped with "copulatory suckers" and repeat the whole process all over again. That's right, I said vulvo-anal. "In the female the anus serves also as vulva; and for this purpose, at a certain period, it assumes large dimensions, being then designated the vulvo-anal slit," is how the seminal "A treatise on the parasites and parasitic diseases of the domesticated animals" describes it.
By the time a doctor diagnosed my symptoms, the parasite crabs had conquered every major part of my body. I had painful welts on my palms, shins, toes, elbows, hamstrings, fingertips and the webbing on my hands. A scabies detachment mounted a daring raid on my scrotum, and pushed through with a successful invasion of my entire pubic region.
To protect my wife, I put myself under quarantine in the living room and spent two weeks sleeping on the couch. But it was too late. Soon enough the telltale "track mark" burrows began to pop all over her body, too. The domestic situation became volatile, but at least I could sleep in my own bed again. It took us more than month of nuking our bodies head to toe with toxic, highly carcinogenic pesticide cream to eradicate the bastards.
Now, after all that degradation and wasted time and energy, it looks like LA's case against me is turning into slapstick comedy. The city attorney has downgraded my initial charge of "failure to disperse" to "loitering in park"—a law put on the books to harass the homeless. In other words, LA is charging me for being a bum.
That about sums up the way an oligarchy views critical journalists. We're nothing but filthy vagrants, fouling up what would otherwise be another pleasant day of looting and pillaging.