Late Night: The Fire This Time
The most disturbing aspect of this latest in a long line of military incursions against domestic targets, the incineration of a suspect who had really, really, pissed off the LAPD, is that such a thing is no longer considered remarkable. This wasn’t always the case; the Philadelphia Police action against MOVE predictably had its supporters on the right, but otherwise sparked national and global outrage. A similar action against David Koresh has the right still seething about it to this day, never mind that it was the culmination of a 52-day standoff in which negotiations had been repeatedly attempted.
But today one need look no further than the shockingly violent, coordinated, and militarized response to the Occupy movement to see that as a nation we now simply accept being policed as though by an occupying army, for the laughably ironic goal of “keeping us safe.” Yet long before Homeland Security and its billions of dollars in urban combat toys for local police were even a twinkle in the eyes of some budding Neocon, there was the LAPD, which had been treating its citizens like barbecue or bug splat, depending, since before Dorner was born.
I had only vaguely paid attention to then-Chief Daryl Gates’ horrendously barbarous form of policing that was openly hyped under the disturbingly frank banner, “Operation Hammer,” during the 80’s in which cops raided suspected “drug houses,” arresting, often brutally, all present, then conducted a “thorough” search of the home, which in LAPD’s inimitable parlance, meant, “carpets up, drywall down.” Although what few charges pressed in the raids which actually achieved conviction were for minor, often trumped-up cases of possession, they were considered so reassuringly TV-friendly that Nancy Reagan even came along for the show one evening. “Just say no,” was nice phraseology, but what a better punch it packs when it’s backed by a SWAT team.
Later, I found myself waiting for a ride outside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which in 1990 was still in a sort of sketchy neighborhood, and I got to see the LAPD up close and personal for the first time. I was smoking a cigarette and watching the traffic go by on Hollywood Boulevard, half-listening to the animated and somewhat funny conversation of four teenagers talking a dozen or so feet away (this was before cell phones), when a black and white, sirens blaring, came to a screeching halt at the curb.
Based on an evidently somewhat overbroad definition of what it means to “protect and to serve,” a bunch of surly white apes in blue leapt out and set upon my sidewalk compatriots; two other cars showed up almost simultaneously and within seconds these boys were sprawled over car hoods or on the sidewalk, being frisked while lights flashed and sirens blared. The fact that I just stood there staring with a look of horror on my face seemed to annoy LA’s Finest, since my job as an upstanding white person (and hotel guest, to boot), was to what, clap?
“Are you with them?” one of the more menacing primates growled, coercing me to choose sides in the battle raging in his vicious head. “No,” I responded meekly, and was thenceforth left alone, but shaken. All I could think of was getting out of that police state hellhole as soon as humanly possible; fascism had come to America under a pollution-pink sky, and I wanted no part of it.
But fate is an infuriating thing at times, and just a year later I was there at last monthly, having accidentally fallen in love with an Angeleno. We were in Seattle together when the riots occurred in 1992, and although we were both worried, we knew that the house in Laurel Canyon was both far from the mayhem and ridiculously fortified; blocks and blocks could be burned down and it would only mean for us that the trip to and from the airport would be a little more depressing. They were, and it was.
Living in an occupied city is easier than you’d think when you’re not “with” the occupied population, and we weren’t. In later years, I spent a lot of time working down there, and was constantly struck by the fact even such lily-white districts as Beverly Hills, Marina Del Rey, and West Hollywood endured such routine strafings by helicopters equipped with blinding searchlights that they elicited nary a glance out the window; the “bad guy” was sure to be caught and hauled off to one of the many new prisons that now cost Californians more than its once-famed UC.
The beauty of California and its famed weather once inspired one wag to write, “If America had been settled from the West, the East half of the country would be a game park,” has been oddly turned on its head; fascism settled in the west, beginning in LA, and now the whole country is a game park.
And human beings are the game.