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Police Tactics at L.A. Rally Reignite Scrutiny

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Police Tactics at L.A. Rally Reignite Scrutiny

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Police Tactics at L.A. Rally Reignite Scrutiny

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The Los Angeles Police Department's uneasy relations with the news media are in the spotlight after Tuesday night's melee at an immigration rally in MacArthur Park. Television crews and numerous journalists were pummeled with batons and rubber bullets as a police riot squad cleared the park. LAPD confirms it fired 240 rounds of non-lethal projectiles, yet made no arrests. Multiple investigations are underway.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spent Cinco de Mayo trying to reach out to the city's immigrants. He cut short a trade mission to Mexico and flew home Friday to personally oversee investigations into police actions at the May Day rally.

Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Los Angeles): I was deeply and personally troubled by the events of May 1st. Those images hit me in the gut.

KAHN: Those images caught by TV news crews showed hundred of police dressed in black riot gears, some with batons, others shooting rubber bullets into a crowd demonstrating in LA's MacArthur Park. I was at the south end of the park as a small group of demonstrators threw soda cans and bottles at police. I described what happens next on NPR's newscast.

(Soundbite of previous newscast)

KAHN: They've cleared out a couple of stores here and there, getting patrons to come out of the street and pushing them. I don't know if you can hear the cops. I don't know if you can hear them, the police behind me, that they're telling, move, move to get out.

The police moved the crowds straight into the park and cleared everyone in their way, like Christina Gonzales, a local TV reporter. Cameras caught her trying to help her videographer, who was just struck to the ground by a police officer.

Ms. CHRISTINA GONZALES (TV reporter): I am helping to move her. As you can see...

Unidentified Man #1: Move her back away to this (unintelligible) side or you're under arrest.

Unidentified Man #2: This way.

Ms. GONZALES: You can't do that.

Unidentified Man #2: Move that way.

Ms. GONZALES: You can't do that. You cannot do that, you know that.

KAHN: The images of reporters pushed and hit by officers have run on nightly news across the country all week. That's been hard on LAPD chief William Bratton, who has worked to repair the department's relations with the press. Speaking to a packed room of angry reporters the day after the incident, Bratton tried to make amends.

Mr. WILLIAM BRATTON (LAPD Chief): I think of myself as media friendly, and so the treatment that you received yesterday at the hands of some Los Angeles Police officers, as well as some of the residents of the city, is something we cannot tolerate. I won't tolerate it.

KAHN: Bratton has made strides in repairing the LAPD's contentious relationship with the press, says Joe Domanick, a senior fellow at USC's Institute for Justice and Journalism. But he says changing the culture of the rank and file has been harder.

Mr. JOE DOMANICK (Senior Fellow, USC Institute for Justice and Journalism): I still think that there is a significant portion of the rank and file that believes that the press is the enemy, that they're liberals, that they're do-gooders, that they don't understand what it's really like to be a policeman in the street and they have nothing but contempt with the press. And I think that's what we saw on Tuesday.

KAHN: The LAPD is still under a federal consent decree and there are guidelines the department must follow when dealing with the press. Those were agreed upon after reporters sued the LAPD following similar treatment during the 2000 Democratic National Convention. Victor Narro, with the National Lawyers Guild, helped negotiate those press guidelines.

Mr. VICTOR NARRO (National Lawyers Guild): They've violated every single aspect of this policy and the settlement agreement, and that's why the National Lawyers Guild is now looking into the possibility of litigation.

KAHN: Narro isn't alone. Friday, a TV camerawoman filed a claim against the police department, as did several rally participants. Patricia Nazario, a reporter with KPCC Public Radio in Los Angeles wants answers. She says a police officer struck her twice at the rally even though she was wearing a press ID. Nazario says she's covered dozens of public protests, but none like Tuesday's.

Ms. PATRICIA NAZARIO (Reporter, KPCC Public Radio): I've covered them in Buenos Aires. I've been to Bogota, Columbia and I was pulled over by the police and all of my bags were searched, including my purse. And never ever have I've been so violated as I was by the LAPD.

KAHN: City officials say they want a speedy investigation into the May Day Melee, with a report delivered in no more than 30 days.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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