The LAPD owes the city some answers

John Mack of the Los Angeles Police Commission summed it up neatly Wednesday afternoon at City Hall when he said: "This was not a pretty picture."

He was referring to videos of LAPD riot cops in action Tuesday evening in MacArthur Park. Once again, a small number of officers appears to have created another PR nightmare for the department. Even their boss, Chief William J. Bratton, said he was disturbed by what he called inappropriate behavior.

I wasn't there, so I'm not sure exactly how this ugly chapter unfolded at the end of a long day of peaceful demonstrations by immigrant and workers' rights advocates. Bratton said that 50 to 100 agitators, as he called them, got into a skirmish with police. Witnesses said the knuckleheads were throwing bottles at cops, several of whom were injured.

But what followed, much of it captured by news crews, raises more than a few questions.

Video shot that evening shows police moving in on MacArthur Park like they were taking Iwo Jima. They ordered people involved in peaceful demonstrations to move out. There was confusion, with some people leaving and others lingering as the drama played out.

Then we see officers aiming rifles to fire foam bullets.

We see civilians go down.

We see fear and panic.

We see a man holding a child and running for cover.

We see a nasty bruise on the belly of a man hit with a foam bullet.

We see police wielding batons, ordering reporters to scram, shoving two television cameramen, tussling with another member of the media and pushing Fox 11 news reporter Christina Gonzales away as she tries to help her fallen videographer.

Gonzalez reported that police had ordered her to get into her van and "shut the door." But the reporter, whose husband is a retired LAPD cop, didn't want to be sealed off like that, unable to "videotape some of the other people" who were "getting roughed up, to put it mildly."

She was later taken to the hospital with what she thought was a dislocated shoulder, but she turned out to be OK. She said her videographer was treated for a wrist injury.

"I have never seen anything like this," Gonzalez said on Fox 11 early Wednesday. She said that while police were trying to herd reporters and others out of the way, she heard them laughing and saying: "Double time, it's tussle time."

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, was in the park for a peaceful rally that suddenly turned chaotic.

"I started hearing gunshots, people started screaming, people with children started running, hiding behind bushes and under trees," Salas said. "I couldn't understand what was happening, but I saw a man get up after a big old rubber bullet hit him in the side."

Salas tried to escort families out of the area, but it was unclear what directions might be safe, and more shots could still be heard. "My biggest concern was that the police weren't discerning between" agitators and "the vast majority of people who were there peacefully."

I'd like to know what commanders were in charge and what they were thinking. I'd like to know if police aimed rifles at specific targets or into the crowd. I'd like to know why police thought it was OK to rough up or muzzle reporters who were simply doing their jobs. And I'd like to know how this will be avoided in the future.

A lot to ask, maybe. But Bratton promised several investigations, and the public deserves answers in double time.

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steve.lopez@latimes.com

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