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Video premiere: Alice Bag tackles inequality on ‘White Justice’

Punk rock musician and writer Alice Bag is the lead singer and co-founder of the Bags, one of the first wave of L.A. punk bands that formed in the mid-1970s, She has just released a new video for "White Justice," from her new album "Blueprint."
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Footage for “White Justice,” the incendiary new video from Los Angeles punk lifer Alice Bag, was shot nearly 50 years ago, but aside from the Technicolor sheen of the document, it’s just as resonant today.

The clip comes as Bag, who was once best known as the co-founder of Los Angeles punk band the Bags, celebrates the release of her searing new album, “Blueprint.” A mix of punk, twangy rock and pull-no-punches protest music, the album came out today via the indie Don Giovanni imprint.

As captured by filmmaker Tom Myrdahl, the “White Justice” footage depicts the National Chicano Moratorium March down Whittier Boulevard in summer 1970. Through shaky-camera scenes that capture the joy and enthusiasm of organized action, protesters walk alongside uniformed Chicano militia members as police watch on the perimeter.

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The images linger as Bag paints an empowering scene featuring “blue skies and brown berets” and “agua fresca and yellow corn.”

That is until, a third of the way through the video, teargas floats into the frame as the mostly Latino protesters scatter. The police charge, billy clubs swinging. Cop cars race to the scene as Bag rages in stark language against a corrupt system. The colors are different now: “Black clubs, blue collars, blood red silver dollars.” As she pays witness, Bag concludes: “You say justice is colorblind — I know you’re lying.”

She and her band move into the chorus and they lock into a double-time groove that recalls classic tones of the Clash, Patti Smith and, well, Alice Bag: “White justice doesn’t work for me — white justice is a travesty,” she sings before getting tangled in a remarkable scream-long line: “White justice just isn’t just.”

A musically dynamic song featuring piano, guitar, stop-and-start energy and Bag’s ridiculously confident delivery, the video acknowledges the late Times reporter Ruben Salazar, who died during the march while covering the police action.

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The video moves into the present as Bag offers a frustrated update: “I still choke when I stop to think / Our struggle then was here at home / And it’s still going on.”

The Times recently sat down with Bag to discuss “Blueprint,” her life as a punk, writer and activist and will next week publish a feature based on that conversation.

For tips, records, snapshots and stories on Los Angeles music culture, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter and Instagram: @liledit. Email: randall.roberts@latimes.com.

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