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L.A. activists tailed, arrested on way to Liberation Weekend conference

Will Potter

Sev­en police cars lined the street, a heli­copter cir­cled over­head and sev­en peo­ple stood in hand­cuffs look­ing like a scene from America’s Most Wanted.”

The out­laws” were a group of activists who didn’t buck­le up. They claim they were tar­gets of a law enforce­ment harass­ment cam­paign sur­round­ing Lib­er­a­tion Week­end, a con­fer­ence of grass­roots activists at the Uni­ver­si­ty of West Los Ange­les School of Law. The con­fer­ence, May 15 – 16, drew activists to dis­cuss build­ing a rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment in the Unit­ed States.”

Since 911, Bush’s war on ter­ror­ism has led to an increas­ing­ly harsh crack­down on civ­il lib­er­ties, large­ly tar­get­ed at grass­roots groups. Hous­es have been raid­ed, activists have been fol­lowed, and, as hap­pened last month, they have been arrest­ed and accused of ter­ror­ism.” The arrests in Cal­i­for­nia, activists say, are part of a larg­er, coor­di­nat­ed effort to silence dissent.

Melis­sa Rodriguez, a co-orga­niz­er of the con­fer­ence, received a phone call from friends on Sun­day who said they were being fol­lowed by unmarked police cars. She and a group of activists arranged to meet them. On the way, Rodriguez was pulled over by a Cos­ta Mesa police offi­cer accom­pa­nied by six cars and a heli­copter hov­er­ing overhead. 

Cit­ing seat­belt vio­la­tions, police hand­cuffed the bunch and led them to sep­a­rate cars for interrogation.

Police searched Rodriguez’s car with­out her con­sent and con­fis­cat­ed a gui­tar. They took the group to the police sta­tion, where, she says, I kept ask­ing for the cuffs to be tak­en off, and they said, No you’re still under arrest and there’s still an inves­ti­ga­tion.’” The activists were booked, fin­ger­print­ed and ques­tioned about Rodriguez and the con­fer­ence. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Cos­ta Mesa Police Depart­ment did not return tele­phone calls seek­ing com­ment on the arrests.

Sev­er­al police cars fol­lowed Rodriguez as she left the sta­tion to drop off the activists at their homes. At the final house, she was pulled over by an FBI agent, who ques­tioned her about her plans for the week­end, and the polit­i­cal posters and propane tank police had ear­li­er found in her car.

I just kept ask­ing if I was detained, and he said no,’ and he said they would just fol­low me wher­ev­er I went,” she says. The small propane tank in the trunk was from a recent camp­ing trip. The agents remained parked out­side the house all night.

The seat­belt crack­down wasn’t the only ques­tion­able law enforce­ment act dur­ing the week­end. On Sat­ur­day, Brook Hunter and a group of activists were pulled over on the way to the con­fer­ence for a faulty brake light. Police asked if they were going to the con­fer­ence in Los Ange­les and detained them when one pas­sen­ger couldn’t pro­vide identification.

David Agra­noff, an orga­niz­er with Com­pas­sion for Farm Ani­mals, says the FBI vis­it­ed his home while he was at work but his wife did not answer the door when she rec­og­nized one of the agents.

To me this is all kind of indica­tive of how much they’re wor­ried about what we have to say, and how much they want to squash out dis­sent,” he says. That’s what it’s all about. They may say these are traf­fic vio­la­tions or what­ev­er, but it’s no acci­dent they chose to do it all that weekend.”

With guns drawn, L.A. police stopped Nik Hensey on his way to the con­fer­ence, and told him to put his hands in the air and step out of the car. They said his vehi­cle matched a descrip­tion,” says Hensey. A sub­or­di­nate lat­er indi­cat­ed that I was being watched and they were told to engage me.”

Hensey was tak­en into cus­tody and his car was impound­ed and ran­sacked. Police opened his mail, dumped out the con­tents of his back­pack and picked the lock on his lap­top, he says.

He was fol­lowed by police to and from the con­fer­ence. When he approached one of the cars that had been fol­low­ing him, the dri­ver told him that he knew my pol­i­tics and that they want­ed to keep me from break­ing the law,” Hensey says.

I felt guilty that we might have to invade anoth­er coun­try to sus­tain the fuel con­sump­tion required for sev­en units to tail me through­out L.A, so I encour­aged them to return tomor­row with hybrid vehi­cles,” Hensey says. Offi­cer Doug said he’d work on it.”

Will Pot­ter is a free­lance reporter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. He has writ­ten for the Chica­go Tri­bune, Dal­las Morn­ing News and Chron­i­cle of High­er Education.
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