Long Beach, CA Press-Telegram Headline this morning -- "Anarchy in Long Beach"

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May Day protest erupts into violence; about 100 people arrested By Wendy Thomas Russell and Tracy Manzer Staff writers

Long Beach police clash Tuesday with anarchists at Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue in Long Beach. About 125 protesters gathered near The Promenade and First Street on May Day, an international work holiday often used as a day to protest labor injustices, to march to Ocean Boulevard. About 100 were arrested.

Stephen Carr / Press Telegram

LONG BEACH Police sprayed a group of anarchists with rubber bullets Tuesday after a May Day protest erupted into violence on Ocean Boulevard, ending in about 100 arrests and bringing downtown traffic to a standstill for nearly four hours.

More than 125 protesters gathered near The Promenade and First Street at about 3 p.m. and marched en masse to Ocean Boulevard shortly after 4 p.m., where Long Beach police in riot gear issued an order to disperse.

Chanting protesters, who were standing in the middle of the busy thoroughfare, refused to leave. Officers responded by striking down their banner reading "Capitalism Stole My Life" with billy clubs.

Some in the crowd threw rocks and bottles at officers, prompting police to fire rubber bullets and beanbags into the crowd, officials said.

As smoke from the rifles mixed with the distinctive cracks of the gunshots, protesters scrambled for cover in front of the nearby Breakers retirement home.

The retirement home was locked down and none of the residents was injured, police said.

Holding the protesters at gunpoint, police then began arresting people one by one.

At least 100 people were handcuffed and loaded into police buses and vans.

As a blonde woman with a ponytail was being loaded into a van, she yelled, "Stay strong everyone. They haven't won."

It was unclear how many had been injured by the "less-than-lethal" rounds, which numbered into the dozens.

Nearly 200 officers were dispatched to downtown Long Beach after police learned of the protest only a few hours earlier, said Officer Jana Blair, a Long Beach Police Department spokeswoman.

A few officers suffered minor injuries, Blair said, including one who was struck in the head with a rock. And at least one protester, she said, was taken to a local hospital to be examined for a wound caused by a rubber bullet.

The incident was quelled within 45 minutes and only minor damage was done to one police cruiser and to the window of a local business, which had a small amount of graffiti scrawled on it, Blair said.

The melee was just one of many reported throughout the world on May Day, an international work holiday often used as a day to protest labor injustices. Far-left demonstrators battled police in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Closer to home, about 1,500 May Day protesters gathered west of downtown Los Angeles in Koreatown shortly before 6 p.m. and marched to nearby MacArthur Park. They called for better treatment of immigrants and a new immigrant legalization program.

The protest was peaceful and there were no arrests, said Los Angeles police spokesman Jason Lee. Protesters began to disperse after about three hours.

In Long Beach, protesters began to gather at The Promenade just east of Pine Avenue at about 3 p.m. Many said they learned of the protest from Internet Web sites about five hours earlier.

Those interviewed identified themselves as anarchists or autonomists, who believe in a system of government in which individuals govern themselves.

Most wore all black, with their faces and eyes covered. Some wore rubber Halloween masks or gas masks and carried backpacks filled with baggies containing human feces and urine, claw hammers, pliers, wrenches, ball bearings, spray paint, sandpaper, M-80s and books on anarchy.

As police lined the promenade and stood at attention, the protesters initially milled around and talked quietly among themselves.

Two anarchists carried a sign reading, "We are the city. We can shut it down." When asked what the group planned to do, one man clad in black said their actions would be spontaneous.

Some said they opposed big business, the war on drugs and low wages for workers. Other said they stood for human rights, animal rights and the environment.

A man wearing a hospital mask and carrying a "Medic" bag said he was a member of the Green Anarchists and was protesting "the excesses of capitalism."

Then, in a sweeping move about 4 p.m., those in the crowd locked arms and took to First Street, fronted by the banner denouncing capitalism.

Surrounded by police, the group marched to Pine Avenue, where the first of several orders to disperse was issued. When protesters stood their ground, officers slammed their billy clubs into the banner, striking several individuals.

The group then marched down Pine Avenue toward Ocean Boulevard and turned east. By the time they reached the area of The Promenade, traffic on Ocean and surrounding streets had been halted, creating gridlock just before rush hour.

Ocean Boulevard, Pine Avenue, First and Third streets, and Broadway were reopened to traffic shortly before 8 p.m., Blair said.

About 75 adults and 25 juveniles were arrested and were being booked late Tuesday. They could face multiple criminal charges, including felony conspiracy and assault on an officer charges and misdemeanor refusal to disperse charges, she said.

The final decision on formal charges will be made by the district attorney and city prosecutor over the next two days, Blair added.

Some onlookers complained later that police had overstepped their authority and caused the clash by using excessive force.

Anna Wong, who works on Pine Avenue, watched the standoff with several of her co-workers. She said she was "utterly disgusted" that police were hitting people with nightsticks during what she believed to be a peaceful demonstration.

Blair said it was the aggressive behavior of the protesters that required police to resort to using the rubber bullets and beanbags to restore order.

"After several orders to disperse were given and the protesters failed to comply, including throwing rocks at officers, the tactics used to effect the arrest were appropriate and necessary," she said.

Authorities said it appeared as though the protesters were less interested in demonstrating and more interested in destruction.

"We're going to allow anyone to demonstrate in our city if the demonstration is peaceful and they follow the proper procedures, get the right permits," said Sgt. Steve Filippini. "Anyone looking to cause injury or damage to the city and its citizens, the Police Department will act to stop."

Filippini pointed to the items left behind by protesters as evidence that the situation could easily have become more of a threat to the general public.

Strewn on the ground afterward were a knife, a heavy-duty slingshot and several sharpened sticks measuring two-to-three feet in length, along with kneepads, water bottles, face guards and ski caps.

-- PHO (owennos@bigfoot.com), May 02, 2001

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