The major purpose for bringing the Democratic National Convention here polishing L.A.'s world image as a good place to vacation, live and do business was largely achieved last week. Visitors from around the world, on average, related pleasant surprise at the real-life L.A. being far superior to their preconceived notions of the place. But another consensus also emerged: that L.A. police deserve the negative reputation they've gotten from media accounts of the Rampart scandal, the Rodney King beating and other such high-profile incidents. "I think that the city succeeded in changing its image overall. It seems to be a thriving, multicultural city, especially downtown," said Patty Reinert, Washington bureau reporter with the Houston Chronicle. "However, our reporters are coming away with a negative image of the LAPD, which points to some major underlying problems in your city, including race relations."
A convention delegate expressed similar sentiments. "Your downtown is much larger and your transportation system much better than I expected, while your restaurants are outstanding," said Hank Arrington, a Maryland delegate and law enforcement official. "But the one overriding negative impression I get of L.A. is of what I would euphemistically call the 'enthusiasm' of your law enforcement officials in their actions against demonstrators. They have reinforced the images we have of the LAPD across the country: the image of Rodney King and of Rampart." Upon being told of Arrington's comments, LAPD Commander David Kalish said: "It's unfortunate this delegate has an inaccurate view of the Los Angeles Police Department. The vast majority of feedback we have received, primarily via e-mail, has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive of the department's professional response and image." "Professional" or not, the LAPD crackdown was prominently featured in front-page photos in major national and international publications, including the Aug. 16 New York Times, which featured a long row of cops with billy clubs. The incident following Rage Against the Machine's Aug. 14 concert outside Staples Center also got prominent play on national news broadcasts.
The Chronicle's Reinert said the police crackdown hit home. "We had a couple reporters injured by the police. One reporter was initially told to remain by a concrete barrier, then was hurt as a policeman on a horse charged right into her, pinning her against the barrier. A golf cart driven by a policeman hurt the other reporter. "We were obviously distressed by these incidents," Reinert said. We had covered the World Bank and International Monetary Fund protestors in Washington, D.C., earlier this year; there, the police backed away from reporters, giving them some room." And it was not just the actual police crackdown that fueled the negative images of the LAPD. The huge security zone around Staples Center, bristling with law enforcement officials, also made an impression. "I've been to many national political conventions and I must say, you guys are definitely going a little bit overboard with this police protection," said a convention attendee and official with one of the corporate sponsors of Louisiana Sen. John Breaux's Mardi Gras Goes Hollywood party at Paramount. "It really is too much of an armed camp. It looks like every cop on the West Coast is outside Staples." Delegates who spent much of their time inside Staples formed similar opinions. "It reminds me a lot of the way the security was in Beirut," said L.C. Myles, a Georgia delegate. "This is like Big Brother. This is like Orwell," said Deborah Morrow, a Colorado delegate. Even before the incident following the Rage Against the Machine concert, the attitude of the police had drawn some attention. "I just came from Philadelphia, and these cops are definitely more on edge and much less friendly," said Katherine Skiba, Washington correspondent for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as she was on the perimeter of the Staples Center security zone. Once away from Staples Center, though, perceptions of L.A. became decidedly more positive, a silver lining perhaps of having delegates and media representatives scattered at hotels throughout the city.
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