Los Angeles (CNSNews.com) - As Bill Clinton touted his administration's successes inside the Staples Center, protestors outside clashed with police who used tear gas, percussion grenades and rubber bullets to break up an outdoor concert.
The police action Monday night was the most sustained episode of violence at either the Republican or Democratic conventions, and while no immediate injury figures were available, eyewitness reports indicate that several dozen concertgoers and observers were injured.
The majority of the injuries were sustained as several hundred police in riot gear forced more than 5,000 concertgoers to retreat down Olympic Blvd., in front of the Staples Center, firing rubber bullets and using tear gas on the crowd.
The violence broke out during a concert featuring the industrial punk band Rage Against the Machine. Police shut off electrical power to the concert after several concertgoers lobbed bottles and debris over the fence separating the concert from police, and two concertgoers attempted to scale the fence. Several protestors set fire to debris near the stage.
Several minutes after halting the concert, mounted Los Angeles police charged the crowd, using batons to move people down Olympic Blvd. Police and protestors faced off for close to an hour as police moved the crowd down the street. Police repeatedly fired into the crowd, using what Cpl. Robert Pasquarello described as "non-lethal foam rubber bullets."
"The police are provoking us; they're out of control!" yelled one protestor as he was forced along Olympic Boulevard by mounted police. Several members of the crowd formed a human chain across the street and chanted "Fascist, Fascist" before being pushed down the street by baton-wielding officers.
One observer who was standing at the corner of Olympic and Figueroa Streets, one of the busiest intersections in downtown Los Angeles, was forced to the ground and beaten with batons after he was unable to exit the area because of crowd control barricades that were erected by the police.
Several of the protestors complained that they were unable to comply with police instructions because of the barricades, which they said police took as insubordination and used as an excuse to fire into the crowd.
Protestors were quick to condemn the police action, calling it, in the words of protestor Lisa Finian, a "deliberate attempt by the LAPD to incite a riot. . . . It's unconscionable and outrageous and the police need to be held accountable."
"What happened [Monday night] was planned," said Audrey Prescod of the Independent Media Center. "They seemed determined to pin us down and incite a riot. People were being corralled into the areas they had told us to leave and then were charged by police on horses."
Dan Tokaji, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, blasted the LAPD for "incredibly poor judgment" and said that the "night could have ended calmly and smoothly" without the police action.
"We will not allow the LAPD to turn Los Angeles into a police state," said Tokaji.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, speaking to reporters near the sight of the confrontation, said he was concerned that police were "involved in crowd crackdown, not crowd control."
At a press conference, a police spokesman described it as a no-win situation.
"Some will view it as we waited too long. Some will view it as we moved in too quickly," said Cmdr. David Kalish.
Police say two dozen protestors were arrested.
Protestors say they will return Tuesday for another round of protests.