Three Days in HELL.A: Gonzo journalism at the 2000 Democratic National Convention

[Jason’s note: Three Days in Hell.A. is the account of two college journalists — David Downs (writer) and myself (photographer) — and our experience at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, CA. It was originally published in August 2000 on The original story is preserved at the Internet Archive.]

Cops secure the intersection of Figueroa and Olympic in downtown Los Angeles after a anti-police brutality march got slightly out of hand.
Democracy for sale

Monday, August 14th – Day 1

Finally hitting the road. I fear the snarled freeways that await us. My wing man Schock (a.k.a. Simian Kane, a.k.a. my photog, a.k.a. whiny bitch) and I should’ve left much earlier, but we’d hit numerous snags along the way.

Money is going to be a major issue this week. We have none. Schock, has spent the majority of his summer unemployed. The evil monkey has $10 to his name, and my last paycheck will not last long in L.A.

Neither of us have any place to stay for the night, nor can we afford a room. “Worse comes to worst,” I say, “we sleep where the hippies sleep.” Call it an interesting angle.

“I hate hippies,” Schock bemoans, “they have horrible b.o. and all they do is put patchouli oil on it, so they just smell like this noxious patchouli oil and BO combo.”

Fair enough.

We are on our own for this assignment, but the Daily Nexus’ credit is still worth something around Santa Barbara. Batteries, film, press passes, gas, booze, Slim Jims, and water all come courtesy of the paper.

Barreling down the 101 into a snakepit of cops and chaos, the conditions are grim indeed. My 1983 Toyota Celica has no insurance, a leaky clutch line, and over 315,000 miles on it. I tell Schock none of this. No sense in worrying him.

Information is available on a need to know basis this week, and I simply can’t have him caving in to the fear every time we see a cop. We’d soon be face to face with every warm body the LAPD has on its payroll.

The soundtrack for this week’s assignment is Rage Against the Machine’s Battle of Los Angeles. The album is around an hour of guitar-driven hard rock/hip-hop mingled with socialist and communist rhetoric. It is exactly what is necessary to understand the psyche of the average protester. …

Anarchy graffiti

… Not a cop in sight but crippling traffic. Chain smoking , the smog is still worse. All the exits near the Staples Center are closed and manned by menacing looking CHP. With Schock in charge of the maps, we find a parking lot 6 blocks from the staples center. So this is where all the cops went.

A quick change of clothes and we begin our trek to the center. Rage Against the Machine’s free concert has already started. “Sleep Now in the Fire” ushers us into the scene. …


Stream climbs fence

… About 7000 protesters and fans are hopping around to the music in the sweltering LA dusk. The Protest Pit is nothing more than a portion of the Staples Center parking lot fortified by a 12-foot chain link fences reinforced with concrete and steel cables.

No shade. Sweltering and humid. Oppressive heat. The blacktop is hot to the touch from the sun or the city’s proximity to hell, or both. This is riot weather.

Rage concludes their set with a fiery number from their previous album. There is something poignant and amusing about 7000 kids chanting “fuck you I won’t do whatcha tell me!” all the while flipping off the LAPD chopper hovering above. …

Running from pepper spray

… We came for mayhem, and it found us within two hours of parking the car. Rage left the stage and attention turned to the fence separating the protesters from the Staples center. About 20 black-clad anarchists were in full swing, throwing water bottles, protest signs, hunks of concrete and anything else that could make it over the fence.

The Anarchists were well equipped. The all-black garb was a bad move in the august heat, but most had gas masks, goggles, bandannas, or other things to protect them from the riot squad’s non-lethal arsenal.

When the Anarchists got too rowdy, the LAPD responded with volleys of pepper spray pellets fired from modified paintball guns. Even from 10 yards back, I coughed and gagged when the mist of pepper spray hit my throat. Gnarly shit indeed.

Two songs into the hip-hop band Ozomatli’s set, the police pulled the plug and declared the party unlawful. A 15-minute ultimatum didn’t work but batons, pepper spray, bean bag shotgun rounds, and rubber bullets did.

The cavalry came from the east, trampling a 40 year-old woman exiting via the entirely wrong route. Some Samaritan picked her out from under the horse and a cop clubbed them both. I love America, no good deed goes unpunished.

Then came a phalanx of LAPD in riot gear, shooting when anyone moved the wrong way. The hollow crack of the shotgun would resound through the high walls of the city, sparks licking out at the protesters. I ran my ass off.

Cops chase protesters

Many who ran down Figueroa St. Monday night were trampled, those who walked were shot in the back.

Tragedy struck again when an ill-timed march for the homeless headed directly for the LAPD skirmish lines. Unaware of the situation, the leaders of the homeless march walked right in to point black fire by the LAPD. Their leader went down with a beanbag to the chest, his head split open on the street curb.

The cops would rush for 20 yards, firing and batoning anyone who didn’t move fast enough. They would then hold their gained ground as some protesters would creep back up to the line, only to be sent running amidst another volley of rubber bullets and baton work.

It is late night on the corner of Olympic and Figueroa. I walk among the story that never really made the news, looking for souvenirs of my first police confrontation. Schock gets some rubber bullets, I go looking for lost wallets. …

Neutralizing pepper spray

… People drop weird shit during a police action. Sure you expect the odd shoe or sandal, but Chinese food? Dentures, pacifiers, cell phones, a dreadlock?

Sitting on the concrete barrier that lines the corner, I’m exhausted and wired, a little saddened by how it all went down.

If this was the Battle of Los Angeles that Rage spoke about, it was a massacre. By last count, arrests are above 50, the fear of God has been instilled in most protesters, and the LAPD had set the tone for what they would stand for that week.

If anything significant was to come of the DNC protests, it should’ve happened tonight. After this first flash point, the protesters know who owns the streets of LA, and it was the people with the big-ass guns and menacing helicopter.

Any further confrontation will be made with this notion firmly kept in mind ….

Peace sign vs. cop

Monday, August 15th – Day 2

Curse this god awful city heat, and it’s only 9:00 a.m. Heat in L.A. is particularly wretched- the heat of concrete and car exhaust, of stress and fatigue.

Last night was fortunate. Monkey and I talked with David Horowitz, some frazzled TV personality who accidentally walked into last night’s fray. He has some popular show called “Fight Back” which sounded vaguely familiar.

Horowitz lost his expensive-looking leather suitcase when the cops began shooting. Miraculously he returned to find it on the sidewalk untouched.

“I felt like I was in Vietnam, except there were no gooks,” he said.

Horowitz’s thinning hair was stiff with dried sweat. Some cop clubbed him and he lost a digital camera. He said he got the whole thing on video.

“I don’t want to sound like a religious freak, but the lord was with me. I got the money shot when he [cop] was swinging at me.”

Later I befriended a Hoosier interning for the New York Daily News. He had spent his night watching Clinton self-suck on national television while Schock and I were running from the LAPD. The Hoosier and I traded notes on the whole thing and we secured some floor space in his dorm at USC. Karma baby.

Riot cop watches march

The Hoosier knew his politics in and out, and we stayed up much too late drinking in the lobby of his dorm. Sleep came suddenly and I wish I’d gotten more.

This sun makes me half-crazed. The sirens never stop, cops are everywhere. At least 5 per block, whole phalanxes on some corners. The LAPD helicopter is never far away. Some delegates walk by mumbling, “man this is a fucking police state.”

Around 8 blocks from the Staples Center, Pershing Square is the rallying point for most marches this week. Like the city itself, it provides little shade and absolutely no taste. It is a searing patch of sun surrounded by high rise buildings, and the rooftops are manned with LAPD cameras.

Some geometric shapes, a volley ball pit with a giant cement ball in the center, and a brooding statue of Beethoven. The park is bizarre, indeed.

Marcher refuels with grapes

This morning’s march is for women’s rights, equal pay, and general ovarian discontent. Here goes nothing, …

… Hundreds of cops shadow the largely female march, eyeing the dozen or so anarchists mingling within. LAPD officers are rumored to be under strict orders: if shit goes down, shoot the anarchists first. Preferably in the face. Paranoia runs high, word of undercover infiltration is rampant.. The sun and the sirens are getting the best of me. …

… Today is a day of firsts on many levels. Today is the first time I walked from the Staples center to McArthur park which, I learned quickly, is in the ghetto. Today is the first day I nearly passed out from heat exhaustion. Half way through the 20-block exodus, my whiny bitch photographer was ready to die. He was lugging a back pack full of camera gear, sweating away what nutrients his wiry body could keep in..

“That’s the beauty of it, man,” I said making small talk. “I can a write Pulitzer with a pen and a notebook. You have all this shit.”

Sweating under his hat, I could see he was ready to kill.

“Relax man. Think of it this way, Lawrence of Arabia had to walk further.”


“Just ignore it.”


“OK man, just a few more blocks.”

Our destination was the protest staging area at 1919 West 7th St. Across from McArthur park. In the ghetto. If there could be a pure antithesis to the Staples Center, it was 1919 West 7th.

The floor is an amalgam of smooth concrete and plywood. The smell of onions makes you breathe short in the unconditioned air. The crowd is predominantly white, college age. These are surrogate fighters, most of the truly oppressed were at work this Tuesday. Everyone is sweating, moving around as little as possible.

A wall map shows the bus routes and locations of arrests. Free literature on everything from the fluoride conspiracy, to Iraqi children, to MK ULtra mind experimentation, to anarchist recruitment- god there is something for everyone. …

Pixie marches with anarchists

… There are many strange characters hiding out in this dim, hot alcove. Smoking a cigarette out back I meet Pixie, a pink-haired girl from Colorado.

Pixie’s life story is she’s a 16 year-old high school dropout in cutoff overalls and sandals. She came to L.A. because someone gave her a free ride.

“I had no idea what the protests were even about until I got here and then I was like, wow, cool.” Pixie has no money, no place to sleep, and no idea what she’s doing next. I can relate.

She speaks in the slow, loopy cadence of a true innocent. Not dumb, just young and painfully naive. If she had been born 40 years earlier she would be OK, but now?

I ask her what she plans on doing for dinner and she has no plans. “You can always find food though, especially if you have good karma,” she says.

I believe her, but no amount of good juju can keep a wondering child safe on the West coast these days. I give her my last three granola bars and a few cigarettes, ordering her to stay safe.

“Learn Kung fu or something, you’re gonna get hurt out here.” She laughs a kid’s laugh.

Hippies have this tendency of renaming themselves after something natural and wacko-sounding like “Meadow” and “Sunbird.” Such is the case with 20 year-old Simi Valley native Stream.

Stream on the fence

Stream made the Tuesday LA times when he was the first to sit atop the fence between the protesters and the delegates. It was hard core stuff, he got hit with round after round of pepper spray pellets in the face and hands and body. He was covered in bruises and what looked like chicken pocks; red splotches where the blood vessels burst underneath the skin upon pellet impact.

“I wanted to change the tone of it,” Stream says with a far-off stare. “I don’t accept the boundaries they put up. They put us in a cage and I wouldn’t accept that.”

The perpetual ‘blah’ of Simi Valley breeds a certain discontent, and Stream is not the first pissed off kid from the valley I’ve met that week. I ask him if he was afraid when he decided he was going to do it,

“Fear is what’s holding us back from freedom,” he mumbled, “so I did it.” Stream was ready for his own Nike commercial. …

… Nightfall, back at Pershing square, still hot and tense. The sirens are becoming white noise. An unscheduled march gears up. Over a 100 protesters have been arrested, those with the energy want to march to the jail to show support. This march will go through a very bad part of town and the cops look ready to beat heads ….

… another useless march, this time through horrible parts of town that most people think only exist in the movies. Toting a couple thousand dollars in camera equipment, Schock eyes every shadow nervously. “Dude, what are we doing. We’re going to get shot.”

Man watches march

Relax,” I say, ” there’s so many cops out tonight every gang member from here to Inglewood is locked inside his room with guns pointed at the door.”

Far from the Staples Center action, hookers, black men playing craps, and the desperate wanderers of L.A watch us march through their neighborhood. And therein lies the rub.

The disadvantaged, the poor, every one who the marchers were “fighting” for stared and mumbled as the procession wound its way through their oppressed neighborhoods.

A good 95 percent of the activists would gladly choose jail over 3rd and after 10 at night. But this was about the rights of all people, about freedom from the tyranny of the corporations that feed us. So through the ghetto we go. Three black men pause their sidewalk craps to cheer us on.

“Stick it to em. Fuck tha police.”

“It’s about time man, about time.”

“400 hundred years of oppression man, fuck em.”

Protester vs. cop

Down Main St., over 300 cops in full riot gear await the peaceful procession. We all saw the 12-gauge shotguns trained on our skulls, but the dice-rolling Negroes were the only ones who had the sense to stay put.

Those in power do not surrender it without a king hell of a fight. Power can’t be taken by marching two by two down the sidewalk, waiving peace sings and chanting, “no justice, no peace.”

Ask any gang member, the quickest route to justice is superior firepower. Shot for shot, man for man. The activists were worse than outgunned tonight, they had no guns. …

… Back at the Staples center a scene is ensuing, again. Various pissed off kids heckle the power elite as they exit the building. Clad in black shoes, brown cargo pants, a black shirt, black knit cap and a black beanie, 13 year-old Lorena is spending her Tuesday night screaming expletives at delegates.

“You gonna fuckin’ vote for Al Gore! That baby killer! Did they tell you what you wanted to hear?! Did they fuckin’ buy you like they bought Al!”

Dozens of crazy activists exercised their 1st Amendment rights under Tuesday night’s full moon, but Lorena had all their heckles beat. A lot of it had to do with her voice. It was a child’s voice, a girl’s voice, a very pissed off voice little girl spewing glossy socialist/anarchist rhetoric.

Lorena exercises rights

She would walk alongside media execs and congressman’s wives, taking three steps for their one, berating the hell out them. Her soft face hid behind a black bandanna and a pair of eyeglasses.

Most caught in Lorena’s path recoiled in horror, unable to ignore the high pitched shriek coming from such a young mouth. One media lackey from NBC took his chances in Figueroa St. traffic rather than walk down the sidewalk listening to her call him a “fucking liar, you fucking hypocrite, this isn’t democracy motherfucker!”

“Do you talk to your mother with a mouth like that,” a graying woman rebutted. It was one of the few times Lorena had no response. Somewhere in Simi Valley that night was Lorena’s mom, maybe watching convention coverage but probably not. Either way, oblivious to her young daughter’s lobbying efforts.

In a sense, Lorena is my hero(ine) for the evening. The activist demographic in LA is dominated by the young, the clueless, and the angry – Lorena epitomizes all three. An army of 1000 Lorena clones with all that energy and angst could’ve whooped the LAPD. …

Protesters make noise

Monday, August 16th – Day 3

5th St. and Hope. 11:00 a.m. and hotter than the devil’s ass. The parking lot sign now reads “$15.00 max,” and I’m ready to kill someone. A few bottles of Guinness for breakfast takes the shake out my handwriting.

25 patrol cars line Hope St. The cops gear up with zip-ties and tear gas bombs, bean bag clips, and pepper spray. All of them back into a garage under the Clark Hotel, ready to appear out of nowhere if needed.

I walk by the cars-

“Sir could you do me a favor and continue down the sidewalk or go the other way?”

This is not the day to argue with LAPD about the right to loiter on a public sidewalk. Without any cameras nearby, they might just pull me into the garage with them and gang beat me Rodney King-style.

The tension is palpable all throughout the city. Today’s march against police brutality/corruption, mass incarceration, and the death penalty is aimed directly at the LAPD.

With all the money the LAPD has spent, the urge to get their violence on is strong. Rough estimates put the arrest count at around 120, nowhere near Philly’s 400.

There are basically two versions of your average LAPD beat cop. One is young, green, and prone to overreact. The other is older almost strictly white and male with an ax to grind. These veterans of Rodney King and Rampart didn’t get all dressed up for nothing. …

I'm going to kick your ass

… Inside Pershing Square the organizers get amped up. Two guys are selling t-shirts depicting a silhouetted cop shooting a silhouetted man with his hands in the air. It reads, “danger police in area.”

The LAPD orders the vendors to stop selling the $10 shirts without a permit. The vendors agree and begin giving the T-shirts way with every $10 donation. One guy has a protest sign of 50’s-style nice cop. The caption reads, “I’m going to kick your ass and get away with it.” Comedy. …

Wednesday’s protest of at least 3000 of the young, ill-informed, and angry is led by two parade trucks. One bears the names of over 2000 documented people killed by cops in America. The second in a music truck, bumping bass through the canyons of downtown L.A.

In a culture with an auto fetish that borders on the pathological, 3000 people in the middle of LA Blvd. is almost an abomination. It’s a cacophony of drums and chants, sirens and choppers that hasn’t stopped since we arrived. This may be our last day in this wretched town…

The protest stops for an hour in front of the LAPD office at Parker Center. The scene is stupid. Protesters in the streets, cops on the grass. Everyone is getting sunburned for nothing. All of a sudden I’m possessed with the notion that all these people have absolutely no idea what they want. The world is big and they simply fear it.

The march moves on, toward Staples center, toward absolutely nothing. …

Facing sundown again in LA , Simian Kane and I have had enough. The sirens exist both in and outside the head. I’ve been on edge so long cryptic things are beginning to creep out of my mouth.

Guarding the station

“You people will never get anywhere without a decent body count. The only way the national media will care is if some of you start dying. You’re cause is a million fractured causes and you’re pathetic, the country has every right to ignore you.” I now know for sure that both the protesters and the democrats are nothing but sound and fury, signifying nothing….

… Tired, sore, hungry, jaded, Schock and I left the Staples center for the last time. I am positive that nothing will come of these shenanigans, at least not this time around. Gore speaks tomorrow, but I’ll watch it from the comfort of my couch, thank you.

Pimping a Revolutionary Worker newsletter, some aging female revolutionary accosts me on the way back to the car. I decline and try to keep moving.

She persists though and, when I explain that the Movement was doomed to disorganization and infighting, she insists her newsletter will help.

“The youth of America have shown this week that they are not going to stand for business as usual. They’re going to change what’s going on.”

Standing there, holding all those newsletters, I could only pity her optimism. “Maybe,” I said, and walked off with a copy. Rounding the corner, I left the paper in the gutter.

If the youth of today are destined to be the revolutionaries of tomorrow, they’d do best avoiding any burnt out relics from the 60’s. While everyone was busy getting rich, they stood their ground; even as it fell out from under them.

Now this generation steps up to the plate. Awaiting them is more sophisticated weaponry, surveillance, and training, not to mention a nation suffering from the deja vu of just not quite understanding what the problem is.

Today’s activist may have learned how to organize from their graying, SUV-driving, Berkeley forefathers, but the cops have learned too. LA has proven that. …

Marchers fill streets

… I last saw Pixie the 16 year-old runaway with a group of anarchists in Pershing square. Her arm was around a tall one and she looked horribly lost with her pink hair in all that black. Schock says he saw her marching with them, flipping of the cameras and yelling, “fuck you,” to the cops.

Out of patience, time and money, I kept on walking through the park. With her head on the Anarchist’s shoulder, her pink hair looked doubly absurd. The last thing I told her was to stay safe. Somehow, I doubt she is. …

…My trusty uninsured Celica is running cool and fast down this empty highway 101. We are but an hour away from home in Santa Barbara- quiet, safe, sane. Neither of us can get the sirens out our heads, like when you spend all day in the ocean and still feel the waves when you lie down for bed.

Conversation is at a minimum as we contemplate the last three days.

There are big problems with America. Two million of our citizens shouldn’t be in prisons, almost half for non-violent drug offenses. 300 kids in Iraq shouldn’t die daily because of our need for oil. Fluoride is actually really bad for you.

The issues are there, but the execution remains sloppy. The majority of Americans remain uninterested in the DNC protesters’ various causes, and it will stay that way until the urge to protest spreads past the white, young, and affluent.

I now know that I love America, hate LA, and don’t give a damn about Mumia. Everything else can wait until after a good meal and some sleep.

“Look, Jason said enthusiastically, an In and Out.” Schock imitates me translating real life into a story while driving

Coffins of Iraqi children

“You uncultured swine, says David, this is journalism at its finest.”

“Jason scoffs, you can’t write your way out of a paper bag.”

“His ego bruised David musters, maybe, but I can put this pen through your eye.”

“Dream on, says Jason in a challenging tone.”

“OK, enough with the self-reflexive dialogue.”

“David mumbles.”

“You’re such a crackhead.”

“David says.”

“Both laugh wholeheartedly as their beat up car drives off into the sunset.”

“The End.”

The deceptive LA skyline

Reader comments:

Other D2KLA stories will be coming soon!

Jason Schock, August 25, 2000

hey man, this is pretty cool stuff. as always, good photos jason… good writing dave. can’t you just wait for the school year to get started? hey jason, ready to cover all those discussion panels? uhhhhh… no. well, see you guys in a few weeks. i’m in san jose right now. give me a wankadeedoo if you need anything.

truc bui, August 28, 2000

hey jason,
i left a printout of the article on my parent’s desk by accident and my mom absolutely loved it. she said she found the style of writing very similar to the stuff she reads on freerepublic — she digs the first-hand reporting style. although she had problems with the language (e.g., the use of the word “pissed off” or something), she was very impressed by the level of intelligence evidenced by the approach to the event. although my mom and i are on different sides of the political pendulum, i find myself agreeing with her — it’s extremely well executed, both in the photography and writing.

jenne raub, August 28, 2000

fight the good fight you guys. The fat is in the fire, the pigs are nervous, get ready for the holocaust.
Next time I go to one of these protests I’m going to bring a grenade!!!!

Lupo “Bring It On” Montoya, August 30, 2000


by the way, it might interest you both to know that david horowitz is much more than a “frazzled radio personality” — he is also one of my mother-the-republican’s heroes. a left-winged radical in the ’60s, he embraced and spouted communist rhetoric, sided with the black panthers, etc., until a friend/comrade of his was shot by a fellow member of the crazy left. along the way, he reevaluated his radical stance, swinging back the other way on the pendulum. his newspaper/journal, “heterodoxy,” brings light and criticism to all sorts of issues adored by the radical-left of today. some of his criticism is extremely well-deserved; some of it is quite flawed. he also loathes the clintons, and my mother sent me a copy of his book “sex, lies and vast conspiracies” where mr. horowitz outlines the corruption in the clinton white house years. there are several flaws, contradictions and errors in mr. horowitz’s writings and ideology, but for people like my newly-conservative mum (who went through a similar change), he’s rather revered. just thought you’d like to know.

jenne raub, August 28, 2000

Actually, there are two David Horowitz’s out there.

One is David Horowitz, the radical politico. The other is the journalist who did Fight Back! among other things.

You can read the bio of DH, the Fight Back! journalist, on his website at

Jason Schock, August 29, 2000

this i did not know. i assumed there was only one.

jenne raub, September 12, 2000