At a party Tuesday, Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton said the security at this year’s Oscars “would be more than last year, certainly, because of events of the war.”
That turned out to be an understatement.
A few blocks away from the Oscar site, protesters clashed with police, resulting in a handful of arrests after organizers refused to call off an anti-war rally. Estimates of the number of participants ranged from 1,000 to 5,000.
Fewer than 10 people were taken into custody when protesters refused to follow orders and tried to take over portions of the famous intersection, deputy chief Mike Hillman said.
“Unfortunately the officers had to start pushing the protesters back,” he said, and “the situation got very contentious.”
Protesters, among them Michigan Congressman John Conyers, carried signs playing on the names of nominated films. One group carried an 8-by-4-foot foam board with a picture of an Oscar statuette giving the peace sign.
While there was a huge security presence at last year’s Oscars, little of it involved active policing. The cops stood and watched the stars arrive. This year there was constant movement of riot-ready police who were containing anti-war demonstrators and insuring there were no protest-linked traffic blockages.
This year there was a change in the route to the Kodak and that was key to where the demonstrations occurred. Limos went north on Highland, turned left on Hollywood Boulevard, and dropped passengers directly in front of the archway entry. (Last year vehicles came south on Highland and dropped guests at the corner of Hollywood where they’d walk down a 200-yard red-carpet.)
When any moment of tension developed at the site where protesters marched, there would be an immediate rush to the scene of police on motorcycles, bicycles and trucks carrying 20 riot-gear clad officers.
If you were two blocks from the Kodak, there were times when it seemed like the whole purpose of the Oscars was to show off the LAPD’s precision motorcycle maneuvers.
Almost anywhere you looked there were police reserves. The Roosevelt Hotel’s Cinegrill was a staging area for SWAT team members. The Hollywood High School football field was prepared for helicopter landings and had what looked like a mobile booking van on the 50-yard line.
If one reason there were no major disruptions immediately in front of the Kodak was the massive police presence, another was that the protestors where overwhelming middle-class, non-violent and had no agenda except to voice anti-war sentiments at a high-profile venue. Mostly they held up signs and yelled, “Speak out!” as the limos went up Highland.
Cynthia Campoy Brophy, who was protesting on Highland with her husband and two kids, said she was there because “I think it’s inappropriate to celebrate and promote our popular culture while we’re dropping bombs on another country.”
Not everyone agreed. At the other end of the boulevard, a contingent of roughly 100 to 200 demonstrators supporting President Bush and the U.S. troops in Iraq held down a prime spot at the northeast corner of Hollywood and Highland.
A woman used a shrill voice to chant slogans into a megaphone. “George W. Bush, give Saddam a push!” she called out.
One example of what a complex job the Academy has with Oscar security is that the sidewalk directly across the street from the Kodak has to be kept open so “customers,” who must first pass through a metal detectors at both ends of the street, have entry to the tourist shops. The shops were empty, but the sidewalk was packed.
So while two blocks away there were chanting protestors and riot police, directly across from Kodak, standing behind an 8-foot-high chain link fence with a black, see-through covering were hundreds of fans — the kind who’d usually be in the bleachers — watching the arrivals but with an obstructed view.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)