Synopsis of NOTHING SO STRANGE
For Citizens for Truth, the mystery begins with the assassination itself. While there is no question that Bill Gates appeared at a charity event in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles and was killed by two bullets fired from a rifle on the rooftop of the Park Plaza Hotel, the motive of the alleged assassin, a 24-year-old African American man named Alek Hidell, has never been determined. While Hidell's journals contain references to his concerns that a "class war" is brewing in the U.S., in the view of Citizens for Truth his writings amount to no more than the expression of frustrations shared by many African Americans. The lack of physical evidence linking Hidell to the crime-no fingerprints on the murder weapon, for example-and the seemingly rushed nature of the official District Attorney's office investigation also arouse the suspicion of the group. Because Hidell was killed in the hotel basement minutes after the assassination by a lone LAPD officer who says Hidell tried to shoot him, the public has never heard Hidell's side of the story. Given the long history of corruption and cover up by the LAPD (from its Wild West origins to the Rodney King beating, Mark Fuhrman and the Rampart scandal), Citizens for Truth makes it their mission to discover exactly what the real story behind the assassination might be.
Citizens for Truth is led on this mission by its co-presidents, 30-year-old print shop worker David James and 35-year-old magazine proofreader Debra Meagher, two L.A. residents with no experience in criminal investigation or activism but who are nonetheless highly motivated. Debra and David discover that many other L.A. residents share their concerns, and soon the group swells to 30 members. The first baby steps the group takes are wobbly-they all have to learn to deal with the sometimes tedious nature of group decision-making. But soon a two-tiered approach of direct action and investigation is well under way. David James makes spirited appearances before the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners and loudly voices his concerns with the Board's integrity. The group distributes flyers and circulates petitions, tapping into the community's mistrust of the LAPD. And the group specifically targets Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti for criticism and ridicule when Garcetti releases a report on the assassination that the group considers a whitewash. The group vows to defeat Garcetti when he runs for reelection later in the year.
The investigative arm of the group also discovers some startling evidence that received little play in the mainstream media. For example, a man was caught on an amateur videotape running out a side exit of the Park Plaza Hotel moments after the assassination of Bill Gates. On the tape, this "Running Man" apparently runs into a restaurant across the street called the Luna Sol Café. A 24-year-old woman behind the counter in the café, Julia Serrano, told reporters on the day of the assassination that she heard the Running Man say "We shot him" as he ran through the restaurant and out the back door. Six days later, Julia Serrano signed a statement for the LAPD amending her original claim-the statement said Serrano may actually have heard the Running Man say "They shot him." Citizens for Truth discovers that Serrano made this retreat from her original position only after a grueling six-hour interrogation by the LAPD. (Chilling excerpts from the tapes of this interrogation are featured in NOTHING SO STRANGE.) David James, Debra Meagher and other members of the group become convinced that the real assassin may have escaped, and that Alek Hidell may have been an innocent man in the wrong place at the wrong time-an unlucky black man who happened to surprise a rookie cop alone in the dark basement of the hotel. Justice may not have been served simply because the LAPD needed to cover up an improper officer-involved shooting-the type of cover-up the LAPD is known to have committed in the past.
Over the course of the year, Citizens for Truth puts pressure on the D.A.'s office to release the many sealed documents from the Gates matter. (Because there was no trial, the D.A. has no obligation to make the evidence public.) Debra Meagher and Citizens for Truth's research director, Mark Andersen, appear on a local public-affairs talk show to try to get their point of view on Garcetti out to the masses. Unfortunately, the show degenerates into a yelling match when opposing panelists on the show goad Debra and Mark; the radical leftist panelists have authored a book nearly extolling Alek Hidell for attempting to start a class war, and their political opportunism enrages Debra to the point that she lets loose with some uncivil words. The group also marches and demonstrates outside the 2000 Democratic National Convention. David James orchestrates the protest rally, in which a man in a chicken costume represents D.A. Gil Garcetti, and at which the entire group demands that Garcetti "Release the files!" or face defeat in the upcoming election. Their demands fall on deaf ears.
So the group is thrilled when Garcetti is defeated at the polls in November. They are sure that the D.A.'s shoddy handling of the Gates murder (as well as the O.J. and Rampart matters) is partially responsible for his defeat, and they hope his successor, Steve Cooley, will be more open with the Gates-assassination files. At this point, things could not be looking better for Citizens for Truth-the D.A. has been ousted, they are preparing to release their own report on the Gates killing, they are hosting a research conference in one month to bring together people from all over the world who are interested in the Gates assassination, and David James has recently made direct contact with Julia Serrano, the woman who originally said she heard the Running Man say, "We shot him." David has a written statement from Julia Serrano in which she says the LAPD did in fact coerce her into changing her story, that she is sure she heard the Running Man say "We shot him," and she regrets that she let the LAPD intimidate her into saying otherwise. The group will publish this startling new statement in their report and plans to have Julia Serrrano speak at the upcoming conference.
The conference starts out well, with the release of the official Citizens for Truth Report and higher than expected attendance by guests eager to hear alternate versions of the Gates assassination. But on the second day the conference takes a bad turn and then gets worse for Citizens for Truth. First, Julia Serrano fails to show up for her panel session. She leaves a message on David's answering machine saying that the D.A. called her and asked her to clarify the statements attributed to her in the Citizens for Truth Report. Serrano, afraid, has backed out of her commitment to the research conference. Later, at what is supposed to be a celebratory banquet to close out the conference, Debra is approached by a Times reporter, who tells her that he contacted Julia Serrano today and was told by her that she was paid $1000 to make a statement to David James. Shocked, Debra tells the reporter there must be a misunderstanding.
But there is not. In a hastily assembled private meeting-with the banquet still going on downstairs-David reveals to the executive committee of Citizens for Truth that he did indeed "loan" Julia Serrano $1000. The members of the committee are devastated. The group's credibility, earned over nearly an entire year, will now likely be shattered by a single article that will make it look like they bribed their most important witness. David refuses to admit he has made a mistake and downplays the effect of his act. The other committee members, at the end of their rope with David, vote to expel him from the group, so that the Times will at least report that they took care of the problem quickly.
But David insists on what is his right under the group's bylaws-a full vote by the membership. The group is forced to turn their celebratory banquet into a messy squabble, in which the members are divided about what to do with David. After loud and lengthy argument, the group votes narrowly to cast David out, and some other members also leave in protest. A year to the date after the Gates assassination, Citizens for Truth is in tatters.
One year after that, the wounds have not healed. David James and a handful of others have formed a splinter group, Citizens for Action, which concentrates on direct action and protest instead of what David derisively terms "sitting around in a room whining." And Citizens for Truth is down to seven active members, only four of whom show up for a Remembrance Ceremony for Gates at MacArthur Park on the second anniversary of the assassination. Debra Meagher is still mourning the loss of the one meaningful thing she has yet done in her life. She says, "I'll always wonder if maybe we had the truth almost in our hands, but then we lost it because we tried too hard. Now nobody will ever know. That's what gets me. Nobody will ever know."
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