THE WATCHTOWER: ON THE WATERFRONT
BY PETER DANIELS | APRIL 29, 2020
The recent murder of Senator Eugene Park at a Democratic Party rally at the Port of Los Santos is not the first occasion in which the neighborhood of Ocean Docks serves as a backdrop for an event involving the city's Police Department and the State Government.
Before the killing of Senator Park was the arrest of Los Santos Mayor Francis "Frank" Vaughn at the hands of no one else but Los Santos Police Chief Michael Houston and the consequent political repercussions involving then-Governor Jesse Style that shook the political landscape and the world of law enforcement to the core.
The State of San Andreas would come out profoundly changed by those days, and the aftermath of decisions taken back then affects politics even now: the downfall of the Democratic Party and the dawn of a resurgent Republican Party, the transformation of the LSPD, the undoing of Governor Jesse Styles and the rise of Governor Lauren Isley.
It all began on the waterfront.
MONTHS OF TENSIONS
The incident at the Port of Los Santos was the boiling point of several months of tensions between the State, the City of Los Santos and its police department. Frank Vaughn, at his second term as the Democratic Mayor, had campaigned on a platform that included more civilian oversight for law enforcement agencies, decriminalization of marijuana possession, increased protection for labor unions and the establishment of a port police to serve as a security force for the Port of Los Santos. All of these proposals were not appreciated in the slightest by Chief Houston and most of the Los Santos Police leadership. Governor Jesse Styles, a Republican, attempted to intervene to pacify the two sides, with mixed results.
Ironically enough, both Vaughn and Styles were former Los Santos Police detectives who had served under Houston during his first mandate at the helm of the LSPD. Their common past in the force, however, didn't seem to play in favor of finding a peaceful solution to the problems that beleaguered the relationship between the City Hall and the Pershing Square police headquarters.
After Vaughn was defeated during his first attempt to decriminalize marijuana, he proactively lobbied with other law enforcement agencies to obtain their support with the public at-large, and eventually managed to obtain a success on his second try. Likewise, his efforts to broaden the presence of labor unions across San Andreas was met with hostility by the Los Santos Police, who believed them to be Vaughn's attempt to curb Houston's control over the Department.
The straw that definitely broke any possibility of appeasement between the two sides came with Vaughn's decision to allow the Port Authority to have an armed security force, without law enforcement powers, to protect the Port of Los Santos. This did not sit well with the Los Santos Police, who saw the establishment of this semi-governmental force as detrimental to the keeping of the peace, if not outright dangerous, given the lower standards required to join it, their lack of peace officer training and the possibility for the security officers to be armed.
Within weeks, a permanent injunction was issued by the Superior Court of San Andreas, prohibiting Port Authority employees from acting as security guards, which effectively nullified the terms of the contract the Port Authority had signed with Mayor Vaughn.
Members of the Port Authority and of the San Andreas Longshore and Warehouse Union (SALWU) Local 2, which represented the majority of port workers, immediately went on strike and began picketing the area of the Port of Los Santos, criticizing the injunction and complaining about the layoffs it would bring to the many port security officers and the resulting lack of safety at the docks.
The protest immediately attracted the attention of media and political figures alike. After an uneventful first day of striking, the situation began to heat on the evening of the second day, when Vaughn, along with Representatives Katherine Summers and Geoffrey "Jep" Appelo, appeared at the Port to voice their support for SALWU and the Port Authority. The workers then began chanting "What's disgusting? Union busting" (a slogan that would go on to become the signature phrase of the whole protest) and "Jesse Styles, rich and rude, we don't like your attitude", with several legislators joining in.
Upon learning of this and fearing a civil disturbance, Governor Styles immediately requested the deployment of Los Santos Police resources to the scene and for all political figures to desist from all protest-related activities. Within minutes, a large group of tactically-equipped police officers moved to Ocean Docks to put an end to the sit-in, with Chief Houston himself supervising the operations.
The protest was eventually ended peacefully and without turning into a much-feared riot, although seven SALWU members and the Director of the Port Authority were arrested and charged with incitement to riot due to their role in the disturbance. Striking was initially suspended, but the protest had lost its initial steam and wasn't resumed in the following days.
Vaughn walked away from the scene after a tense confrontation with Chief Houston, but despite this face-off revealing the hostility that had existed for weeks, the whole affair seemed to have ended there.
It was far from being the end.
A week later, Mayor Vaughn was pulled over while driving through Idlewood. What began as a regular traffic stop concluded with Chief Michael Houston himself putting bracelets on Vaughn's wrists, with the Mayor being loaded in the back of a police cruiser. Shortly afterwards, Vaughn was formally charged with corruption of public duty.
According to an affidavit filed by Deputy Attorney General Darnell Murphy, Vaughn had used the city government's broadcast services, usually employed to transmit public services announcements to the people of Los Santos, to "advertise" the protest organized by the Port Authority and SALWU at Ocean Docks. He was also accused of having forced the city's Licensing Department to accept a protest permit application improperly filed by the Port Authority members. The affidavit further stated that during the protest, city government vehicles were used to block the entrance to the Port of Los Santos, and that Vaughn had made statements that incited a riot against the San Andreas State Government.
Chief Justice Agosto Mercati himself reviewed the affidavit and signed a warrant for his arrest, leading to Vaughn's detainment in Idlewood by Houston. Indicted one one count of corruption, Vaughn was replaced by a city manager and a new mayoral election was scheduled among popular furor and the defeaning silence of Governor Styles, who refused to comment on the matter.
Despite a valiant performance in court, represented by San Andreas Civil Liberties Association (SACLA) executive director Mark Morales, Vaughn ultimately came out defeated from his trial as he was convicted and sentenced to prison. But in what had so far been one of the most convoluted political showdowns in the history of San Andreas there would still be one last twist.
Not long after the elections were concluded, Governor Styles surprised many seasoned political commentators by pardoning Vaughn, who was then released from the custody of the San Andreas Department of Corrections. But the political landscape had been already changed. Perhaps forever.
The San Andreas Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (SALWU) was hit hard by the strike and its failure, and was soon replaced by the International Brotherhood of Longshoremen (IBL) Local 2. The more comprehensive labor union protection laws planned by Mayor Vaughn remained on paper as none of his successors opted to pick his battle up in the State Senate.
Once returned to freedom, Vaughn effectively retired from politics and aside some rare appearances at Democratic Party conventions, he ceased to be a public figure. With him, the Democratic Party saw its brightest hour in San Andreas, and despite having a resurgence in recent years, they would never recapture the lighting in a bottle that were Vaughn's two terms as mayor.
Katherine Summers, Vaughn's successor as Mayor of Los Santos, was as embattled as Vaughn with the Los Santos Police, but her reign would be even shorter than his. She would resign midway through her term among rumors of federal investigations focusing on her administration, which also contributed to the decline of the San Andreas Democratic Party. A city manager would be appointed to fill the rest of her term.
Many saw Styles' decision to issue a pardon as a last-ditch attempt to regain his popularity, which had reached an all-time high during the beginning of his term but had quickly dropped following the Port of Los Santos affair. Whether it was a political move or an earnest offer of pacification towards an old colleague and political rival, the approval ratings for Styles remained extremely low, and he then declined to run for another term.
Michael Houston planned to run for another term as Chief of the Los Santos Police Department instead but his plans were stopped dead in their tracks by the negative publicity attracted by the role he played in the Port of Los Santos protests, his long-standing feud with Vaughn and his alleged behind-the-scenes lobbying with the State's powerful political figures. His refusal to speak publicly about the events took a toll on his reputation and when asked to make several changes to Department policies and procedures, he refused to and was not reappointed.
With the three main figures of the controversy on their way out, the only winner was Lieutenant Governor Lauren Isley, who went on to be the next Republican Governor of San Andreas and began one of the biggest cost-cutting campaigns the State had ever seen, which had the unexpected consequence of crippling some key State agencies for years to come.
What happened at the Port of Los Santos was more than just a power play between three of the most powerful men in Los Santos. It was a textbook example of how no one, be them a Governor, a Mayor or a Police Chief, can expect their choices not to have consequences. It was a cautionary tale about the dangers of blindly playing politics without being ready for its repercussions, a warning about the quickly-changing fortunes for those who step into the arena, a lesson for those who believe their luck will last forever.
What happened on the waterfront is still as relevant now as it was back then.
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