by Juliana Birnbaum Fox
On May 1, International Workers Day, tens of thousands of protesters participated in mass marches for immigrant rights in California and around the United States. While Bay Area rallies peacefully brought diverse groups together and drew attention to the more than 1,500 local raids on illegal immigrants in recent months, a Los Angeles event ended in violence. Both northern and southern California reported much smaller turnouts than last year’s record-breaking protests.
The L.A. clashes started around 6 p.m. in MacArthur Park, at the city’s second event of the day, when crowds had thinned from approximately 25,000 to 10,000. Police wielding batons and firing 240 rubber bullets tried to disperse demonstrators who moved into a street, according to rally organizers and reporters. Authorities said several people threw rocks and bottles at officers, who used batons and tear gas to push the crowd back to the sidewalk and then cleared the park.
“There were 240 rounds shot and not one arrest, so where was the threat?” asked organizer Victor Narro of the National Lawyers Guild. “I saw police officers laughing on the street while this was going on.”
News images showed police hitting TV journalists, shoving people who were walking away from officers, and injuries people suffered from rubber bullets.
“They were pushing children, elderly, mothers with their babies and beating up on the media,” said Angela Sanbrano, an organizer.
“The cops didn’t only move people out of the perimeters of the park, they chased through the park firing at anyone who might have been an obstacle, said Ernesto Arce, an organizer and radio host who was hit in the leg with a rubber-coated bullet during the conflict. “I witnessed many people who were shot at from the back,” according to media reports.
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who cut short his trip to Central America and Mexico in the wake of the problems at the protests, said he would welcome the FBI’s investigation into the violence at the end of mostly peaceful immigrant rights marches and rallies.
Police Chief William J. Bratton condemned the officers’ tactics and said the department’s investigation, which will review police and news media videos, would focus on the actions not only of the street officers but also of the top decision-makers who gave the orders.
“There were mistakes made here all the way up and down the line. I want to make that clear,” Bratton said at a news conference. He also mentioned that he had talked with the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office and would meet with him next week to “speak to the issues that occurred May 1 and also the idea of possibly having the FBI take a look at this.”
The chief said he hoped a federal review would show the department has nothing to hide while dispelling any claims that police had targeted immigrant rights leaders and supporters.
The several thousand activists who turned out in San Francisco that day carried flags from both the U.S. and Latin American nations, marching up Market Street to the Civic Center rally.
“This is not a movement of politicians, but of human beings — and that’s why it will be successful,” said Matt Gonzalez, a former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “The laws of this country will not change unless we stay united,” according to news accounts.
A morning march in Oakland down International Boulevard was led by a banner reading: “No mas tratamiento de segunda clase,” or “No more second-class treatment,” and covered 15 blocks.
The nationwide protests, school and store closings and boycotts were meant to show the key role that immigrants both legal and illegal play in the U.S. economy. They were also in protest of an immigration reform bill passed by the House in December, which would make illegal immigration an aggravated felony and erect 700 miles of fence on the U.S.-Mexican border. California is home to about one-quarter of the nation’s immigrants.
(Servicios de noticias de cabl\e contribuiyeron con este reportaje).