Revolution #89, May 20, 2007
LAPD Attack on May 1 Immigrant Rights March: Anger, Resistance Grows
On May 1st this year, immigrants demonstrated across the country demanding an end to the government raids and deportations, and for the legalization of more than 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. In Los Angeles, what started as a day when tens of thousands marched in the streets demanding to be treated like human beings ended with the LAPD viciously attacking the thousands of people who attended an afternoon immigration rally at MacArthur Park. Many families with young children, elderly people, and others were in the park when battalions of armed police charged in and brutalized protesters and journalists. TV news crews and photographers captured images of the police swinging their batons near children as their parents shielded them with their own bodies. People were beat right and left with batons. Police pushed street vendors off the sidewalk. The cops shot over 150 rubber bullets into the crowd, injuring numerous people. Many, including a camera woman who suffered a broken wrist after she was pushed down and hit by the police, were taken to a local hospital for treatment.On Youtube.com you can watch news coverage with unedited video footage of the attacks in the local Fox News LA clip called "5-1-07 LAPD ASSAULTS MAY DAY DEMONSTRATORS" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFDNKXJMH9A)
In the hours after the police swept through the park, hundreds of people from the surrounding Pico Union neighborhood came out of their homes and apartment buildings. There were bonfires at an intersection before the police finally dispersed the crowds.
The LAPD rampage against May Day immigrant rights protesters has fueled further outrage at the persecution of immigrants by raids, vigilantes, and police. There is widespread indignation and anger at this unprovoked and inexcusable police attack throughout broad sections of people across society—including Black people and many sections of the middle class. People are asking, “Why did this happen?” and “What can we do about this?”
Like the image of Rodney King being brutally beaten by the Los Angeles Police Department—blow, after blow, after blow—the image of battalions of LAPD officers on May 1st, brutalizing and shooting rubber bullets into a massive crowd of protesters and journalists is burned into the memory of many people throughout the country.
The stories are outrageous. Ricardo, a 72 year old man, was hit with a baton on his neck and back because he asked the police why the protesters were being dispersed. Another man was beat down because he was helping a father protect his child in a baby stroller. Luis, a data control manager who attended the protest to support immigrants, was struck across his head, knocked unconscious, and treated at a local hospital. Wounds, bruises, panic, and repression were inflicted on men and women; the elderly and children; protesters; and journalists who were reporting the news on a national day of protest demanding that immigrants be treated like human beings.
Who Ordered the Attack?
In an early press conference, LAPD Chief William Bratton said, "The individuals were there to provoke police… Unfortunately, they got what they came for." But he was quickly forced to reverse course. In a matter of days and following tremendous pressure, he was compelled to take “disciplinary action” against Lt. Chief Lee Carter, Commander Louis Gray. Sixty members the LAPD’s elite Metro Unit were taken off the street pending an investigation.
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has routinely supported LAPD in other high profile police brutality cases and been in favor of increasing the numbers of police on the street, was forced to condemn the police attack on May Day. While in El Salvador, Villaraigosa commented, "Yesterday, across the country, we witnessed a day of overwhelmingly peaceful speeches and assemblies in the best American tradition… Any time that our law enforcement officials employ force, the public has an absolute and unqualified right to expect and demand an aggressive review of the facts. This review is already underway." The scandal surrounding the May Day attack forced Villaraigosa to return home from a trip to Mexico and El Salvador.
What happened at MacArthur Park was a major police operation. Many people now want a full accounting of what happened and want to know: Who ordered the attack? What role did LAPD Chief Bratton play in this? What did the Mayor know about it and when?
Anger among the people only increased as news clips of the brutal LAPD conduct appeared repeatedly and for days at the head of evening news programs; on the cover of all major newspapers in L.A., including the editorial pages of La Opinion and the Los Angeles Times (which denounced the attack); in break rooms, classrooms, and school cafeterias; at Cinco de Mayo events; at a police commission hearing attended by over 200 people; and in neighborhoods around MacArthur Park, the Eastside, Southside, and Westside. The increasing anger of growing sections of people forced the Mayor and high-ranking police officials to embark on some major damage control and try to find a way to contain the growing discontent and calm people’s sentiments by promising a full investigation.
“Eating Tacos and Signing Shirts” Won’t Make Us Forget
Despite the efforts of police and their apologists to place the blame on a group of “agitators” for the brutal police response, many people are asking: "If they didn’t intend to repress people, then why were they ready with rubber bullets and tear gas?"
Many among the masses are not buying these attempts to cool their anger. One Latina who lives in the area around MacArthur Park told the LA Times when the Mayor visited the park, "He thinks people seeing him eating tacos here and signing shirts are going to forget about what happened here. It's an insult. It's just damage control… And this is not the first time we've seen police violence."
An elderly man from Mexico said, "They were looking for an excuse, they were ready to hurt just about anyone, and they did. [We] came here to protest for the legalization [of immigrants] and the police took advantage of that to attack even the reporters. There was no reason for them to do what they did. Nobody thought this was right. Even the white reporters didn't like that the police were just attacking anyone… [The authorities] are afraid. They know that we're not afraid to die and that's why they're attacking us. We're united, and there's a lot of us. I'm not afraid of the police anymore."
A peanut vendor at MacArthur Park said: "[The police] think that they own the world, but they don't. We don't want to be beat up and abused." "We're protesting because we want to be treated like human beings."
Other people expressed that while they had been hesitant to attend May 1st, after they saw the gross brutality unleashed on the people, they now think it's necessary for people to take a stand. One person said, "This is not the time to be afraid. See you at MacArthur Park!"
Organizers of the May 1st protests have called for a march and rally on May 17 in Los Angeles because they feel there’s a need for people to go back on the streets and back to MacArthur Park to protest the May Day brutality and continue to raise the demands: legalization for all immigrants and stop the raids, deportations, and militarization of the border.
A History Of Brutality—In New Conditions
On the front lines of the May Day assault were dozens of officers from the elite Metropolitan Division of the LAPD. This unit is made up of highly trained police officers—many with 15 to 25 years experience in the department and extensive experience in “crowd control.”
This elite unit was active during the Los Angeles Rebellion in 1992 and brutalized protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Downtown L.A. in 2000. Both the Mayor and police officials are saying that the problems arose because the police in MacArthur Park did not follow guidelines set after the numerous lawsuits against the LAPD following the attack on protesters at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in 2000. After the DNC, the LAPD was forced to sign a consent decree in which they promised in essence, not to do what they did on May Day, including attacking the press, as well as pay a $4.1 million settlement.
But this is not a problem of breaking the chain of command—what the LAPD did on May 1st is what they are trained to do. Commander Louis Gray was one of the two highest ranking LAPD officers on the scene on May 1st. He was also on the scene at the 2000 DNC—he gave the order for the police attack on demonstrators and the press back then. Columnist Gabriel Lerner wrote in La Opinion, “As part of a process, Tuesday’s actions were not spontaneous or accidental, [or the actions] of a few disobedient officers, nor was it a case of them going beyond their authority. It was actually the opposite. It was an elite unit specially trained to do what they did. They marched in formation and advanced as they were trained to do. They were dressed in official uniforms and helmets and had the latest anti-riot equipment. And who gave the order?”
At the police commission hearing on May 8th, Bratton said that the police intended to review the video tapes of the May 1st protest and charge anyone that assaulted a police officer. If Bratton and Villaraigosa are really condemning the police assault on May Day, then why haven’t they charged those police officer who were documented—and seen all over the world on television—beating protesters, journalists, and people who were just hanging out for an afternoon in the park? Why aren’t those police officers facing imprisonment?
The LAPD has an infamous history of brutality. But the attack on the immigrants takes place in very specific conditions. As Travis Morales put it, “This brutality is a critical part of U.S. imperialism’s program for immigrants: killed at the border; worked to death like slaves; Gestapo style ICE raids with the Migra dragging people out of their homes in the middle of the night; deportations and tearing families apart; terrorizing communities with street sweeps; concentration camps for captured immigrants including children; and armed vigilantes hunting down immigrants like modern day slave catchers.”
Black Voices Raised in Support
Significantly, this brutal assault against the people also holds the potential to break down some of the divisions between Blacks and Latinos. Numerous Black and Latino people drew parallels between the LAPD rampage and the police brutality against pro civil rights protesters in the 1960s. In particular, people pointed to the 1963 police attack with dogs and water hoses against the march to Birmingham, Alabama. The brutality and blatant attack drew condemnation from Black people in Watts and South Central Los Angeles. This outrage has raised big questions and provided a basis for overcoming some of the sharp divisions between Black people and Latino immigrants that the system has fanned. Half a dozen Black people spoke at the police commission hearing to denounce the attack, with some referring to the police chief as “Bull” Bratton. This was a reference to Bull Connor, the former police commissioner of Birmingham who was infamous for ordering brutal police attacks on civil rights protesters, including the march to Birmingham.
One prominent East Coast Black radio talk show host, who last year took a bad position on the immigrant outpouring condemned the attack, making parallels with 1963 Birmingham. He went on to tell a caller that if he thought “they” were going to first come after Mexicans and not then come after “you,” then “you’re crazy.”
The authorities are having a very difficult time containing the widespread anger and outrage at the attack on the May Day protest—which they did in an effort to try and crush this movement. It is not a settled question whether or not they will get away this, or if this attack will instead lead to further outpourings of protest and resistance and win new allies in support of the struggle of immigrants.
In a year marked by massive raids and roundups of immigrants, hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets of major and small cities across the country on May 1 to give voice to their burning demand to be treated like human beings. The brazenly brutal attack on immigrant protesters in L.A. has exposed the program this system has for immigrants for people all over the world to see. In the face of this attack, a stronger core of people has been forged who have not given up their just demands and new allies have been brought forward. People from different walks of life are demanding answers and are organizing further outpourings to speak out against this program and challenge broader sections of people to ask if this is the kind of society they want to live in—where people are viciously attacked for demanding basic rights.
As we pointed out in our May Day coverage: “The movement needs to build on this, reach out far beyond the immigrant communities, and persevere in relying on the people’s own efforts to defeat all of the anti-immigrant attacks. Revolutionaries must work within that movement, strengthening this resistance and constantly bringing forward the fundamental interests of the masses and how the can only be satisfied through revolution.”
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