LAPD Opens Dangerous Front in Immigrant Movement

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato Posted: May 08, 2007

Editor’s Note: The police attack on immigrant rights supporters in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles has pushed the immigrant rights debate into dangerous new territory. Authorities need to act quickly to dispel any notion that immigrants are being targeted for political reasons, writes NAM contributing editor Roberto Lovato. Photograph - Debru Petrov.

LOS ANGELES -- After participating in more than 50 small and large immigration vigils and marches in Los Angeles' MacArthur Park, little of what happens there surprises me. The many acts of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) violence I witnessed – the choke-holds on 50-year-old female street vendors, the blood of marchers spilled on grass by baton-wielding cops, and me myself being hit – never really scared me. That is, until now.LAPD - MacArthur Park

As I sat stupefied before images of gunshots raining on immigrants whose only weapons were baby carriages and bongos, I saw the LAPD dragging the immigrants and the entire country into dangerous terrain, a new threshold in the tug of immigration war raging around the country.

In my almost 20 years (several of which I spent in a crowded office down the block from the park as the executive director of the Central American Resource Center, CARECEN) of working in the immigrant community, I've watched the very gradual escalation of anti-immigrant sentiment; I’ve watched us move from the wave of verbal and visual assaults against immigrants following small rallies against California’s Proposition 187 in MacArthur Park which denied social services to those without papers, to the wave of verbal, visual and now physical attacks carpeting the entire country. Among the 70 injured and hospitalized last Tuesday were Salvadorans, Guatemalans and others who fled situations where the gradual growth and normalization of verbal and visual violence against specific groups preceded violence against those same groups.

The 240 "less than lethal" shots fired by LAPD sent powerful concentric waves of trauma and media messages – seven journalists were among the injured – felt from the crowded brown brick apartments in Pico Union to the tobacco fields of Dudley, North Carolina as well as in homes throughout the hemisphere.

As Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited post-war El Salvador on the day of the incident, people there watched their six-o’clock local news with enthusiasm – after all, Los Angeles could be called the second largest Salvadoran city. But the cheer and goodwill quickly evaporated as they watched on their ten o’clock international news the all-too-familiar images: heavily armed men in black uniforms and riot gear firing shotguns at fellow Salvadorans and Mexicans and other immigrants, including four-year-old girls and 70-year-old grandmothers.

With the whole world watching, Chief Bratton and Mayor Villaraigosa, who owes his election to the post-Proposition 187 wave of Latino electoral power, must deal swiftly and in unprecedented ways with the shocking new threshold set by the LAPD if trust in the community, the city and the entire continent are to be repaired. The dangerous new precedent appears to many in the community to signal open season on immigrants in a country where they inspire such intense passions and hatred; such a situation requires local authorities to persuade many in the community that this most recent incident was not planned or provoked to repress immigrants. Some activists, like Javier Rodriguez, one of the march organizers, are already calling the MacArthur Park incident a “political decision” to “dismantle this (immigrant rights) movement.” Whether or not such claims are true, many born in the United States heard in the gunshots echoes of Kent State. Anchors on the Spanish language Univision network drew angry comparisons with the shooting of former Univision reporter Ruben Salazar who was killed by an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy during a march against the Vietnam War in 1970, while community members born in other parts of America like El Salvador saw flashes of Plaza Barrios, also a site of police violence.

With deeply rooted fears growing and expanding in the immigrant community and with the pall of institutional violence still hanging heavily over the LAPD, it may not serve the city to simply establish another in the seemingly endless string of commissions investigating violence and other misconduct: the McCone Commission following the Watts riots, the Christopher Commission following the Rodney King beating, the Webster Commission following the riots of 1992, the reform recommendations following the Rampart scandal. During my tenure at CARECEN, then the country’s largest immigrant-serving organization, I attended dozens of meetings about police violence against immigrants with everybody from the former captain and other officers of the notorious Rampart Station to U.S. attorney generals, mayors, blue ribbon commission members and others who guaranteed “getting to the bottom” of official violence. Despite the assurances, the thick reports full of recommendations, the FBI investigations, and the promises to protect “civil rights,” police reform still seems like a bottomless pit of impunidad (impunity) to immigrants, youth, African-Americans and others.

Quelling concerns with FBI investigations and the language and institutional practice of “civil rights” may not be enough, especially among those who have experienced actual results from language and practices rooted in “human rights.” "The way the local police physically abused marchers represents right there a violation of human rights," said Jorge A. Bustamante, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, during a visit to Los Angeles last week. Linking the MacArthur Park incident to the larger context informing the violence, he added, “There is concern in the United Nations human rights community about rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States."

In the search for answers and responsibility, Mayor Villaraigosa would do well to look back to countries like El Salvador or Mexico, where the determination of responsibility for such incidents includes identifying possible "intellectual authors", special civilian Truth Commissions (as opposed to the previous commissions) and other measures. In the absence of new approaches to eradicate endemic police violence, Los Angeles should, in its efforts to be transparent, consider inviting international groups who monitor and report on violence and abuses of human rights of migrants around the world. Whether or not “autores intelectuales” (intellectual authors) of the violence exist and whatever form the inevitable claims of a cover-up take, local authorities must address the MacArthur Park incident in new ways, ways that leave no doubt that immigrants were not targeted for political reasons, for being the most vulnerable.

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User Comments

Kriztha Molina on May 17, 2007 at 13:15:51 said:

Hi! ahm.. i really don't know what to say, but I wanted to thank the editor of this information.. I'm a high school student doing a research about something about immigrants.. cos me my self is an immigrant. and it really bothers me that somewhere out in this country there is still some unfair treatment. I can say that it5's not unfair to treat immigrant this was, but let us also take the other party's side so we can get everyone's voice.

RC Mata on May 12, 2007 at 17:11:48 said:

One short comment, I do not remember the American Indians having trouble with immigration when the Mayflower landed in the good old USA, and no one was forced to learn thier language, Do you?

anonymous on May 10, 2007 at 08:46:27 said:

to the person who said that we would do well to remember that our country was built on immigration, that is true. however, there were strict rules on immigration then and there was a process by which you became citizens. people are not following that in the present. they are exploiting our systems and taking advantage of the public assistance programs that they do not pay into or , deserve. if you can come to a country illegally, get pregnant, stay and receive money for not working then there is no reason to come here legally is there? im okay with immigration but we arent talking about imigration we are talking about criminal activity and that is what people are against.

MAG ROGERS on May 09, 2007 at 08:12:50 said:


Nina N on May 08, 2007 at 20:28:03 said:

Just because there was ALOT of Hispanics- they are not ALL mexican. Also I happen to work at a place where we have to handle peoples Immigration documents- BELIEVE ME- they are not all HISPANIC!SO many people come here to the USA and OUT STAY their VISITORS visas! ANd theY are NOT MEXICAN-THEY ARE RUSSIans-Iranians- Koreans and the list goes on
AND if you only knew what they are "entitled to" when they get here you would be sick to your stomach! They take advantage of every type of PUBLIC assisstance and you should see what they drive- every LUXURY CAR YOU CAN THINK OF!sO STOP ASSUMING THEY ARE ALL MEXICANS-STOP BEING SO IGNORANT

your dady on May 08, 2007 at 16:56:50 said:

all u lazy americans should thank the mexicans for doing your dirty jobs.

Jimmy Thompson on May 08, 2007 at 13:28:34 said:

What about the police officers that were hurt? People violate our laws, attack our police and all I hear is "the poor Immigrants, they are just trying to make a living". Well I got news for the bleeding hearts, drug dealers are "just trying to make a living", but I do not see anyone jumping on that bandwagon. You break our laws, you should be deported. Where is the outrage by the LA mayor whose police force was attacked. Guess we know where is loyalty is and it is not with the legal citizens of this country. It is a shame that criminals who break our laws attack U.S. citizens, steel, rob, take identity murder, rape, attack our police force and have the nerve to demand something they are not entitled to or deserve. And the politicians side with the criminals. But we have the best politicians money can buy. Maybe if they would protest in their own country things would improve, but that is too hard. Everyone wants the easy rout. Come here, steel jobs and committ any crime they want then cry racism.

Nobody Knows on May 08, 2007 at 11:46:28 said:

I think the cops were out of control and that the system will take care of it. This article is just an attempt to inflame people and it shouldn't work...

I used to be a card-carrying liberal hippy but when my town and my schools became Mexican extensions, when everything that happened had to be managed in two languages, when illegals begging for illegal work began to force me to run through their guantlets just to get to the hardware store... when my kid had to start learning Spanish in school and Latino "awareness" became a mandate... I got off the horse.

Illegal immigrants aren't "Undocumented workers" and they shouldn't be here. Period. If you jumped a border to get here, if you lied about your nationality, if you broke the law to be here, you need to go back where you came from and fix the problems there.

Illegal immigrants would lose one major attraction if we stopped birthing their children in our hospitals at our expense and then declaring those children to be American citizens. That loophole should be slammed shut...and as soon as possible.

It is easy enough to become a legitimate American citizen, some would say too easy. So why do I have to pay for their healthcare, educate my children in their language, tolerate their "diversity", etc when they send most of the money they make out of the country, when they bring gangs and corruption with their "ethnic diversity", when they don't respect America and in many cases want to see it overthrown and replaced with a Latino country- there is a big "secessionist" movement amongs the Mexicans...
I wouldn't think twice about bribing a Mexican cop or official and if we want to be able to do that here in the US, just let them have their way.
Send em back, build a wall, warn them and punish them harshly if they break our laws. All of them, every time.

No to illegal immigrants, no to immigration "rights", no to rallies by illegals trying to change their own status when the law has clearly defined them as "illegal", no to the children of illegals becoming citizens....... no to Hispanic activists, no, no, no, no.......

anonymous on May 08, 2007 at 10:34:00 said:

The increase in anti-immigration sentiment in the United States is cause for great concern. Americans would do well to remember that our country was built on immigration, and not all that long ago. Reducing oportunities for immigration invites cultural stagnation. Even above and beyond concerns that the United States should have for our immigration programs, the right to speak freely and without persecution should be extended to all people in out country, citizen or not. If an immigrant is here illegally their basic human rights should not be comprimised. The United States should be an beacon of dignity and fairness to the world, not a cesspool of fear and discrimination.

charles canady on May 08, 2007 at 09:21:33 said:

the police should have loaded all of illegals and carted them back to mexico. the treatment they get is allright because they are breaking our laws and they started it.

Jim Moss on May 08, 2007 at 08:48:29 said:

Sorry the breakers of our laws belong either in jail on on the first truck back to where they came from. I am sick of hearing about the poor illegal immigrants, they are breaking our laws. If they are so concerned about their families if they are deported take them back with them. Why would the Mexican government want to increase jobs in their country when 23 Billion Dollars are being sent back to Mexico. I feel as sorry for them as I would for a Disease.

patrick l. on May 08, 2007 at 08:02:48 said:

so just because they are immigrants they were targeted? is that the case? or maybe it was the fact that since they didnt bother to learn english they couldnt understand the order to disband. i dont have a problem with immigration but there is no reason that immigrants should be able to stay here and not at least adopt some of our cultre. at a bare minimum they should speak the language. and in response to their "right to assemble, americans were arrested for assembling in mexico and were deported. i think if you want to assmeble, be a citizen-legally by the way.

Manny P. on May 08, 2007 at 07:30:01 said:

Yes the LAPD may have over-reacted, but I want to see what you would do when someone starts throwing bottles and rocks at your head and you are charged with protecting not only yourself, but the masses. Also, enough already about the poor immigrants. You forgot to add one word in your litany -- ILLEGAL. That is what the American people are against, not immigration, just blatant, outright breaking of our country's laws. There was no precedent set, so don't try to turn this into something that it isn't.




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