Tuesday, May 22, 2007

This is What is Happening

This is happening. Right now. The violence against immigration is escalating.
via bfp
Here is a first-hand account of the police response to the peaceful
demonstration on May 1 in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. It is written by
Jennifer Snow. She is Associate Director of Progressive Christians Uniting,

a very effective ecumenical social justice consortium on whose Board I have
been for 10 years. She has a PhD in Religious Studies, is in her late 20s
and describes herself as five feet tall and completely unarmed. Read it and

May 1: Violence in MacArthur Park

This is what happened.

The march ended at Wilshire and Alvarado, and the last organization
in the march was a Native American drumming and dancing troupe. They stopped in
the street to dance, and a huge circle, mostly of families with small children,
gathered around them to watch, cheer, and clap. It was peaceful and jubilant, a
celebration, not a protest. The police were there, but no one was
paying any attention to them. Suddenly there were sirens, very loud and close.
Police motorcycles drove into the crowd around the dancers. There was no
announcement - or if there was, no one could hear it over the sirens.

Imagine the deafening noise of many sirens only a few feet from you,
the motorcycle driving towards you, pushing you forward. Imagine the panic of
women with small children in strollers. People tried to get away from the
motorcycles, but the police would not allow you to walk through them. When
I tried, I was pushed roughly back in front of the motorcycles. I saw three
middle school girls standing hugging each other in front of a motorcycle,
the wheel pushing against their feet and legs, the sirens blasting in their
ears, the policeman screaming at them. I saw people being pushed off their

When I saw the police start striking someone, I ran over to try to
put myself between them. I saw people dragging their friends away from the
police. Eventually they pushed us back onto the sidewalk. No one knew why
they were doing this or what was happening. A line of police in riot gear
faced us as we crowded on the sidewalk, bewildered and bruised and angry.
We hadn’t been doing anything wrong. They hadn’t asked us to move, or tried
to communicate with us in any way other than violence. The noise was
deafening, terrifying, disorienting. Teenagers with piercings yelled at the
police. I pointed at the ground, trying to tell the police, look, I’m on
the sidewalk. The police yelled at us. You had to yell to be heard. But
the tension faded.

The National Lawyers Guild passed the word along that as
long as we stayed on the sidewalk, there would be no problems. Most of the
teenagers had calmed down. There was nothing to see - just the people lined
up on the sidewalk, the police in the street. People
were a little bewildered. Why were the police here? What were they doing? Why
were there so many of them? Why did they have guns and canisters? But no one
was doing anything. We just stood there, talking, laughing, drinking water,
eating corn, taking pictures. We wondered what on earth there were so many
police for. And then suddenly the kids - the same teenagers that had been
yelling at the police - ran along the sidewalk, yelling get back, get back,
they’ve declared unlawful assembly, they’re going to arrest everyone. We
heard shots. Within the park, from the corner of Alvarado and 7th, I saw

people running. I ran towards them. I wanted to make sure that people were
not responding violently to the police, that no one was being hurt. No one
was violent, but people were indeed being hurt.

Keep in mind that there had been no announcement - or at least, no
effective announcement. I had been in the front the
entire time, less than two feet from the police. Surely I would have heard an
announcement if there was one. The only announcement had been rumor. Later on, I
would hear a completely unintelligible announcement from a helicopter. I could
tell that it was in English. Even if I had been able to understand it, many in
the crowd would not have.

There were no requests to disperse. There was no warning to the crowd.

There was no explanation. There was no effort to communicate.

The police entered the park shooting gas or smoke canisters. People
panicked,running in all directions. I saw a couple, bewildered, start walking in
the wrong direction. I held up my hands and said to the police, I’m going to get
those people, I am going to help those people there, and went down to them,
guiding them in front of the line and towards the exit. They didn’t speak
much English. I continued to walk slowly in front of the police.
Suddenly I saw a homeless man, sleeping under a tree. The police line \
approached, screaming at him. He woke up, confused. Someone with a camera tried
to help him, but was beaten off. He tottered to his feet, trying to grab his
suitcase and blanket. The police screamed at him. He held out his hands to
them. Perhaps that seemed threatening. I saw two policemen start hitting
him with their batons, one to his legs, one to his chest. I started back
towards him, thinking I could put myself between him and the police, but
that’s all I saw, because then the police had me. I was thrown to the
ground. A policeman screamed move! move!, pushing me and hitting me with
the baton. Every time I tried to stand, I fell back down - he was dragging
me, I couldn’t get to my feet. A girl, one of the teenagers, came over,
tried to help me up, and the policeman started hitting her with the baton as

Even with everything I had
seen, something in me instinctively
turned to the police to help. Surely they would stop those people from beating
the homeless man. I kept saying to the policeman dragging me, look, they’re
beating that man, reaching back towards him. The last I saw of the homeless
man, they were putting plastic handcuffs on him. I later heard that one
“demonstrator” was arrested. Maybe that was him. When I got to my feet, I
continued to walk slowly in front of the police, my hands raised, very
slowly. They were shooting on my left side. There seemed no point in
trying to get out from in front of them, or running. I felt sure that my
only safety was to be slow, calm, and clearly unarmed. I walked slowly
across Wilshire in front of the police line, hands up. We came to the
corner of Wilshire and Alvarado, where Wilshire runs through the park.

We approached a hot dog vendor and his wife and daughters, sitting
behind their carts on the low stone wall. The vendor had the hopeful, friendly
smile of someone who has no idea what is going on. He had brought his family to
keep him company while he sold hot dogs. I tried to get his daughters to move,
but it wasn’t fast enough. The police were on us. One of them grabbed the
vendor by his t-shirt and screamed “Move! Move!” while striking him the
chest with his baton over and over again. The policeman was standing
between the vendor and any hope of his moving - the vendor was trapped
between the cart, the wall, his family, and the policeman. I stood with his
daughters, my arm around one of them, all of us frozen. Eventually the
policeman must have realized that the man was not able to move, and he left.

The vendor was still smiling, as though to say, I mean no trouble, do not
hurt me, I’m just a hot dog vendor. We were all in shock. The police were
still coming, still screaming. I helped the family move their
carts across the street, and they started walking up Wilshire, away from that corner.

I could see, though, that the police had already strung a line
across Wilshire. Although they were screaming to people to get out, they were

beginning to block all the exits. By now the helicopter was hovering. It
was complete pandemonium. There was a deafening message from the
helicopter, but no one could understand it. Someone was trying to speak

from the rally stage. People were crowding around the news vans, as though
they would be safe there. The police were entering the park, shooting.
Women ran with their strollers and their babies and their children, trying

to get away. Men sat on picnic tables or wandered in groups, not knowing
where it was safe to go. I ran out at the corner of 6th and Alvarado. The
police were starting to block the corner, yelling at people who ran towards
them. I ran, a woman running beside me with
her three children, running
away from the police. In the parking lot of a store on Maryland and
Alvarado, I passed a young woman cradling an infant wrapped in a blanket,
sitting on the curb, dazed, hiding behind a van. Are you OK? I asked.
Yes, she said, and we nodded at each other, and I kept walking.

My courage was gone. I was glad to get out. I was glad to get out
because I had no doubt that, if the police had had real bullets instead of
rubber ones, they would have used them. For no reason at all. As we were walking
earlier in the march, my friend said, “This is why I am proud to be an
American.” We

saw peaceful people, laughing, singing, dancing, holding banners. We were
protesting, but we were also celebrating. We were celebrating our
constitutional right to come together in popular assembly, to make our needs

and concerns known to our government. I was surrounded by people who
believe in America, in being
here, in becoming citizens. What prouder thing
can you say of your country that people the world over want to be one of us,
to join our community, to have the rights and privileges and safety and
trust in our institutions that we do? This is what democracy is.

As I walked in front of the police line, my hands held up, I thought
about being an American, about being free. I am five feet tall. I was completely
unarmed. I had made no hostile move towards anyone. I could have been shot
at any time. It was unreal. It was not America, and yet it was.

The hot dog vendor smiled at the police, hopeful, friendly. This is
what happened.

Jennifer Snow
Associate Director, Progressive Christians Uniting
Please distribute widely…

Return to the Park:
Community Mobilizes for Thursday, May 17th March to MacArthur Park



WHEN: Thursday, May 17th


WHERE: Starting at Immanuel Presbyterian Church
3300 Wilshire Blvd (corner of Berendo)
Ending at MacArthur Park

For more information, please contact:
(213) 353.3921 (Spanish/English)
(213) 385.7800 x131 (Spanish/English)
(213) 738.9050 (Korean/English)

SPONSORED by CARECEN, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of

Los Angeles (CHIRLA), COFEM, Garment Worker Center (GWC), Instituto

Popular de Educacion del sur de California (IDEPSCA), Koreatown
Immigrant Worker Association (KIWA), Los Angeles Archdiocese Social
Justice Committee, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Multi-
ethnic Immigrant Worker Organizing Network (MIWON), Pilipino Worker

Center (PWC), SEIU 1877, and the We Are America Coalition.

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