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2007-05-02

Police Fire Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas Into Peaceful LA Immigration March

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In Los Angeles, an afternoon immigrant rights march ended when police fired dozens of rubber bullets and tear gas into the peaceful crowd. Families with young children were forced to flee for their safety. Eyewitnesses said police gave little or no warning before firing the rubber bullets. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For the second year in a row, May Day featured a massive display of solidarity for immigrant rights in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across the country. Marches were held in cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Denver, Milwaukee, Phoenix and New York.

MIRIAM CANAL: We have to accomplish all the rights that we deserve, not only as immigrants, but also has people and human beings.

AMY GOODMAN: Calls focused on demanding a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, ending raids and deportations that have divided entire families, rejecting anti-immigrant legislation and thwarting the continued militarization of the US-Mexican border.

Although the May Day events went off mostly without incident, one major confrontation took place in Los Angeles. An evening protest was disrupted when police fired rubber bullets and teargas at thousands gathered in MacArthur Park. LAPD officials said protesters had thrown plastic bottles and other projectiles. Protest organizers dispute the account and are demanding an independent investigation.

To help recap and look ahead to what’s next, I’m joined now by organizers of the day’s two largest protests. On the line from Los Angeles, Angelica Salas, she is executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles. And from Chicago, we’re joined by Jorge Mujica. He is a former journalist and union organizer. He has worked for La Raza, Univision and Telemundo and has been involved in union organizing in both the US and Mexico.

We’re going to begin in Los Angeles with Angelica Salas. Can you explain what happened? Were you at that night protest when the police opened fire with rubber bullets?

ANGELICA SALAS: Yes, Amy. Good morning. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

ANGELICA SALAS: The first thing that I just want to say is that, first and foremost, over 25,000 people gathered in the evening to demand their rights and to demand legalization, a path to citizenship, and to peacefully assemble to ensure that their families have a better future in this country. And I want to make sure that their efforts are highlighted.

It was unfortunate, and we are indignant at the manner in which the police decided to deal with a group of people who were causing disturbances. These were young anarchists who often join our marches, who in every single march in the past in Los Angeles —- this is the seventh May Day march [inaudible] have been isolated away from the crowd. This time, the police showed in the -—

AMY GOODMAN: Angelica? Well, it looks like we’ve lost Angelica, but we’ll go to Jorge Mujica, and then we’ll get Angelica back, calling from Los Angeles. Jorge Mujica, can you describe what happened in Chicago?

JORGE MUJICA: Yes, Amy, good morning. What happened in Chicago is that we were able somehow to have only one demonstration, every organization united in a single front. And we put up in the streets 150,000, according to the police department. We obviously believe that it was a lot larger than that, maybe a quarter million people. We didn’t have any incidents. I think what happened in Los Angeles is pretty bad. We didn’t have it here.

And we sent a strong message to Congress. You know, the problem is still here. They didn’t solve it last year. They are not solving it this year. And every year that passes, there’s going to be another half a million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling for in Chicago?

JORGE MUJICA: In Chicago, particularly, we were calling for an end of deportations and raids. One week ago, the FBI, in combination with Immigration Enforcement, sent over sixty federal agents to a shopping mall at 2:00 p.m., when mothers had just picked up their kids from school and they were doing their shopping. And these federal agents were carrying machine guns and M-16s, and they were looking for what is supposed to be a ring of fake ID dealers, you know, sellers of false IDs. Nevertheless, they handcuffed over 100 people. They made them sit on the floor. But they detained 160 people for a couple hours, and then they just let them go, because they knew exactly what they were looking for. They didn’t need to arrest anybody else or detain anybody else.

And this outraged the community, you know. We see this as inconceivable. We are pretty sure that they wouldn’t do it in a Marshall Fields. And so, why do they think they can do it in a Latino neighborhood in the heart of the Mexican community here in Chicago? So, people went out yesterday in numbers to protest this kind of practices.

AMY GOODMAN: Angelica Salas rejoins us from Los Angeles, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights there. In the protest that the police opened fire with rubber bullets on last night, where exactly were you, Angelica, and who were the people that were affected?

ANGELICA SALAS: Yes, I was actually the main MC of the event, and I started seeing the police rush into the park, and we voluntarily — we started seeing people running. We voluntarily cut our program at 6:30. We had our permit that would go until 9:00. We cut it. We made sure that people — we told people to start leaving the park slowly, not to run, with their children.

I stayed towards the end, and what I saw was, instead of isolating a problem group, they pushed them into the crowd. They started shooting rubber bullets into a crowd of just innocent people. I was caught in the middle of all of this, as we were trying to send people out, had to cover a mother with some children. So I am just indignant. I am outraged at the manner in which the police dealt with a family event. We have had millions and millions of people in the streets of Los Angeles. We have worked daily with the police, and for them to actually engage in this kind of action is ludicrous. And I just want to once more say, the majority of the people that were there were assembled in peace, and they were demanding their rights. They were demanding an opportunity for legalization. And to have our police act in this manner is completely outrageous.

And we are — right away, we called a press conference to let our community know that this was not going to be tolerated by the organizers. Immediately we talked to the chief. He was actually there after the event. We talked to him, and we conveyed our just dismay and outrage by what they had done to a group of very innocent people. There were several members of the media who were actually hurt, who were hospitalized, especially, I think, our friends from Telemundo. And overall, I think that it’s just a reaction of a force that is not necessary, when the majority of the people who were marching were — are — first of all, all the organizers are cooperating with you, all the marchers are marching in peace and have done so in the past.

But what we also want to just tell the entire of Los Angeles community and this country, this is not going to derail us from our mission to pass comprehensive immigration reform, to ensure that immigrant families are together, to ensure that we have no more deaths at the border. This is not going to derail us. We’re going to continue fighting, and we’re going to make sure that at home in Los Angeles the police actually treat people as human beings and that they help us in trying to protect and create a public safety environment versus doing what they did last night.

AMY GOODMAN: Angelica, what has the mayor of Los Angeles Villaraigosa said, a longtime labor and immigrant right activist before he was mayor?

ANGELICA SALAS: We right away contacted. He was in El Salvador. We were able to connect with him, as well. Right away, he has agreed to investigate what has occurred. We made sure that he, too, knew of — members of the media who have been following him in this journey towards Central America and Latin America — and Mexico — were with him and directly told him what had happened to their crew. So they’re in the process of investigating this issue. But again, we’re going to be focusing on what the police have done, but we will not be derailed from our pursuit of more humane laws and for the rights of immigrants in this country. That’s why we were all marching out there. That’s why we were marching in peace.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going go to break, and we’ll come back, as we talk about the mass rallies across the United States on May Day for immigrant rights. Angelica Salas, executive director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, Jorge Mujica in Chicago. We’ll be joined by two students, one from Los Angeles and one from Detroit. There was also a clash with police in Detroit, and we’ll find out more in a minute.

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