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by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Immigration Rights Protests Marked by Police Violence

(PNS) LOS ANGELES -- The immigrant reform movement managed to do something that no one in Los Angeles had seen or even believed could happen. It forced the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles city officials to back down. The brutal, and widely broadcast, assault by LAPD tactical squad officers on news reporters, innocent family members and bystanders at the May 1 immigrant rights rally at L.A.'s MacArthur Park drew an agitated LAPD Chief William Bratton to express grave concern over the police action. He called the level of force the officers used inappropriate, urgently requested an FBI probe, and promised to do everything he could to try to patch things up with immigrant rights organizations.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who until the clash, was Bratton's biggest cheerleader calling him the finest police chief in the nation, cut short his Central American junket and scurried back to Los Angeles. The officers who brutalized the crowd, he vowed, would be punished. Along with Bratton, the sharp and angry reaction of L.A. city officials and top LAPD brass was in stark contrast to the way the LAPD has handled past violent clashes with protestors. They almost always duck and dodge culpability, blame the demonstrators for the violence, and mount a massive PR campaign to sell the public and city officials that the department did everything by the book and was guilty of no wrongdoing. Each time, compliant city officials rally round the department and praise its exemplary professionalism.

This time that didn't happen. And there are several reasons why. One is the graphic, shocking scenes of news reporters being clubbed, women and children fleeing in panic from officers swinging clubs, and the volleys of rubber projectiles being fired indiscriminately into the park. The picture displayed officers out of control and command officers that were either absent, or clueless as to how to rein in the officers.

The other reason for the role reversal in the LAPD is that the immigrant rights movement is now credible and strong enough to force city and police officials to scrap their decades long, knee-jerk denial of police responsibility for violence toward protestors. The tens of thousands who have marched in Los Angeles and nationally over the past year for immigration reform has sent a strong signal to Congress, state and local officials: the immigrant rights movement can't be dismissed, marginalized, or shrugged off as politically insignificant.

The movement forced Congress to scrap the punitive House bill that was on the legislative docket in 2005. That was a testament to the political savvy and cohesiveness of immigrant rights groups and the broad public support for reform that they enjoy.

In the past year, immigrant reform groups have adroitly shifted gears, putting time and energy into a massive voter registration and education campaign. This will further boost the power of the Latino vote. In a coming presidential year, both Republicans and Democrats will feverishly court the Latino vote, and bend over backwards not to do or say anything that can be construed as anti-immigrant. The growing power of the Latino vote and the strength of the immigrant rights movement were glaringly evident. Arnold Schwarzenegger learned that lesson. In years past, the Republican Governor was openly hostile to immigration reform. In the 2006 gubernatorial race in California he did a deft pirouette, championed non-punitive immigration reform, and actively courted the Latino vote.

Then there's L.A.'s mayor. Villaraigosa is the son of Mexican immigrants, with deep ties to immigrant rights groups. He has loudly spoken out for immigrant rights, and was a featured speaker at last year's giant immigration rally in Los Angeles. There is absolutely no way that Villaraigosa could, or would, stand for an LAPD crackdown on immigrant rights groups in the city. Villaraigosa has also dropped hints that he wants to be California's governor and is banking heavily on an even more muscular Latino vote in the coming years to put him over the top.

In the coming weeks city and police officials will scramble to come up with answers for the police attack. They will do maximum damage control, undergo an intense mea culpa, and do everything they can to fix things with the immigrant rights groups. It's another strong sign that the immigrants rights movement has nudged even closer to the seat of political power and influence in Los Angeles and the nation.

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Albion Monitor   May 7, 2007   (

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