Imagine you are part of a group of concerned citizens frustrated with Congress placing timetables on the military spending bill. Your group of mainly white, middle- and upper-class residents decides to hold a rally, partly to protest Congress’ recent actions but also to support the president’s handling of the war.
You contact the police and local government officials to make the necessary arrangements, even working out agreed-upon procedures in the unlikely event of a disturbance. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
You decide to bring your two small children to provide them with a visual lesson on how democracy works. You may disagree with the actions taken by your government, but you have a constitutional right to protest those actions.
Grandpa and Grandma join you, turning this civic lesson into a family outing and celebrating the family values of your culture.
To your surprise, the police show up in riot gear, swinging their batons and firing their weapons into the crowd. You scoop up a child under each arm and run for safety.
Grandma can’t run fast enough and is struck by one of the baton-wielding police officers. When Grandpa turns around to help her, he is struck by a rubber bullet.
As you run, praying for the safety of the children you are carrying, you notice that white female news reporters capturing the mayhem are being beaten by the police, while crying out that these actions are illegal.
In your haste to protect your children, you become separated from your wife. Hours go by after the melee, and you still cannot find her. You jump into the SUV and start looking at the local hospitals and even the morgue. Eventually you find her at a hospital with a concussion.
Outrage is too mild a term for what you feel. You live in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America, where such atrocities against human rights and dignity cannot happen. That is unless you happen to be a Latino or Latina.
For this is exactly what occurred in Los Angeles on May 1, when the Hispanic community held a rally to protest the Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.
Hispanics gathered for a peaceful gathering in MacArthurPark, west of downtown. Then, unexpectedly, the police, in full riot gear, showed up, attacking the Latino/a families, including women and children.
When the press covering the story protested about the abuse, Christina Gonzalez from a Fox News affiliate, her camerawoman Patti Ballaz, and NPR reporter Patricia Nazario were among the hurt civilians.
If this peace march were conducted by whites in suburbia, none of this would have occurred. And do you think the police would have been wearing riot gear?
But wait, didn’t the demonstrators start the riot by allegedly throwing rocks and bottles at the police? The police are reporting that a band of youth, NOT affiliated with the peace march, taunted them over a block away from the park.
If the park was full of whites instead of Latinos, the police would have first jumped to erect a barrier between the troublemakers and attendees before taking action to subdue and arrest the hoodlums.
But because we are talking about Hispanics, the police herded these troublemakers into the park where Hispanic families gathered, so that they could indiscriminately swing and shoot at them.
Fortunately the “liberal” media were present to demand inquires and post pictures of the ethnic abuse on their front pages.
Oh, I forgot. These were Latinos. The New York Times buried the story deep in the paper and has said nothing else about the incidents since the May Day rally.
Police Chief William J. Bratton admitted that this was the “worst incident of this type [he has] ever encountered in 37 years.” Considering the Los Angeles Police Department’s history of protecting the rights of people of color, Bratton’s statement is quite an indictment.
According to Victor Narro, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, one videotape he saw showed the police fire a rubber round at what appeared to be a 10-year-old boy, and then “toss him aside like a piece of meat.”
Still, the LAPD accomplished its purpose–teaching Latino/as–citizens or otherwise–that they, unlike their white counterparts, do not have a right to protest. For if they do, what they can expect is violence.
Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at IliffSchool of Theology in Denver.