L.A. Immigrant Rights Rally Turns Violent

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One of two large pro-immigrant protests in Los Angeles yesterday ended in violence. Los Angeles police officers in riot gear fired rubber bullets and used batons to disperse thousands of people. Several, including journalists, were injured.

[Sound of helicopter, bongo drums]

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The final speakers were wrapping up and a band was beginning to play when people in the park heard an ominous sound.

[Sound of gun pops; man says "Why?"]

Guzman-Lopez: Hours later, L.A.P.D. Chief Bill Bratton said that as early as 5:15 in the afternoon, police officers responded to trouble on Wilshire Boulevard in MacArthur Park.

Chief Bill Bratton: Certain elements of the crowd, and we don't believe they were representative at all of the vast majority of the crowd, began to create a series of disturbances that continued for a period of time.

Guzman-Lopez: Bratton said one person is under arrest for disorderly conduct. He could offer no more details about that disturbance. The L.A.P.D. declared the march an unlawful assembly.

What thousands of protestors in MacArthur Park saw was a long line of officers in riot gear. Some carried batons at the ready. Other officers raised rubber-bullet rifles and pointed them at protesters.

Bratton: Our officers did use a series of non-lethal force, including shooting of non-lethal projectiles, and use of batons.

Guzman-Lopez: Bratton, who arrived after the crowd dispersed, said officers used force because projectiles came flying from the crowd.

Bert Voorhees monitored the march for the National Lawyers Guild. He also saw people throwing water bottles. But he criticized the L.A.P.D., saying police warned marchers from a helicopter to disperse after the batons began swinging and the rubber bullets began flying.

Bert Voorhees: They say from the air, in English, hard to understand, and I'm listening for it, 'cause I'm a legal observer, I'm listening, this is the first time that they're now saying, you know, "this is an unlawful assembly, everyone must leave the park, if you don't leave the park you'll be arrested."

Guzman-Lopez: Two inch-and-a-half wide rubber bullets hit L.A. resident Gerardo Gomez.

Gerardo Gomez: All we wanted is to walk peaceful, like we did last year, and nothing wrong, nothing else.

Guzman-Lopez: The bullets left a purple wound with a ring of blood.

Gomez: It fricking hurts, man.

Guzman-Lopez: Bratton said four news media employees were also injured. Officers hit a television cameraman on the ground and threw his camera. KPCC's Patricia Nazario sustained injuries to her hand, ribs, and ankles from a police baton shortly after she filed the live report from the rally. All the journalists were treated at hospitals and released.

March organizers said they don't have a count of how many people got hurt. One injured woman left the park in an ambulance as she cupped her hand over her right eye.

Chief Bratton said L.A.P.D. officers asked protest organizers to help clear MacArthur Park.

Bratton: My understanding is there was extensive contact between the organizers of the march, who did a laudable job, some of the labor leaders who were here, seeking their assistance in the dispersal of the crowd and seeking their assistance in asking the crowd to respond to the police movements and operations.

Labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, a march organizer, said that's not true.

Maria Elena Durazo: There was no communication made to the organizers of the march anywhere regarding an order to disperse, anything whatsoever.

Guzman-Lopez: Durazo said the L.A.P.D. used excessive force. L.A.P.D. Chief Bratton said he needed to review more video footage and interview more officers before he would agree.

The MacArthur Park protest was one of several in the Southland urging reforms in United States immigration law. Rallies in Riverside, Santa Ana, and a midday march in downtown L.A. took place without violent incidents.

Organizers of the Southern California marches said the violence at one event strengthens their resolve to keep promoting a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.