Thousands March in L.A. for Immigration Reform

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A mostly Latino crowd of thousands took part in several marches in Los Angeles on Thursday. The protesters called for immigration reform, amnesty, and an end to workplace raids by federal immigration agents. The protest took place a year to the day after much larger protests in L.A. ended in violence. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez and Frank Stoltze followed this year's demonstrations.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: A year ago, LAPD officers cleared protesters from MacArthur Park with batons and rubber bullets. Their only warning sounded in English, from helicopter-mounted speakers hundreds of feet overhead. This year, the LAPD tried a bilingual approach.

LAPD officer: Bienvenidos a la marcha y demostracion de May Day.

Guzman-Lopez: An LAPD officer used speakers mounted on what looked like an oversized golf cart. The cart displayed a lighted bilingual sign with the phrase "Welcome to the march." East L.A. resident Irma Padilla arrived at the event with a group of eight affordable housing advocates.

Irma Padilla: Yo vengo a apoyar a todos los que no tienen...

Guzman-Lopez: Padilla said she came to the U.S. from Mexico almost 40 years ago. She's a legal resident now. Immigration raids are tearing families apart, she said, and she marched to protest those actions.

High school and college age protesters carried signs urging legalization for undocumented immigrant students who've lived in the United States most of their lives. That's Pablo Padilla's situation. The 29-year-old attends Glendale Community College.

Pablo Padilla: You know, my dream is to become a lawyer, to become in law school. You know, I still won't be able to get a job in this nation that I've grown up in because I don't have the right documentation.

Guzman-Lopez: Padilla marched with fellow parishioners from St. Peter's Catholic Church in Chinatown. That march melded with two others, and everyone gathered next to L.A. City Hall at First and Broadway.

State Senator Gil Cedillo: Quieres licencias?
Crowd: Si!
Cedillo: Cuando?
Crowd: Ahora!
Cedillo: Cuando?
Crowd: Ahora!
Cedillo: Cuando?

Guzman-Lopez: From a stage, State Senator Gil Cedillo asked in Spanish, "Do you want licenses?" The L.A. politician's backed failed legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to hold California drivers licenses. He told the crowd not to lose hope.

Cedillo: Every immigrant that is here deserves to drive legally. Their children should be able to apply for a scholarship, and they should be able to become citizens through a legalization and immigration reform.

Guzman-Lopez: Organizers with Filipino and Korean immigrant groups told the crowd that their members stand in solidarity with Latino immigrants. March organizer Angelica Salas asked everyone to take that rhetoric a step further.

Angelica Salas: What I want us to do right now is to look at your neighbor, to hold your neighbor's hand, to hold them, to hug them if you're so inclined. But we want to tell this country, that we want unity, we want sisterhood and brotherhood.

Guzman-Lopez: Many did. Music concluded the rally. Eight guitar players and percussionists rehearsed a regional song from Veracruz, Mexico. A few of these musicians had witnessed the dissonant end to last year's immigrant rights march in MacArthur Park. This year, the demonstrations culminated in sweet melodies. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, 89.3 KPCC.

Frank Stoltze: This is Frank Stoltze. Deputy Chief Mike Hillman supervised the LAPD's response to yesterday's immigration marches.

Deputy Chief Mike Hillman: Things have gone very smoothly. I mean, this has all been according to the plan. Working very closely with the event organizers.

[Radio beeps]

Radio traffic: The foot force of the Legalize L.A. march is now commencing southbound Alameda from First.

Stoltze: Police kept a low profile. The plan was to avoid a repeat of last year when officers overreacted to a few bottle-throwers. At the same time, they kept a close watch for troublemakers.

Hillman: There was a number of people in here that you could see that were not a part of any one of the immigration rights groups that we could see. They were pretty much trying to provoke, if you would, some of the groups. Very, very minor.

Stoltze: Hillman said some of them tried to push their way to the front of the crowd. He said officers let them know they were watching, and none were arrested. Twenty-one-year-old Matthew Davidson said police appeared to be on their best behavior. Davidson, chair of a Chicano student group at Mount San Antonio College, said he witnessed a mounted officer lose control of his horse in the midst of the crowd.

Matthew Davidson: The horse actually kinda shoved the lady, and knocked her down, and like, I swear, like a swarm of cops come and just was just like, full on apologizing to the lady, you know, making sure no one thought that like, he hit her or anything like that. "We're so sorry, we're so sorry!" And we just kind of sat around laughing.

Stoltze: As street vendors cooked bacon-wrapped hotdogs on a nearby grill, Sergeant Chuck Spencer leaned leisurely against one of the LAPD's new critical incident utility vehicles. It carries a large digital screen and giant audio speakers to communicate with demonstrators, something the department didn't do very well last year.

Sgt. Chuck Springer: It's what we call a golf cart on steroids. It's got four wheel drive capability. Its suspension is pretty beefed up. They're capable of speeds in the 50 mile an hour range.
Stoltze: That's a pretty cool golf cart.
Springer: It's not not bad. It's a lot of fun to drive around in.
Stoltze: Do you have your clubs in here too?
Springer: No, no. I'm sorry. Those are at home. (laughs)

Stoltze: Last year, at about the same time during the march, officers were clubbing journalists. Police watchdogs noted that all eyes were on the LAPD yesterday, and that won't always be the case.