Politics

Organizers, police brace for heated emotions at May Day immigration rallies

FILE: Thousands of people participate in the 2013 May Day march and rally in Los Angeles, California. Labor organizations and immigration groups used the annual celebration to push for an immigration system overhaul.
FILE: Thousands of people participate in the 2013 May Day march and rally in Los Angeles, California. Labor organizations and immigration groups used the annual celebration to push for an immigration system overhaul.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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Los Angeles police are preparing for crowds of demonstrators expected downtown and throughout Los Angeles on Sunday as part of the annual May Day marches for immigrant rights.

Over the years, the local marches typically have been peaceful, but since violence erupted in recent days around presidential campaign events, organizers and authorities are planning contingencies if emotions boil over.

On Friday, fistfights erupted as protesters demonstrated outside the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame, California. On Thursday night, protests turned violent after GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign rally in Costa Mesa. About 17 people were arrested.

Anti-Trump protesters have taken issue with the candidate's stance on immigration, and his disparaging comments made last year about Mexican immigrants have become a flash point.

With recent protests in mind, organizers of Sunday's May Day events are asking marchers to keep calm.
 
“We want to encourage folks, to remind them, that there are bigger things at stake in this upcoming election," said Polo Morales, political director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, one of the organizers of a large march planned in downtown. "We have to fight back against this hate speech, but we have to do it in a peaceful manner.”
 
Morales said organizers have designated peacekeepers to watch out for potential troublemakers, help diffuse arguments, and work with police to prevent flare-ups.

Los Angeles police officials said Friday they are aware of four separate May Day marches, and that they are staffing up in case the demonstrators get out of hand.

"LAPD is going to be prepared for any type of incident that may occur," said Officer Matthew Ludwig, a department spokesman.

The big downtown march starts at noon at the corner of Figueroa and 11th Street and is scheduled to finish after 3 p.m. near Olvera Street. Organizers expect the march to draw a few thousand people.

May Day events have drawn much larger crowds in past years. In 2006, when Congress debated immigration reform legislation, hundreds of thousands marched in Los Angeles.

One point of contention at Sunday's march will be the display of Mexican flags, which some in the Trump camp have interpreted as being anti-American. Flags have a history at the marches: in the mid-2000s, May Day demonstrators were encouraged to carry U.S. flags to show their support for their adopted country.

But Morales of CHIRLA said there's a reason why demonstrators are waving the Mexican flags in recent events.

"The attacks were made directly, initially from Donald Trump last year against the Mexican community," Morales said, "calling them rapists, calling them criminals."

Morales said the Mexican flags are partly a reaction to his comments, and "also, it's a free country, so folks can wave whatever flag they want."