Organized as a peaceful May Day March and immigration rights rally, the events held at MacArthur Park last week turned violent when members of the Los Angeles Police stormed into the mostly peaceful crowd of workers, activists, media, and immigrants at the Los Angeles rally. Today’s technology facilitated the distribution and posting of still photos and video clips memorializing the events and capturing the actions of police and civilians alike. Almost immediately, anyone with Internet access could see LA’s “finest” serving its community first hand. At a press conference soon afterwards, Police Chief William Bratton said he was “embarrassed for this department and embarrassed for the city we serve.” His outrage and dismay seemed genuine.
A few days later, my husband and I had dinner with a friend, Melissa Shipps, a fellow law student who had attended the rally. Melissa gave us an account that was consistent with the other accounts we had read and seen on the Internet and in other media. Up to the point when the violence broke out, according to Melissa, the rally had been peaceful and uneventful. “After walking approximately a mile, a large group of us converged at Wilshire and Alvarado to watch a troupe of traditional dancers. Suddenly and without warning, the police began to attack,” she said.
She heard no warnings nor did she witness any action that she or any reasonable person would characterize as warranting the attack. From her standpoint, what she saw was a sudden, unexpected, and seemingly unprovoked onslaught of police in riot gear swinging batons at unarmed, unprotected, peaceful rally goers. Melissa, who attended the rally with three other women—one with an 18-month-old baby in tow—was visibly shaken even in recounting the events nearly a week later. She felt she and her friends were lucky to have escaped without injury.
We’ve all heard stories like Melissa’s by now, so why cover this incident here? To begin, this occurred in our city and arguably within our club’s geographical region. As I listened to Melissa’s account, I thought about a march I attended just two weeks earlier. The Korean-American Coalition and its partners organized a walkathon on Saturday, April 21.
Same place, different outcome
This march also concluded at MacArthur Park. Held to encourage cross-cultural, multi-ethnic bridge-building in Los Angeles and its surrounding communities, the event marked the 15th anniversary of the LA Riots. While both marches took the same route and were held within weeks of each other, their outcomes could not have been more different. I reflected on my experience two weeks earlier. The LAPD was present and pleasant at the walkathon my family and I attended. It was clear that their role was to ensure marchers were safe, taking special care to protect us from passing traffic. Walking down the middle of Wilshire Boulevard on that Saturday morning, I felt secure, thanks in large part to the efforts of the LAPD. So why were Melissa’s and my experiences so different?
That was the main topic of our discussion over dinner. We concluded that different standards are employed for different people, or so it seemed to us.
The Associated Press recently reported that a University of Pennsylvania professor and Cornell University graduate student conducted a study of foul calls made by National Basketball Association referees. The study concluded that during the 13 seasons from 1991 through 2004, white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white ones, and to a lesser degree, black referees called more fouls on white players.
Using a database containing 600,000 foul calls made by NBA referees, the researchers claimed that the different rates at which fouls are called “is large enough that the probability of a team winning is noticeably affected by the racial composition of the refereeing crew assigned to the game.”
When NBA officials learned of this study, they dismissed the findings, sure that their referees would not make calls on the basis of race. While it is likely that the referees would not consciously make race-based foul calls, the study drove home the point that race is a factor—even if, perhaps, an unconscious one.
Our Party’s mandate
I believe in the vision set forth by the Democratic Party. The vision, as it is stated on the party’s Website says, “The Democratic Party is committed to keeping our nation safe and expanding opportunity for every American. That commitment is reflected in an agenda that emphasizes the security of our nation, strong economic growth, affordable health care for all Americans, retirement security, honest government, and civil rights.”
The Democratic Party has a long history of representing and protecting the interests of working Americans and guaranteeing personal liberties for all. Clearly, as a result of the actions of the LAPD on May Day, there will be an investigation. Perhaps there will be repercussions if some are found guilty of abusing their authority. But ultimately, in light of the studies such as the one sited in this article, can we really expect there to be change when unconscious racial bias goes unaddressed?
The Democratic Party is perceived to be the civil rights party. I think it is incumbent upon members of the party to stand on the side of “right” as it relates to the events of May 1. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who said he was deeply and personally troubled by the events of May 1st, has said, “What happened on May 1st was wrong.” I feel encouraged when our leaders take this kind of stand. But I also know this has happened before and wonder if all we’ll hear are words without action. We’ve been down that road far too many times.
Ten months ago, I was elected to be the Vice President of the Los Angeles Central Region of the California Democratic Council. In my role with the CDC, I reach out to Dem Clubs in LA to offer support. There are two major categories of Democratic Clubs: geographic clubs and affinity clubs. Geographic clubs are made up of members who reside within the same geographical region, like our Northeast Democratic Club, which serves this part of Los Angeles. Affinity clubs, by contrast, are comprised of Democrats who come together irrespective of where they reside but because they identify with one another. The California Young Democratic Clubs, the Stonewall Democratic Club, the Korean-American Dem Club, and the New Frontiers Democratic Club are all examples of affinity clubs. They represent the youth, African-Americans, Korean-Americans, and the Gay and Lesbian community. Affinity clubs serve a useful purpose. Still, I find it particularly telling that there is a dearth of geographical clubs in Los Angeles while there is a relative abundance of affinity clubs.
If we, as Democrats, intend to work towards achieving the Democratic vision we must stand together. The events that occurred in MacArthur Park affect all Angelenos. As Democrats, we must work to protect the civil rights of all.
Sharon Kyle is the Publisher of the LA Progressive. With her husband Dick, she publishes, edits and writes for several print and online newsletters on political and social justice issues. For the past 20 years, she has served as a financial analyst at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, supporting several space flight projects in the Mars Program as well as the Genesis Project. In addition to her work at JPL, Sharon is enrolled in law school at the People’s College of Law in Los Angeles. She is also the mother of two grown children, Wade and Deva and the step-mother to two children, Raheem and Linnea. She can be contacted a email@example.com.