October 12, 2007

Editorial:

LAPD held accountable for May 1 melee

On May 1 millions of Hispanics across the country gathered together in support of immigrant rights. In Los Angeles at McArthur Park hundreds of thousands of Hispanics had gathered for a peaceful showing of support only to have their day ended by baton wielding police officers. The brutal scenes were captured by television cameras as the police used excessive force on peaceful demonstrators.

The outcry was immediate. The brutality was right there on television for all to see!

The day started out with a gathering of Hispanics as they sought to have a voice in the immigration debate that was going on in the White House and across the nation. Immigrants’ most effective voice had been the ability to demonstrate mass opposition to the proposed bills through peaceful public demonstrations. That day in McArthur Park their civil and constitutional rights to freedom of speech and the right to protest were squashed by the police as they used excessive force on the peaceful demonstrators who were doing nothing wrong.

Captured on film was the dramatic beating of television reporter Christina Gonzalez and her camerawoman as Gonzalez tried to shield her from police officers who were out of control indiscriminately swinging their batons at peaceful protestors. There was also the report of 146 rounds of non-lethal shots into the crowd.

This week the Los Angeles Police Department released their highly anticipated report into the May 1 melee. The report held the police department accountable for the use of excessive force, poor planning, a breakdown in communication, and a lack of leadership.

“Officers struck individuals who appeared to be passively standing in place, not engaging in aggressive and/or combative behavior,” the report said. Twenty six officers were cited for participating in the incident, under internal investigation, and could face discipline for using excessive force. The melee left 246 journalists and protesters with injuries.

The melee is also under FBI investigation and being investigated by Los Angeles County prosecutors.

We can draw parallels between what happened at McArthur Park in May and what happened to the peaceful protest by the monks in Burma this month. The difference being that in the United States we have the right and freedom to protest peacefully, protestors should be comfortable in the knowledge that the police are there for their protection and not fear the possibility of mindless brute force causing them harm. In Burma the monks had to face real bullets instead of non-lethal bullets.

The LAPD could not whitewash this report. It had to be decisive and forthright which it appears to be. The next step is to ensure that this never happens again. Police Chief William J. Bratton accepts full blame for the failure of his officers. This should serve as a wake up call for all police departments in the use of excessive force and a call for retraining in this area, as well as a review of the constituent and the freedom of speech and the right to gather in protest.

This is the United States and brute force against peaceful citizenry should never, ever happen, not in a free world, in a country that was founded on the right to protest and have our voices heard. This type of action should not and cannot be tolerated at any level.

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