The nation, after 25 years, found its new Birmingham moment. In Los Angeles, to nobody's surprise. The nation's most abusive police department found a new way to capture the national headlines, trying to shut down the immigrant's May Day march by firing 240 "rubber bullets" indiscriminately into a crowd that, depending on whose version you follow, where either told to disperse-not told to disperse-was only told to disperse in English (but not Spanish)-or was told too late after some 600 L.A. police officers (including a 100 man Metro elite unit) begin bowling over everybody in sight. Marchers, news media, families and children in the park that day-in typical LAPD paramilitary fashion-took its command and control posture and aggressed on the crowd in the most disgusting way since, sinceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Birmingham almost 25 years.
Watching people expressing their right to assemble and protest suddenly being beat down in the streets and fired upon like this was Rwanda or something, took us back to another place in time. A time back in the South, when raw abuse of massive resistance shocked the world.
This time, isn't wasn't fire hoses and police dogs turned on the crowd. It was rubber bullets.
Last week's second annual immigrant reform demonstration, which took place nationwide, showed L.A. as the new South. And it is. Like Alabama and Mississippi were the tipping for the 20th Century civil rights movement, Los Angeles is the tipping point for the new civil rights movement-the immigrant reform movement, bolstered by the nation's most formidable Latino political agenda that enables the immigrant voice to be magnified in the nation's second largest city (and second largest media market). Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the state's second most popular politician (behind Arnold) and one of the Democratic Party's "rising stars."
He's also over the "promised land" for immigrants as Los Angeles has the nation's largest alien resident population. Mexico has essentially eroded the nation's southern border making it literally impossible to determine where Northern Mexico ends and Southwest USA begins.
The new South is Southern California, specifically L.A. where Villaraigosa avoids the immigration question like the plague. He was conveniently "out of town" when this year's May Day March took place. But not even the Mayor could envision his police department turning on a public crowd like they did. Los Angeles keeps a perpetual "black eye" because of LAPD. But this is a new level for even LAPD. Police Chief Bratton, who is the best politician the department has had since Daryl Gates, was seen as a lock for a second term until last week. It's become obvious that he is simply masking a culture that we all know is still there. LAPD always manages to show its underbelly at the wrong (or right) time.
Bratton, while pulling 60 officers on the street until this investigation is complete, always sides with LAPD culture and doesn't openly challenge the culture. Now after his officers attacked working media, who's tearing LAPD new a**hole, Bratton is in full damage control. He'll never be able to explain away the rubber bullets hitting women and children. No more than Bull Connor could justify turning fire hoses and dogs on women and children in Birmingham in 1963.
This is 2007, however, but you would never know the difference, except for the mix-up of the crowd. Though much less than the 500,000 people that showed in L.A. streets last year, the nation's 12 million illegals (some put the number as high as 20 million) have found an annual vehicle to advocate for amnesty-by shutting down very city where a critical mass can be formed to demonstrate the nation's over-reliance on cheap labor. The argument that immigrants do the work nobody else wants to do, though true in some instances, has become a mantra for an open border policy that no one agrees with but can't figure out how to fix.
The continuing influx of illegal immigrants is trying the nation's patience (and budget), and while "let me stay-and I won't break the law no more" isn't an adequate defense-every knows sending millions of immigrants "back to where they came from" is somehow impractical, even un-American. Still, the fact is that they're here and have civil rights protections while they're here. They can even march and protest in a way that Americans wouldn't be able to do in foreign countries, but that's what makes America great. But what constantly gives America a black eye is when liberties and rights, on either side (by government or protesters), are exploited. Some suggest that march "interlopers" got out of control. That is possible. LAPD had the right restore order, but it didn't have the right to shoot into crowds like this was Apartheid South Africa. Or bowl over women, or club the press filming news like they did in Birmingham. We know LAPD has been out of control.
Bratton is on record saying he will not try to "defend the indefensible." That's a surprise, because he's defended everything else. This time, he can't. Finally LAPD has done something that can't be defended by its chief. The blue beast escapes from its dark dungeon and manages to embarrass the city again.
In the meantime, California-a state that is perceived as liberal, but being anti-immigrant (Prop. 187), anti-race (Prop. 209), anti-youth (Prop. 14), anti-gay (defeated Prop. 22) and anti-redemption (Three Strikes) is now on record as one of the most conservative states in the nation. And now with the MacArthur Park melee immortalized in newsreel history, we can add-the most socially intolerant as well. All we can say, here in L.A. is, "Welcome to the new South."
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book,Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com