South Central L.A.: Checkpoint Confrontation
Revolution #039, March 19, 2006, posted at revcom.us
As told to Revolution by Spanish-speaking readers of the paper:
South Central L.A. is a place where the Black people and Latino immigrants live side by side. It is home to a big chunk of police brutality and murder. High unemployment, run-down housing, folks struggling to make the ends meet, often with no success. On Friday, February 24 the LAPD set up a checkpoint to reduce "drunk driving"--but this was a lie. The police pulled over people and asked them to show their driver’s licenses. A lot of undocumented immigrants are not allowed to have a driver license, but they still have to move around, to go to work (if they work at all), take their kids to school or to the hospital if they need to, go shopping for food where the closest supermarket is miles away and the public transportation is atrocious. What started as a "routine" LAPD operation didn’t go exactly as planned.
One of the readers of Revolution newspaper found out about the police checkpoint and called me and my friend. It was around 9:00 p.m. We rushed to the scene. The police had set up their checkpoint on Martin Luther King (MLK) Blvd. and they were pulling people over, impounding their cars and arresting the drivers. There were a few people there who were angry but didn’t know what to do. There were also a few 10 to 13-year-old kids on bikes who were restless and going back and forth and trying to alert the drivers of the approaching cars. We got there and our friend Miguel was deep into discussion with people about the nature of the police operation. Some were taken in by the police lies that this was a sobriety checkpoint to prevent accidents. Miguel was saying, "Why are they impounding all these cars and arresting people without giving them a sobriety test? Are most people drunk? No! They are undocumented immigrants." You could see that people were paying attention to what he was saying and they were getting angry. We started chanting "fuera puercos" (pigs get out) and "la Migra, policía, la misma porquería (Migra, police, the same shit). Some people joined in.
The police told people if they didn’t disperse they would get arrested. A young woman took that threat on and said, "For what?" The police came up with a typical police excuse, "Blocking the sidewalk." She refused to back down: "You have no right to tell us not to be on the sidewalk." In a desperate attempt to intimidate people the police handcuffed her, but later they let her go. We started marching from one intersection to the next and called on people who were inside their houses to come out. Some came out and joined us. Meanwhile we organized the young ones to go to different intersections one block away from the checkpoint and hold the signs we and the masses had made on the spot.
We got the Revolution newspaper out to everyone there and we met some people who wanted to keep in touch. One person who bought the newspaper said, "People need to understand the importance of this paper and read it and get it out to others. If we are going to change this situation, we must read this paper."
The action of the people put a hamper on the police operation. Cars were turning around and going away from the checkpoint. It wasn’t just undocumented immigrants who were avoiding the police checkpoint--some Black masses did the same thing, thanking us for notifying them. A pizza delivery man thanked us and gave a couple of boxes of pizza to the people there. A Black man united with us and said the police are like Nazis. He made a sign with a swastika on it and stayed with people even though the language barrier prevented us from understanding each other well--but he knew what was going on and that was enough. There were those who were saying, "We should unite and get organized and not let things like this happen again."
At some point there were no cars at the checkpoint and the police had to end their operation ahead of the scheduled time. We don’t know how many people fell prey to this vicious Gestapo tactic of the LAPD, but we noticed that a nearby school had let the police use their lot for impounded cars. We talked to the people who live in the area and decided that on Monday morning parents should confront the school administration about co-operating with the LAPD. We had a get-together on Saturday night to make a banner for the Monday rally in front of the school. The banner said: "La escuela apoyo a la policía hoy--mañana puede apoyar a la migra" (Today the school supports police--tomorrow will it be the Migra?). On Monday at 6:30 a.m. we showed up in front of the school. We talked to some parents about what happened on Friday night. One teacher allowed his class to investigate what was going on and write an article in the school newspaper.
The school administration got nervous and said that they would meet with the parents to discuss the matter the following weekend. We called the daily Spanish language newspaper Hoy and invited them to come on Monday, and they attended and wrote an article in the Feb. 28 issue with the headline "Activismo: Protestan contra un ‘reten’ cerca de escuela" (Protest against checkpoint near school).