Revolution #95, July 15, 2007

Wild Scene at Leimert Park

Confronting the Minutemen in L.A.

Why Do People Come Here From All Over the World?

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On June 23, Ted Hayes, "homeless activist" and founder of the anti-immigrant organizations Choose Black America and The New Buffalo Soldiers, led an anti-immigrant march down Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, a thoroughfare through a primarily Black neighborhood where Black people from many areas come on the weekend to shop and hang out. Hayes was joined by members of the notorious vigilante Minuteman Project and the equally fascist and nativist group Save Our State (SOS), as well as others who carried signs demanding "Reparations Now" and "Go Home Illegal Aliens."

On an internet forum run by SOS, an announcement for the march included a heads-up to potential SOS attendees to keep their anti-Black racism in the closet for the day: "Please note if you are bothered by Malcolm X hats and Reparations, this is not the event for you to attend."

Seeing this bizarre mix of white racists and Black Reparations advocates marching together down Crenshaw was almost unbelievable to many on the street who stopped and stared in amazement and confusion. Hundreds of counter-protesters of all nationalities confronted the Hayes march. People walking down Crenshaw learned what this was about and decided on the spot to join in on the side of opposing the attack on immigrants and standing for unity between Blacks and Latinos.

Separated by lines of police, the two marches made their way toward Leimert Park in heated contention, with more and more people from the area becoming part of the mix. In the days leading into the confrontation, rumors had spread that the Klan would be marching down Crenshaw, and as the Hayes/Minutemen march made its way toward Leimert Park--an historic center of African-American culture--dozens of people from the neighborhood began to come into the street prepared to prevent the KKK from marching.

Although they did not see white-hooded robes and swastika signs, many people made the connection on seeing bigots marching arrogantly through the streets to assert their reactionary power and terrorize a section of oppressed people. In explaining who the Minutemen were (and why so many people there referred to them as the “Minuteklan”), one youth explained to his friend, “They’re not the KKK, but they got the same ideas.”

Others joined the protest because they wanted to oppose this whole thing of getting different sections of oppressed people to fight each other. "They're making us fight for crumbs," was overheard various times from different people. One young brother from Inglewood yelled out, "I live with the Mexicans. You're dissing me if you're dissing the Mexicans." The swelling crowd, which at its height outnumbered the Hayes/Minutemen march five to one, amassed at the entrance to the park and the police started to get nervous. Several Black youth yelled passionately across the police car barricade, defending immigrants and taunting both the other side and the police. The police decided to pull the permit from the anti-immigrant marchers and refuse them entrance to the park. But still the counter-protesters didn't back off. The stand-off at Crenshaw and 43rd lasted for hours, with the police at times putting on riot gear to the response of some people yelling, "The whole world is watching! We remember MacArthur Park!" (referring to a police attack on an immigrants rights protest in MacArthur Park on May 1st).

Real Debate, Real Contradictions

The coming together of all kinds of people to stop Ted Hayes and the Minutemen was beautiful. During and after the stand-off at the park, lively debate took place among Black people and others all along Crenshaw. For Black people whose families have been struggling to escape generations of poverty, the question of whether immigrants were taking away jobs and draining the health-care and public education systems and other resources felt very real to them. Some spoke bitterly about going to school for years to learn a trade only to--as they mistakenly saw it--lose jobs to immigrants. Some complained that Latinos were taking over “their” communities. These and other arguments were met head on by many of the people there, especially older people from the ’60s generation who are aware of the divide-and-conquer games this system likes to play on people in order to pit people against each other.

One woman responded that Black people have NEVER had jobs and good housing, so this didn’t start with immigrants. Others talked more in-depth about the history of oppression Black and Latino people have faced. One older Black woman said that this land was taken from Mexico and Black people were put on it. When a youth objected to being given what he considered a history lesson, she quickly reminded him that Latinos were not responsible for the lynching of Black people and many of the other injustices they faced.

Many people debated and tried to win over others on the basis that what Hayes and the Minutemen were trying to do would bring nothing good to the majority of people. Some argued that minorities should not be fighting each other because Blacks and Latinos are both being oppressed by the system. Others said that promoting conflicts between Blacks and Latinos plays exactly into the hands of the system. “That's what they want us to do,” yelled out a man as two Black men arguing with each other almost got into a fight yelling into each other’s faces.

“If they ever came together…”

Days after the protest people around Leimert Park were still talking about what had gone down. People that live and frequent the area were interviewed and asked what they thought about the contradictions and tensions between Black people and immigrants.

A young Black college student was against immigration but changed her mind when she began to see that the struggle that Latino people go through is similar to what Black people have faced. She told us, “At first I didn’t like it [immigration], but then as I observed and understood, my ancestors went through the same thing. Even though the border, they come over here, even though we were taken, we still going through the same thing, trying to work, trying to survive, trying to build up our communities, our families….”

A young Black high school teacher talked about the recent police attack on immigrants during the May Day rally at MacArthur Park. He said, “The way the police treated Latinos after the march, our ancestors and some of our grandparents and great grandparents went through that, but I heard a guy say, ‘That’s what they get.’ It pissed me off--our families and our community went through the same thing they’re going through--so how do you say, ‘That’s what they get?’ I was pretty pissed off at him and I had to escort myself out the building because I had to catch myself. That’s part of the mis-education. He knew about our heritage, that our families and community went through that. We got hoses put on us, they got rubber bullets. That extreme harshness has been brought upon both of us. I feel what they’re going through. If I had a chance to sue the LAPD for what they did at the rally, I would because it’s unfair--it was a peaceful march. What we need to do is have a march together and get our families and communities together. That would be perfect.”

An older Black guy who works for the post office talked about all the different ways that this system tries to divide people. He said, “When you keep the underclass, the poor, and now even the middle class, when you keeping everybody in separate groups--it’s a fact that where there’s unity, there’s strength--but when you got everything separated, ‘I’m gonna keep him in this group, keep him in this group, keep him in this group, I’m going to make him think that this one’s better than that one…’ Nobody wants to get put down… the whole thing there now is with the Blacks and Hispanics you got him thinking, ‘you think you better than me,’ and then you got Hispanics thinking, ‘you think you better than me.’”

He pointed out the potential for people of different nationalities to come together and added, “If they ever came together and unified--and that’s their biggest fear: Their biggest fear is, ‘if they do, we would have to pay for what we’ve done.’”

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