What is the purpose of a protest march, if not to organize?
By John Earl
Publisher: Orange County Organizer www.ocorganizer.com
Saturday, October 22, marked the “10th Annual National Day to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and Criminalization of a Generation.” Demonstrations were held in cities across America, including in Los Angeles, where over 300 people turned out to protest America’s growing police state.
Orange County also held its own October 22 protest, but only about 35 people, most of them young anarchists dressed in black, showed up to march three miles from the corner of Bristol and McFadden to the downtown Santa Ana police station. Their make-shift cardboard signs spoke about immigrant rights as well as police abuse.
The mixed messages were on target, especially in these post-911 days when Minuteman vigilante groups are calling for white folks (and a few token “legal” immigrants) to be up and to arm, to spread the alarm, that “the “Mexicans are coming, the Mexicans are coming” to reconquer their historical homeland, and that they are vicious, violent, barbaric, savage illegal alien killers, child molesters and terrorists who take away our jobs, bankrupt our hospitals, overcrowd our schools and refuse to speak American.
Along with various shades of border vigilantism, immigration reform proposals have sprouted like fascist weeds from sea to shining sea. California state assemblyman Ray Haynes has endeared himself to the Minuteman crowd with the most draconian proposal of all: a ballot initiative (now in the signature gathering process) that would create a state police force—or, better put, a police state—with a mandate to deport “illegal” immigrants backed by unlimited funding and the authority to take over local police departments and jails.
Meanwhile, America's prison population is the highest in the world, with 2.3 million inmates in a country with a population of 296 million, compared to China at second place with 1.5 million inmates out of a population of 1.3 billion. Mexican immigrant Santo Raez is serving a life sentence under California's three-strikes law for cheating on a drivers license test. Following dutifully in the footsteps of the American “prosecutorial state,” was the recent death of Habeas Corpus in the name of fighting terrorism—making the American police state is now official.
A mixed review of Santa Ana's October 22 march.
“Ninguna humano ser ilegal” (no human is illegal), as stated on one sign, was clear enough, and one elderly Latina woman was moved by it to say of the demonstrators “Oh, these are my people! These are my people!” Signs and chants that said “fuck the police” and “fuck the police state” may have also hit a nerve in the local community. It was usually impossible to know what passing motorists were responding to, but respond many did—with honked horns, smiles of approval and hand signs extended through open car windows.
But there was no attempt by the organizers of the event to capitalize on the solidarity they received from the local community. There were no hand bills about Santo Raez, mandatory sentencing laws or immigration issues, no eloquent speeches to stir people to action and no attempt to mobilize the protest's targeted audience for future action.
A small number of police were seen following the the protest route, but they kept their distance. That abruptly changed when the marchers arrived across the street from the police station and saw eleven officers on horseback and five officers on foot with long beating sticks in hand, all stationed just in front of the steps to the station’s main entrance.
Unlike moments before, the group was now in an area with little traffic and few bystanders. Only two adults and a young boy watched from the porch of their nearby home, a glorified Tijuana shack divided into what looked like two nearly unbearably tiny apartments.
Tension increased as a lone “Fuck you” and group chants echoed loudly between the parking structure behind the demonstrators and police headquarters several hundred feet away.
Protesters huddled together quietly to plan their next move. After wisely deciding to drop the “fuck police” chants, they singly and in small groups slowly crossed over to stand in silent protest next to the officers on horseback. They held signs for about ten minutes before some of them slowly walked back across the street, at which time chanting resumed.
Soon, all of the demonstrators were back in front of the police station, this time on the street corner. But the standoff was clearly over now. The police seemed bored and, with no audience but themselves and the now largely disinterested police, demonstrators had little left to do. After ten minutes and a few uninspired group chants of “whose streets—our streets,” protesters started the slow march back to Bristol and McFadden where their cars were parked.
Before they reached their final destination, police informed marchers that the intersection had been blocked due to a bomb threat--somebody had left a backpack unattended in a store and the homeland had to be properly protected. The marchers were not considered suspects, but oddly there had also been a report of a bomb threat near the Los Angeles anti police-abuse demonstration site earlier. A false alarm in both cases—no WMDs were found anywhere, but a small section of Santa Ana had been closed down for a short time nevertheless.
I hitched a ride with one of the demonstrators and we slowly detoured through clogged back streets on our way around Santa Ana's mistaken ground zero. Another day in the life of the new American police state had passed and we were no better organized to fight it than the day before.
(Photo and video coverage at: http://www.ocorganizer.com/html/police_abuse.html