LOS ANGELES, 23 June 2007--Anti-Minuteman protestors, called by the Mayday Defense Committee and Unión del Barrio, linked arms across the 43rd Place entrance to Leimert Park three lines deep to defend the park against the minutemen. Across the street, Choose Black America (CBA), a front group for the anti-immigrant march sponsors, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and Save Our State, a Minuteman spin-off, fretted and stewed. The LAPD, obviously sensing the determination of the people and reeling from the public outcry against their violence in MacArthur Park last month, kept the groups apart, moving cruisers in front of the entrance to prevent a Minuteman incursion and rescinding the Minuteman permit to enter the park.
Choose Black America had called the demonstration as the kickoff to a nationwide campaign to force an apology from the Mexican government for the booing of Miss America at the Miss Universe conference. CBA is a front group for their march sponsors, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Another CBA announcement told African-Americans, "Don't be fooled by the 'Black-Brown" Coalitions" and claimed co-sponsorship by Millennium Panthers and West Side Illegal Immigration Control. CBA, led by former homeless activist Ted Hayes with the Millennium Panthers headed by Gerald Pitts were assisted by Save Our State and organizer Chelene Nightingale. Save Our State has undergone internal upheavals and splits because of its support of former homeless activist Ted Hayes, now the chair of CBA, and his support for African-American reparations.
As the minutemen assembled on the southwest corner, the counterprotestors, on the southeast corner, shouted at them, "Minutemen, KKK, racists out of South LA!" An RCP member bullhorned, "We don't have an immigration problem--we have a capitalism problem!" Another protestor was overheard explaining to a white comrade, "They try to pit Blacks against Latinos. The system is the problem--that's what it is." YLP, a Puerto Rican, found the historical parallel: "My people, the people [the minutemen] are persecuting, they're just like the Jews were in Nazi Germany. And the minutemen are the Nazis."
By 1:00 p.m. CBA had given up on its promise of 1000 marchers and stepped onto the street at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevards to begin their parade with about eighty-five people: sixty-five or so anti-immigrant African-Americans, twenty white minutemen, and one or two Mexican-Americans. Crenshaw, a major artery through the historically African-American neighborhood leads to Leimert Park, the public platform for Los Angles Black voices and the center of Black Los Angeles culture.
The LAPD allowed the swelling crowd of counterprotestors, a mixed Brown, Black, and white group led down Crenshaw by the Black Riders Liberation Party, to spill into the street as they marched fifteen feet from the CBA march. CBA and the minuteman rode and walked beside a flatbed float representing a slavers' ship decked out with signs calling for reparations, under the banner of the Church for Reparations Now! CBA supporters held signs for another FAIR front group, NumbersUSA. The white minutemen brought up the rear, saying nothing as the group up front chanted, "Choose--choose--choose Black America." They were drowned out, even across the street, by the counterprotestors calling out "Asesinos!" and "Down with the Klan, down with the minutemen."
One Black activist explained, "They're trying to separate and divide. Ted Hayes is brainwashed. The minutemen will turn their back on him when they're finished with him."
Several clusters of residents along the march route were heard complaining that the Klan had shut down the buses and businesses on Crenshaw, as they drifted off to find alternate routes and other restaurants.
As we reached the park, the cops announced that we were to be penned on the east side of the park. The anger had mounted as we marched, and the call went out when we found ourselves between the park and the minutemen: don't let them in the park. Some of the first arrivals took international flags into the park while others stood at the gates, but the police had stopped CBA and the minutemen on the far side across the Crenshaw. The counterprotestors repositioned themselves across the east sidewalk entrance, barricading the entrance between the police cruisers. People from the community, grandmotherly types, young men, shop owners, employees, with quiet and clear fierceness, were pouring through the park and coming north from 43rd Street to the sidewalk. Then the call was "lock down!"
Three lines of people joined arms across the thirty-foot open space at the entrance, discussed how to handle police batons, and determined that the minutemen would not cross. The Aztec danzantes protected the people with ritual dances and guarded the southeast corner of 43rd Street and Crenshaw. The Black Riders alternated between patrolling the other entrances to the park and standing at the front of the defense line. The International Socialist Organization ran off a Minuteman truck circling around the looking for a back entrance.
The police stretched their yellow tape around the CBA and the minutemen, penning them in across the street, and told them that they wouldn't be going to the park today. The counterprotestors roared, "Leimert, MacArthur, New Or-leans: Smash the racist war machine!" and Black and Brown allies called out, "We are not the minority--we are the majority!" One counterprotestor had a message just for Hayes: "You came to the community to stir up trouble!"
Cop cars were moved in front of the line, effectively ending any hope the CBA had of charging the park. At 2:40, the cops put their riot helmets on. The defense line, which had relaxed after an hour of the stand off, snapped to. The riot gear came off.
White supremacist groups ,Vanguard News Network and occasional ralliers with Save Our State Stormfront had been licking their lips in anticipation of a race riot in Leimert Park. The LAPD was prepared to put every on-duty officer in the city on overtime. But Los Angeles's African-Americans came to their park, stood against the rhetoric and strategy of Black anti-immigrant protestors, and ensured that the riot could not happen. A participant murmured, "They're using Black Nationalism. I didn't know Black Nationalism sided with the Klan." Then the triumphant cry: "Whose streets? Our streets! People united will never be divided!"
At 3:30, the cops forced the CBA and SOS onto the west sidewalk, surrounded them, and offered them the choice of leaving or arrest. Hayes and five of his followers stepped into the street in a last-ditch, staged arrest so Hayes, as one observer put it, would "earn his pay." And the media ran to film Hayes being escorted into a police van. They were taken to a substation and released.
In a protest in some ways reminiscent of Baldwin Park's first encounter with the minutemen, the Leimert Park defenders had turned hate and divisiveness out of their public space. Some of the Crenshaw residents voiced concerns about the effects of migration on employment; others responded that Black unemployment had a long history that preceded today's anti-migrant backlash. Whatever their position on the causes of unemployment, they were united in denouncing the minutemen. Hayes and his crew had failed, and the Black-Brown alliance held.
Before the day began, Muffy told me that, "There's nothing like the Nazis to bring people together." Besides the groups mentioned, Mexica Movement, ANSWER-LA, Radical Women, the Sons of Jacob, Base Collective, the Progressive Labor Party, and the Brown Berets were among those on Crenshaw Boulevard.
Hayes has promised to return to the park.