Public Terror: Escalating the War on Migrants
By Juan Santos and Leslie Radford
“War is nothing but a continuation of politics by other means.” – von Clausewitz
“Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.” – Mao
(LOS ANGELES) Immigration activist Roberto Lovato was there when the Los Angeles Police Department launched its brutal assault on a park full of migrant families with children last week in LA, and this is what he saw and understood. “I saw the LAPD,” he wrote “dragging the immigrants and the entire country into dangerous terrain, a new threshold in the . . . immigration war raging around the country.”
What he saw was more than an Iraq-style surge; this was an all out escalation, a new strategic plateau in the
Javier Rodriguez, an immigration activist with L.A’s March 25th Coalition, called it a “political decision” to “dismantle this [immigrant rights] movement.”
Last year, in 2006, millions of migrant and their allies – their familia – took the streets, giving birth to the most powerful mass movement in the
The new movement stunned the US ruling class, drove the deepest of wedges straight into the heart of a seemingly unstoppable neo–con drive toward fascism, exposed the essential brutality and racism at the core of the Republican, neo–con agenda, began the public unraveling of the Bush regime, and opened the door to the stunning exposure, repudiation and defeat of the neo-cons in the House and Senate, who had led the racist charge to make felons of all undocumented migrants – and of anyone who so much as gave a ride to someone undocumented.
And like their counterparts in the 60s era, the reactionaries of today saw the unmistakable outlines of the threat presented by brown resistance to their power and their drive toward a fascistic state. Like the reactionaries of that era, they moved to kill the movement with mass arrests and state intimidation. Only this time, it wasn’t the FBI, COINTELPRO, the murders or imprisonment of Black leaders, or the mass incarceration of Black and other peoples of color that the State relied on. This time, it was the department of Homeland Security, ICE, and a strategy of direct vengeance – the deliberate terrorization of the millions who had taken the streets and who had precipitated the collapse of the neo-fascist juggernaut.
The methodology was not the one the reactionaries used to crush AIM on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in the 70s, or in
Now, rather, the weapons include mass raids on meat packing plants, pre-dawn raids by ICE agents on people’s homes, incarceration in prisons thousands of miles away from lawyers, families and friends, and the terrorization of small children whose parents had been locked away, or who were themselves taken into custody and locked up like felons in federal prisons with their mothers and fathers.
That this year’s pro-migrant demonstrations were dramatically smaller than those last year came as no surprise to the movement’s leadership. Shortly before the pro–migrant demonstrations on May Day this year, Panama Alba, an immigrants’ rights activist with New York’s May 1st Coalition, , spoke plainly of the impact of the government’s effort to crush the new movement. “In light of the raids, any migrant who steps into the streets is a hero or heroine," he said.
But the signal-sending, intimidation and terrorization didn’t stop with secretive raids on people’s homes in the dead of night or on isolated factories and packing plants.
Chicago, the city that set the pace for last year’s massive protests, faced a new reality this year, when, a week before the scheduled mass protests of May 1, ICE carried out its first mass raid in a public place, a shopping mall in the heart of the Mexican American district La Villita, marching into the mall with bullet proof vests and carrying M-16 military assault rifles, shutting down the mall, and holding brown employees and customers alike for questioning at gunpoint, while letting whites go free. A
And, in Los Angeles, the storm center of the national struggle for migrant’s rights, the LAPD, under the leadership of the nation’s “top cop,” Republican police chief William Bratton, made another strategic intervention aimed at nationwide intimidation of the new movement; a brutal, no holds barred, clearly premeditated, tight and highly disciplined police assault on an entirely peaceful gathering of migrant families with children – hundreds of children – in MacArthur Park – an assault involving some 600 cops who struck pedestrians with moving motorcycles, and who, while marching in close formation, fired uncounted volumes of tear gas and volley after volley of rubber bullets from “less lethal weapons,” shooting indiscriminately into the crowd, waiting on cue and in unison for the crowd before them to retreat, while viciously clubbing journalists, smashing cameras, and striking anyone else they could strike with repeated blows from batons. Seventy people were injured and sent to hospitals. Despite LAPD claims that the attack was in reaction to having been pelted with plastic water bottles and rocks by young “agitators”, and despite the hundreds of police present, not a single arrest was made. While the young people did, very bravely, hold a protective line between the cops and the families under attack – taking the brunt of police violence on their own bodies, the assault on the migrant families was in no way “provoked,” any more than the ICE raid in the
The LAPD assault has been compared to the infamous and racist repression unleashed by police chief Bull Conner of Birmingham, Alabama against the Civil Rights movement when the Old South was still the Old South. African American writer Anthony Abdullah Samad says of Bratton, “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
But the whole point was to incite widespread terror and intimidation - that’s precisely why no one – not children, not journalists, not pregnant women, was spared from the onslaught. Far from the LAPD being once again “exposed” as the nation’s most brutal pigs, the worldwide media coverage, especially and intensely concentrated on Spanish language TV in the U.S., was a public relations coup of a high order for those bent on striking fear and crushing any further resistance to pre-dawn raids, the plans for massive construction of new immigration prisons, the further incarceration of children in a Texas-style Guantanamo, or the even more massive raids and mass deportations to come.
The powers that be could not have picked a more chilling place from which to have signaled their brutal message to the pro migrant movement. LA has the largest population of migrants in the nation, and a Chican@ mayor and political establishment with a level of power unrivalled by Brown people anywhere in the nation – no where else in the
The Mayor, after facing intense criticism for his appearance at last year’s million- plus march in downtown LA, arranged to be out of town for this year’s march.
This year, it was only after criticism of the LAPD reached a red hot crescendo that the Mayor returned from a trip abroad on “city business” to denounce the LAPD attack as a human rights violation, and to attempt to quell any mass “unrest” that might be brewing.
LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, in the meantime, is having none of the Mayor’s human rights rhetoric. Two high ranking LAPD officers have been reassigned, while Bratton has pointed to “tactical errors,” falsely implying the cops were “out of control” rather than fulfilling a strategic political imperative of the Bush regime. But the cops were not out of control, this was no police riot; the police were acting with discipline on direct orders from Bratton’s Deputy Chiefs, making it clear that the planning for the police assault occurred at the highest levels, in all probability in meetings with Bratton himself, who has strong ties to the Department of “Homeland Security,” and who has been mentioned as a potential candidate to head the DHS under George W. Bush.
Were Bratton to land that post, he would not only head up the government’s internal spying program, but would be the ultimate head of ICE, and responsible for carrying out Homeland Security’s “Operation Endgame”, with its objective of raiding, rounding up, imprisoning and deporting millions of migrants.
On May 1, at
In the meantime, if legislation now before Congress is approved, local police, including the LAPD, would have the authority and funding from the Department of Homeland Security to carry out public raids in areas where migrants concentrate; to act as local enforcers of national laws on immigration, to help carry out the mass deportations of brown people that Operation Endgame implies. That’s the plan. That’s the trajectory. Conversely, if no legislation is passed this year, and no moratorium on raids is declared, Operation Endgame remains the official policy of the DHS and ICE. In the absence of any other plan, Bush’s raids can only intensify, and do so with the aim of fulfilling the goals of Endgame; it will be the only policy on the books.
The attacks in LA and Chicago were by no means random, and by no means local in their meaning or impact. The neo-con powers that be brought forth their latest “surge” in the War on Migrants and the Chican@ community, and signaled with unmistakable clarity their intent to crush the movement that has cost them so much and that has threatened the stability of their rule.
The Bush escalation of the War on Migrants, and the plan to bring police into the battle at a national level – a move backed by Republicans and Democrats alike – means that from the standpoint of the white power elite of the
And the vulnerability of the system- its open embarrassment at being exposed for it brutal machinations, its efforts to cover its tracks, means that it is only resistance and exposure that the system fears, and that only resistance and exposure will cause it to back down from draconian measures, just as it sought to distance itself from the openly fascistic Sensenbrenner bill in 2006.
The resistance can take many forms – barrio Migra Watch/ Ojo a la Migra committees, the continuing establishment of Sanctuary cities and Sanctuary churches, the planning of escape routes and the setting up of defense committees in factories and other workplaces – and marches, many more marches, to demand the end of raids and deportations, the firing of LAPD Chief Bratton, full legalization of all, and the end to the exploitation of Latin American and other third world economies by US finance capital. Without such open and defiant resistance, the system will concede nothing, and the future will hold nothing other than more brutality, more raids, more vigilantes like the Minutemen, more destroyed families, and a more openly racist culture ruled with the iron fist from the Right.
Leslie Radford is a correspondent for Aztlan Electronic News and L.A. Indymedia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.