When Los Angles police launched an attack on thousands of peaceful immigrant-rights protesters and many members of the news media last week, the violent nature of the U.S. anti-immigrant movement was finally exposed.
The immigrant-bashing rhetoric of the last couple of years materialized into baton swinging and rubber bullet-shooting cops — an appalling scene that some of the bashers later tried to justify.
Ironically, while conservative extremists are constantly trying to portray all illegal immigrants as violent criminals, it's the cops who are under federal investigation for violating the law and behaving violently. The FBI is looking into whether police targeted immigrants and if the civil rights of the protesters were violated.
And of those violations, they have ample evidence. Videos of the cops attacking demonstrators and journalists from behind, as these people actually tried to follow orders and hurriedly tried to walk away from the scene, provide disturbing evidence of how far xenophobic hatred can take us in this country.
Some pro-immigrant activists believe the violence may actually help their cause because it will make Congress and the general public see the urgency of passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that creates a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.
But other pro-immigrant activists fear that it will hurt, because immigrant haters will find a way to blame the LAPD violence on the demonstrators and because many illegal immigrants may be discouraged from participating in future protests.
The cops say they were provoked. And they probably were. Protest organizers have to do a much better job of distancing themselves from radical fringe groups that are mostly comprised of professional agitators — anarchists who have nothing to do with immigration but cling to any excuse to confront authorities.
Yet, instead of limiting their response to the small group of anarchists who were allegedly throwing rocks and plastic bottles at them, the cops went after thousands of peaceful demonstrators at a rally in Los Angeles' MacArthur Park.
Even Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton has suggested, before several investigations are concluded, that the cops may have overreacted. He said the videos show that there had been "inappropriate" behavior by officers.
Inappropriate? Wouldn't that be more like when cops fail to be courteous public servants?
Attacking and striking innocent bystanders — shooting hundreds of rubber bullets into crowds that included even children — is not just inappropriate. It is downright criminal behavior.
These were not cops who felt cornered by an angry and threatening mob and might have reacted in self-defense. These were officers who were in fact the aggressors, marching in a well-coordinated attack — and in a gravely disproportionate reaction to the situation.
The television reports showed how the cops mistreated even the people who were trying to follow their orders. They showed a police officer knocking down a cameraman, then grabbing the camera and tossing it to the ground. They showed the bleeding welts on the bodies of victims struck by rubber bullets.
The police tactics have been condemned by not only immigrant-rights activists, but by media organizations. "There is evidence that officers knocked reporters to the ground, used batons on photographers and damaged cameras, possibly motivated by anger over journalists photographing efforts by officers to control the movements of marchers," charged the Radio and Television News Association in a statement.
The Los Angeles rally was one of dozens held throughout the country on May 1, and one of hundreds that have taken place in the last year. Until now, all of them had been peaceful, wonderful demonstrations of the fact that most illegal immigrants are decent and humble people.
Amazingly, when things finally got violent, the people who are constantly accused of being the criminals ended up being the victims.
To find out more about Miguel Perez, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.