Protest Over Art Forces Police to Draw the Line

David Pierson and Patricia Ward Biederman, Los Angeles Times, May 15

For 12 years, public artwork near the Baldwin Park Metrolink station never caused a stir.

But when a Ventura-based group that opposes illegal immigration got wind of what was inscribed on the artwork this month, they organized a protest that garnered attention when it was announced on the “John & Ken Show” on KFI-AM (640).

By Saturday, activists on both sides of the immigration issue mobilized, resulting in a sometimes chaotic confrontation in the San Gabriel Valley community.

Members of Save Our State, a 7-month-old organization, say they are offended by “anti-American” inscriptions that read, “It was better before they came” and “This land was Mexican once, was Indian always and is, and will be again” on the 20-foot-high arch.

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“I find it incredibly offensive,” said Joseph Turner, the group’s executive director. The quotation “is seditious in nature. It essentially talks about returning this land to Mexico.”

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Most of this nuance was absent at the rally, which quickly descended into a heated face-off for over two hours at Pacific and Downing avenues. Protesters on both sides hurled obscenities and taunts, and at times argued face-to-face before police arrived.

Opponents of Save Our State consisted mainly of young adults who said they sent e-mails to Latino and immigrant worker advocacy groups. Many were politically active teenagers and college students who skateboarded to the scene.

“People from Ventura are coming to our town demanding we take down artwork? That’s just ridiculous,” said Joe Lozano, 23, a Baldwin Park resident.

By 1:20 p.m., police in riot helmets formed a line in front of the Save Our State group, whose 40 supporters seemed outnumbered 10-to-1 from all sides. Streets were closed off and an officer informed Turner at one point that they could not guarantee the safety of him and his supporters.

“They’re calling reinforcements,” said Turner, 28, who grinned at the counterprotesters with his arms folded.

Randy Selenak, 56, of Orange, was carrying the Stars and Stripes and wearing a T-shirt with red, white and blue that read, “These Colors Will Not Run.” The Save Our State supporter said that going to Baldwin Park—where 70% of its 80,000 residents are Latino—was “like going into the lion’s den. I just want to get out of here in one piece.”

Police were called in from other departments, including Arcadia, Covina, El Monte, Glendora, Irwindale and West Covina, as were deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

An elderly woman standing on Save Our State’s corner was allegedly hit by a thrown water bottle, and required medical attention at the scene.

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City Councilman David Olivas said members of Save Our State have “created an atmosphere of hate” and that he and other Baldwin Park officials have been inundated since their phone numbers and e-mail addresses were posted on the group’s website.

“The e-mails I’ve received are bordering on hate crimes,” said Olivas, who added that the messages would be sent to the district attorney’s office.

Turner said that when people describe him as a racist, “usually they are projecting their own racism.”

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Read the rest of this story here.

E-mail Mayor of Baldwin Park Manuel Lozano at [email protected]. Please write judiciously.

E-mail Alert from the International Action Center

End Immigrant Bashing!

Racists Out of Baldwin Park!

The International Action Center and its national Committee in Defense of Immigrant Workers is joining other organizations to organize a counter protest against a racist, anti-immigration demonstration being held Saturday, May 14 at the Metrolink Station in Baldwin Park from 12 noon to 2 PM.

The racist group calling the demonstration is named Saveourstate.org. This group has ties to and openly supports the vigilante group, Minutemen, in AZ. On their website announcing the event Saveourstate.org exposes their racist nature by stating: “Californians are tired of watching their communities turn into Third World cesspools as a result of a massive invasion of illegal aliens.”

The organizers plan to protest a community-inspired monument at the Metrolink Station that recognizes the U.S. theft of native and Mexican land. Referring to language on the monument characterized as divisive, the group demands that the city of Baldwin Park “voluntarily remove these offensive passages by Friday, July 1st, in advance of the American Independence weekend.” They then threaten, “If this situation is not remedied, SaveOurState.org will take additional steps to ensure that the passages are removed.”

What is needed is a broad outpouring of progressive organizations and people to drown out calls for racist and anti-immigrant bigotry and terrorism.

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