Reflecting intense passions over illegal immigration, a Los Angeles outdoor forum about its impact on blacks quickly became a screaming match Sunday between those urging a crackdown on undocumented migrants and others counseling tolerance.
The gathering at Leimert Park in South Los Angeles, which eventually involved about 100 people, was aimed at publicizing what some blacks believe has been illegal immigration’s negative effect on their neighborhoods, housing, schools and jobs, said Ted Hayes, founder of the Crispus Attucks Brigade, an African American group newly organized to fight the influx of undocumented migrants.
“Illegal immigration is the greatest threat to African Americans since slavery,” Hayes said, before stepping onto a park bench and leading about 30 people in chants: “We’re fired up! We can’t take it no more!”
But no sooner had Hayes begun to speak when a handful of other blacks approached him with their own loudspeaker, yelling a counter message of unity in Spanish and English.
“The people united will never be divided!” yelled Julia Wallace, an African American member of the Progressive Alliance, as a handful of her supporters waved signs urging worker unity.
Hayes’ supporters were later challenged by a few Latinos who wandered into the park and ended up in face-to-face debates over jobs, lawbreaking, the Mexican economy and a host of other hot-button issues.
When Terrance Lang, a 41-year-old African American, complained that Latino immigrants were taking jobs from blacks, Jose Haro, a 21-year-old Mexican American, retorted that maybe blacks weren’t looking hard enough for them.
“It’s so easy to find a job anywhere!” Haro said. “I find one in one day: moving companies, offices, anything. These people are lazy,” he said, referring to blacks.
As the decibel levels rose and the two groups pressed closer to each other, police separated them with yellow tape.
The forum drew an eclectic crowd that included African American members of the Minuteman Project, which sends private citizens on border patrols to stop illegal immigration; a Latino carrying a sign saying that America was actually Mexican territory; and one man wearing a Malcolm X cap and a “Bush-Cheney” political button.
When Hayes and others praised the Minutemen as patriotic Americans, other blacks screamed back that they were similar to the vigilantes who hunted down escaped slaves.