Up to 500 Venice High School students this week protested Proposition 187 as unconstitutional. Yet they may end up in detention, copying the U.S. Constitution.
The students gathered for almost four hours on the school's north lawn Tuesday, until administrators and Los Angeles Police Department officers began breaking up the rally around noon. No injuries or arrests were reported.
Students who demonstrated between classes will not be punished, school officials said. But those who skipped class to protest face "in-house detention," where the penalty is to copy the U.S. Constitution for the entire school day.
Students said campus sentiment had been building in recent weeks against Proposition 187, the controversial state ballot measure that would bar illegal immigrants from receiving many public services, including education. Roughly 60% of the 2,400-member student body is Latino.
Student organizers complained that a handful of protesters marred the rally by becoming rowdy and hurling bottles at police. During the protest, a small band of students dashed through hallways and smashed classroom windows with a flagpole.
"We're not criminals, we're just fighting for our rights," said Margarita Garcia, 18. "When the cops came, people got mad and didn't want to go inside."
"Education should not be taken away from the people," said 16-year-old Nora Frausto, who carried a Mexican flag and a sign reading "Pete Wilson--\o7 Por que no me quieres?\f7 " ("Why don't you love me?"). Gov. Wilson is a leading supporter of Proposition 187.
By noon, a police helicopter whirred overhead as puzzled neighbors emerged from their houses. After a minor auto accident nearby snarled traffic, police blocked off Venice Boulevard between Beethoven Street and Walgrove Avenue. LAPD Capt. Richard LeGarra said officers got involved to prevent students "from taking over the street."
Estimates of the crowd size from police, students and teachers ranged from 100 to 500. One group of several dozen students splintered from the rest and began marching west toward Lincoln Boulevard. Officers rounded them up and herded them to bleachers behind the school, where Principal Bud Jacobs, carrying a megaphone and a note pad, urged them to go back to class.
"Hey, Mr. Jacobs, quit pushing me!" complained one boy being led into the bleachers.
"I'm not pushing you. I'm hugging you because I love you," Jacobs joked.
Jacobs told a reporter that the rally had not gotten out of hand but was "beginning to get disturbing."
He said students told him Monday about the planned protest, and that he responded that the rally must be peaceful and not interfere with school.