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1,500 Students Leave Schools Over Prop. 187 : Protest: Youths walk out of classes at 11 campuses in Oxnard and Camarillo; march through Oxnard.

October 29, 1994|FRED ALVAREZ and MAIA DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

About 1,500 Ventura County students walked out of classes Friday in a mass protest against Proposition 187, most joining a peaceful march through Oxnard that ended in scattered fistfights and brief confrontations with riot-ready police.

The walkout coincided with similar protests in the San Fernando Valley, where thousands of youths walked off campuses in the largest student demonstrations to date against the initiative. In one of those demonstrations, scores of police armed with shotguns faced down hundreds of students at the Van Nuys government center.

In what is thought to be the largest walkout in Ventura County history, students marched out of six high schools and five junior highs in Oxnard and Camarillo.

Hoisting protest placards and chanting "No on 187," the protesters made their way to Plaza Park in downtown Oxnard, where they denounced the ballot measure aimed in part at banning illegal immigrants from public schools.

Police estimated that more than 2,000 protesters jammed the park. School officials say about 1,200 students who walked off campuses in Oxnard and Camarillo starting at 8:30 a.m. joined that rally. In a separate protest in Santa Paula, 300 students marched from the local high school to City Hall.

"We're fighting for our parents, our loved ones, everybody," Oxnard College student Lorenzo Zwaal shouted to the Plaza Park crowd while he straddled a tree limb. "We need to stop the violence within ourselves, we need to stop killing our own. To do that we have to be educated."

But after protest organizers became indecisive about how to return students to their schools, the restless demonstrators broke through police lines about 11:30 a.m. and marched to nearby Community Center Park.

Along the way, some marchers threw rocks at motorists and jumped on parked cars. And at the park, police said rival gang members clashed in a series of brawls.

With a column of helmeted police armed with batons at the ready, Ventura County sheriff's deputies on horseback waded through the crowd, breaking up fights and ordering students to disperse.

The demonstration ended around noon when students started boarding buses that took them back to their schools.

Police arrested three juveniles for fighting. A fourth person, Juan Antonio Reyes Ordaz, 20, of Oxnard, was taken into custody for resisting arrest. No one was seriously hurt, and all four of those arrested were held at the Oxnard police station and released.

A force of 93 officers from the Oxnard Police Department, the Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol were called to keep the peace.

Oxnard police spokesman David Keith said he thought the fighting had little to do with the protest.

"It was more of a gang thing than a Prop. 187 thing," he said.

Oxnard Police Chief Harold Hurtt blamed organizers of the demonstration for the violence that erupted at Community Center Park.

"I'm extremely disappointed in the organizers, in the fact that they did not have a plan for dispersing this," Hurtt said while watching sheriff's deputies break up scuffles. "They should have had more leadership there. We didn't want to have a police intervention."

But the organizers and others countered that the police were to blame for the unruliness, saying officers intimidated the students and failed to help disperse the crowd.

"We asked them if they could give us a megaphone or a bullhorn to help us talk to the students, and they said no," said Oxnard College student Pedro Pantoja, a member of the college's Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, which helped stage the walkout. "If we don't have support from the police to help us out, they shouldn't complain."

For more than two hours, the protest was peaceful.

Students started walking out of schools at about 8:30 a.m., waving signs and chanting slogans. Some waved Mexican flags. Others carried the American flag.

At Ocean View Junior High, about 70 students walked out. And at two other Oxnard junior highs--Fremont and Frank intermediate schools--another 200 students joined the protest.

"We need to protest 187," said 13-year-old Jesus Hernandez of Frank Intermediate. "People are trying to take our rights away and that is wrong."

At Oxnard High, about 100 students walked out of class about 9 a.m.

"I don't think anybody should be denied education anywhere," said Gus Vasquez, 17. "There's going to be a bunch of delinquents running around."

Added Juan Carlos Pelayo, a 16-year-old student at Frontier Continuation High School in Camarillo: "Imagine all these kids not being able to go to school. They'll all be gang members, man. It'll be mayhem."

The largest contingent came from Hueneme High School, which had more than 300 marchers. And 200 students from Rio Mesa High School also joined the demonstration, school officials said.

While the marchers were mostly Latino, blacks and whites also took part.

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