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Thousands of Youths Protest Prop. 187

October 29, 1994|JOCELYN STEWART and BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In the largest student protests to date against Proposition 187, thousands of Southern California youths walked off campuses Friday, prompting a tactical alert by police, tense standoffs with riot-ready officers and scattered reports of fighting.

No one was arrested or seriously injured during demonstrations in Van Nuys and Chatsworth, where an estimated 2,500 impassioned teen-agers waved Mexican and Central American flags and chanted in Spanish, "No 187!" and "The people united will never be defeated."

"Our dream is to go to school and be somebody in life, and if this law passes we won't be able to fulfill our dreams," said Blanca Menjivar, a junior at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys.

Another 2,000 students took to the streets in Oxnard and Camarillo in Ventura County. "We're fighting for our parents, our loved ones, everybody," Oxnard College student Lorenzo Zwaal told the crowd, which gathered in a downtown Oxnard park.

The mostly peaceful demonstration was marred at the end by fistfights that police attributed to gang rivalries rather than political fervor. Police arrested four students, three of them juveniles.

"It was more of a gang thing than a Proposition 187 thing," said Oxnard police spokesman David Keith.

The biggest showdown of the afternoon occurred when scores of helmeted police armed with batons and shotguns faced off with hundreds of students at the Van Nuys Civic Center. After a standoff lasting about an hour, police loaded the students onto buses and took them to the football field at nearby Van Nuys High School.

At least one student was struck by a police baton and others were sprayed with pepper spray. Some students--including a contingent who had marched along streets from Birmingham High, bringing with them supporters from at least three other campuses--complained about being temporarily detained behind locked gates on the football field.

The demonstration began early Friday morning at Fulton Middle School in Van Nuys, where at least 200 students left the campus and walked 2 1/2 miles to Monroe High School in North Hills, joined by other marchers along the way. The group then walked to Sepulveda Middle School, unaware that students there had Friday off.

Undeterred, the demonstrators continued to Van Nuys High, where more students were drawn into the march, some jumping fences to join in.

At about the same time, about 400 youths walked off campus at Birmingham High and set off on a march of their own--picking up classmates from Mulholland and Van Nuys middle schools as well as supportive passersby. Motorists honked in approval while apartment dwellers leaned over their balconies for a better view, smiling and raising their fists.

Teodora Sandoval de Rodriguez, who lives near the Van Nuys government center, was at the corner of Van Nuys and Victory boulevards when she saw the march. She decided to join.

"I wanted to show them my support," she said. "I think it's great that they have commitment to protest like this."

Some school administrators also went along--walking or following closely in cars to ensure the students' safety. "I monitored them all the way through," said Birmingham High Principal Jerry Kleinman.

By the time the Birmingham and Fulton groups reached the Van Nuys Civic Center and nearby Van Nuys High, they were met by a throng of Los Angeles police clad in riot gear, some wielding shotguns and carrying cartridges with rubber bullets.

Marchers complained that the police were overreacting by dispatching so many officers to the mall, which includes courts, a police station and federal offices.

"All those weapons!" said Ivan Bertran, 17, a senior at Van Nuys High. "We've got signs. Like we're really going to hurt them with signs."

Added Leticia Zelaya, 15, a sophomore at Van Nuys High: "Freedom of speech is supposed to mean you can say what you want to say. The cops are making a big deal of this. They're treating us like animals. We ain't animals."

About 2 p.m., six yellow school buses roared to a stop in the middle of Van Nuys Boulevard. Over a bullhorn, officers instructed the students to get on the buses or face arrest. The buses took the students to Van Nuys High, where they boarded buses for their home campuses.

Marchers kept to the sidewalks along most of their routes but there was some traffic disruption. The most serious trouble reported by Los Angeles police was smashed windows in a patrol car and vandalism at a convenience store.

The Los Angeles police and county sheriff's departments remained on tactical alert throughout the day. Police also braced for possible trouble at the homecoming game and dance at Van Nuys High on Friday night.

In another Friday demonstration, about 2,000 students from Chatsworth High School took part in a calm and organized rally followed by an impromptu march through area streets. Police reported no trouble.

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