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10,000 Students Protest Prop. 187 : Immigration: Walkouts around Los Angeles are largest yet showing campus opposition to initiative. The teen-agers are mostly peaceful, with only 12 arrests reported.

November 03, 1994|AMY PYLE and BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Defying calls from campaign leaders and principals to stay in school and ignoring the unwelcoming weather, more than 10,000 young people walked off campuses around Los Angeles Wednesday in the largest showing yet of student opposition to Proposition 187.

From the lawn at the Federal Building in Westwood to a side street in South-Central and the steps of City Hall, the teen-agers were mostly peaceful as they marched in rivers of plaid, T-shirts and jeans under the watchful eyes of Los Angeles police, who called a citywide tactical alert.

There was only one report of significant unruliness--in Compton, where 12 arrests were made--and in many cases police asked school officials to furnish buses and successfully persuaded weary students to return to their campuses, often miles away. But sometimes the officers underestimated adolescent stamina and found themselves tracking roving bands of students through neighborhoods.

"Everything was fine until they . . . got unruly and started running in front of cars," Officer Matthew Klein said as he held curious neighbors back from a corralled group of middle-school students on East 48th Street in South-Central Los Angeles.

Marchers from more than 30 Los Angeles Unified schools participated. Most left campus before noon and many were back at school, or at home, before the dismissal bell. Most of the demonstrators were Latinos.

"It is not fair to take education away from the kids," said Henry Romero, a 10th-grade Belmont High student, in remarks to the City Council. He was invited to speak after Belmont students walked more than a mile to City Hall. "We could be the future leaders. We could be the ones sitting right where you are someday. You've got to give everyone a chance."

As with previous student protests, there was no indication that the widespread walkouts had been organized by the formal anti-187 campaigns. Most of the official groups had joined teachers and parents in urging students to stay in school and stage sit-ins or political forums.

Instead, Wednesday's walkout appeared to be the result of a variety of efforts to coordinate the sporadic school protests that have flared up in recent weeks.

On radio talk shows, activists with the One Stop Immigration and Educational Center, who organized a major Downtown march last month, had called for a countywide walkout on Nov. 2. At the behest of worried parents the center rescinded its call.

But, fueled by media reports and continued support for walkouts by a new statewide anti-187 student coalition, individual campus leaders pushed forward with their preparations.

"We felt that nobody else should speak for the students and tell us not to do it," said Angel Cervantes, organizer of the statewide student group and a Claremont Graduate School student.

Student organizers at San Pedro High School said Wednesday they lured 150 classmates out of school by passing out flyers earlier this week. They and other student leaders said they will ask fellow students to walk out again before Election Day on Tuesday in a bid to defeat Proposition 187, which would bar illegal immigrants from schools and other public services.

During Wednesday's protests it became clear that some officials and more established groups have jumped on the student-enthusiasm bandwagon:

* At Los Angeles City Hall, council members Richard Alarcon and Jackie Goldberg left a meeting to address the students milling outside. At a protest rally in Long Beach, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti compared Proposition 187 to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

* When an estimated 700 University High School students reached the Federal Building around 10 a.m., the Peace and Freedom party candidate for governor, Gloria La Riva, greeted them with sound equipment and a speech.

* Literature passed out at City Hall, where about 1,000 teen-agers from nearby Belmont High and the Downtown Business High School joined forces, included flyers from organized labor and from the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade encouraging walkouts.

* At the Van Nuys Civic Center, where about 500 students from Birmingham, Grant and Van Nuys high schools and Sepulveda Middle School converged, students were given anti-187 signs produced by Californians United Against Prop. 187, and listing a 900 number for more information at a cost of $5 a call. Grant student Felix Jimenez, 19, said he photocopied the signs on his own and handed them out.

* Accompanying 200 Jordan High School students on their trek through Southeast Los Angeles were five members of the Latin American Truckers Assn., who passed out flyers demanding the right of the United Transport Workers Union of America to organize and bargain with the Santa Fe Railway Co.

The rowdiest and longest demonstration took place in Compton, where at least three groups from several schools--each containing 300 to 400 students and others--marched through the city beginning at 8 a.m., some of them throwing rocks, eggs and bottles at police officers.

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