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Brutality Protest Snarls Traffic

Congestion: About 1,000 foes of police abuses march through Civic Center. Streets are gridlocked for hours.

October 23, 1998|JOSEPH TREVINO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More than a thousand black-clad demonstrators marched through the Civic Center on Thursday as part of a national protest against police brutality, creating a massive downtown traffic jam.

Led by a truck covered with pictures of people said to have died in confrontations with police, the eclectic group walked up Broadway from Olympic Boulevard to Temple Street, then east to the Los Angeles Police Department's Parker Center headquarters.

The demonstrators, parading with a float depicting the Grim Reaper in a police uniform, included community activists, clergy members, professional gardeners and punk rockers.

Police blocked off a broad swath of the downtown area during the hourlong march, forcing frustrated drivers to detour around the entire Civic Center.

The resultant traffic jam, which lasted about twice as long as the march, extended into the evening rush hour, making the trip home even slower than usual for thousands of downtown commuters.

The march, monitored closely by police, was noisy but orderly, and there were no reports of arrests.

Arriving at police headquarters, the protesters chanted to the accompaniment of drums: "No justice! No peace! No murdering police!"

One of the demonstrators, Manuel Reyes, said he joined the rally on behalf of his 35-year-old son, Henry Sanchez, who was killed in 1996, allegedly while being arrested by Bell Gardens police officers.

"They beat him with flashlights," said Reyes as he walked next to his wife, Ruth, who was being pushed in a wheelchair. "They were looking for him because of a warrant. He didn't want to go to jail, so they killed him."

Bell Gardens Police Capt. Elias Magdaleno said an independent Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigation concluded that Sanchez died because of a drug overdose.

This was the third annual protest held by the national group called the October 22nd Coalition. Los Angeles spokesman Joey Johnson said the purpose is to "stop police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation."

Donna Dymally held an enlarged photograph of her 28-year-old son, Marc Fitzsimmons, who she said was killed in July during an altercation with LAPD officers.

"My son was killed on the same street he planted trees on," Dymally said.

Lt. Anthony Alba said the LAPD has "very strict shooting and use-of-force policies that are reviewed by the department, the chief, the D.A.'s office and the Police Commission. Suspects don't have any review policies."

He added: "There is a very beautiful memorial of fallen officers in front of Parker Center that reminds us that we have a very dangerous job and that we are also brothers, sisters, daughters and sons."

Pastor Andrew Robinson-Gaither of the Faith United Corporation said he was calling on church leaders to form a coalition against police brutality.

"We need to get on board and call for a review system," he said. "The police cannot govern themselves. They are too trigger-happy, especially in black and brown communities."

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