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School Mascot Protesters, Police Clash Outside Fullerton Meeting

June 19, 2002|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shouting and shoving broke out between police and demonstrators outside a Fullerton school board meeting Tuesday, and a woman was arrested after she refused to move from an exit.

About 20 people were protesting two schools' team names: the Indians at Fullerton High and Zapata's Raiders at Sonora High, whose mascot--a mustachioed man in a sombrero and bandoleers--is supposed to represent Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

Police arrested Leti Rodriguez, 31, of Huntington Park as she stood in a doorway to the board room. As she was led away in handcuffs, other protesters taunted police, accusing them of manhandling her and demanding that she be released.

Before the Fullerton Union High School District meeting began, Rodriguez reiterated that her group objects to "the use of indigenous mascots. They disrespect our heritage and culture but think they're honoring us. They don't understand the importance of Zapata. The mascot should be done away with."

Her arrest did not disrupt the meeting.

At a break after the incident, board President Bob Singer said of the mascot issue:

"These decisions are made at the schools. We have tried to encourage people in the community to consider all points of view. We rely on our students and alumni to make these decisions."

Fullerton High has had the same mascot for more than 100 years, he said, and Sonora for about 35.

Rusty Kennedy of the Orange County Human Rights Commission was present at the school board meeting to speak on another issue. "People feel very strongly about the [mascot] issue," he said.

"They have come here trying to raise that issue and have got- ten frustrated. It's too bad they had to get into a conflict with the police."

Native American activists in California have been fighting for more than 30 years to rid schools of the stereotypical Indian mascots they find offensive.

The Assembly considered legislation this year that would have made California the first state to ban Native American team mascots from public schools.

The bill was defeated last month amid opposition from Republicans and some Democrats who called it an example of excessive political correctness.

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), who sponsored the legislation, called it "a bill whose time has come" and told her colleagues, "For too long, we have tolerated racial insensitivity" in mascots.

But opponents ridiculed the measure and wondered aloud where the government would draw the line on mascot regulations.

*

Times staff writer Miguel Bustillo contributed to this report.

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