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A new May Day

Violence marred protests last year, but the LAPD insists that it has learned from its mistakes.

May 01, 2008

On May Day last year, an inspiring day of peaceful protest here in Los Angeles was marred by a confrontation between two disreputable groups -- the thugs who exploited the event to tussle with police, and the police who responded with a melee of confused violence. There's no way to be sure that thugs won't show up again today, but there's every reason to expect that the police will be better prepared.

In a visit to The Times this week, Police Chief William J. Bratton and his top brass -- including Deputy Chief Michael Hillmann, one of the LAPD's most respected veterans -- described a thoughtful plan for monitoring and, if necessary, controlling today's immigration marches. They expressed appropriate regard for the 1st Amendment rights of those who are marching, and admitted that the department's focus on crime-fighting in recent years may have caused it to neglect basic lessons in crowd control. Since the 2007 MacArthur Park fiasco, about 8,700 officers have undergone training, and the chief assures that Spanish-speaking officers and translation devices will prevent a repeat of a particularly humiliating breakdown that day, when dispersal orders were barked in English to immigration protesters, and officers wheeled on those who did not respond as quickly as the officers wanted.

The LAPD is not a perfect organization, and its mishaps have caused this city much pain over the years, but the immigrant community owes the department its due. LAPD leaders, starting with Bratton, have adopted an enlightened approach to immigration matters. They have, for instance, stood firmly behind Special Order 40, which is the latest target of anti-illegal immigration passions. Contrary to those who seek to have it amended, the order sensibly keeps officers from initiating contact with residents based solely on questions about their immigration status, and yet also permits officers to notify federal authorities when they believe someone is in the country illegally. It balances the need to encourage witnesses and others to cooperate with police and the right of the nation to expel illegal immigrants. Bratton's defense of Special Order 40 -- just this week, he vowed not to change "one word" as long as he is chief -- should remind protesters that this city, while not pandering to those here illegally, also recognizes their humanity and their established place in our society.

Today's marches should be a source of pride, not alarm, a reminder that America's most cherished values include those of speech and peaceable assembly -- it's the 1st Amendment for a reason. Restraint on the part of demonstrators will do their cause honor; professionalism by the LAPD will do the same for the city.

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