Concern Remains Over Treatment of Immigration Marchers

Post a Comment » Written on May 11th, 2007     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (May 11, 2007) – Walter Contreras is concerned about what he describes as violent actions by Los Angeles police against participants in the May 1 immigration march that he helped organize.

“We were treated like animals,” says Contreras, director of church planting for the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. “They pushed women and children.”

ContrerasFour investigations, including one by the FBI, are looking into actions by officers who used their batons to strike reporters and marchers, and fired roughly 150 “less-than-lethal” rounds of rubber bullets into the crowd. The violence drew unwanted international attention to the city, prompting the Los Angeles mayor to respond, “What happened on May first was wrong.”

Contreras was wearing his clerical stole and carrying a Bible when police moved into MacArthur Park, shoving him and others, he says. “They could see I was a pastor, but they pushed me anyway.”

Shortly before the violence erupted, Contreras had preceded Catholic Cardinal John Mahoney in addressing the crowd at the end of the march. Contreras spoke from Leviticus 19:33-35: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

The crowd had been quiet and respectful as he spoke for roughly seven minutes, Contreras says. “This was a very friendly rally.”

The violence began elsewhere in the park when about 25 individuals began taunting and throwing bottles at police, according to news reports. Contreras had heard tensions were building and walked to the area, he says. Police overreacted to a few people who could easily have been contained, Contreras suggests.

Contreras says he was unable to sleep that evening, and two days later suddenly broke down crying when talking with another pastor. Contreras says he is disappointed by the limited rally participation on the part of those representing the evangelical community.

“My biggest question was, Where was the church? Where was the church?” he laments.

The church, he believes, has a responsibility to stand alongside people from numerous countries who have entered the United States illegally, even if they oppose comprehensive immigration reform. “I didn’t go there because I’m pushing for legislation. I went there because I wanted to stand with the people who don’t have a voice. I just want people to know that human beings are involved.”

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