Video: Did L.A. police use excessive force?

updated 5/2/2007 3:33:22 PM ET 2007-05-02T19:33:22

The city's police chief said Wednesday some officers used inappropriate force when they fired rubber bullets into crowds that included children and wielded batons in an incident that marred an otherwise peaceful day of immigration rallies across the United States.

News footage aired Wednesday of the events from the day before showed police beating at least two television camera operators and shoving people who were walking away from officers. They also showed injuries from the rubber bullets, including images of a Hispanic man with a bleeding welt on his stomach.

"Quite frankly, I was disturbed at what I saw," Police Chief William Bratton told KNX-AM on Wednesday. "Some of the officers' action ... were inappropriate in terms of use of batons and possible use of nonlethal rounds fired."

The skirmishes at MacArthur Park, west of downtown Los Angeles, late Tuesday resulted in about 10 people being taken to hospital for treatment of injuries including cuts, authorities said. None of the injuries was believed to be serious.

Turnout numbers
Turnout nationwide for the May Day marches on Tuesday was light compared to a year ago. Los Angeles brought out about 25,000 people, only a fraction of the 650,000 who rallied last year. In Chicago, where more than 400,000 swarmed the streets a year earlier, police officials put initial estimates at about 150,000.

Organizers said fear about raids and frustration that the marches have not pushed Congress to pass reform kept many people at home. They said those who did march felt a sense of urgency to keep immigration reform from being overshadowed by the 2008 presidential elections.

The clash in Los Angeles began Tuesday evening when police tried to disperse demonstrators who had moved off the sidewalk onto the street. Authorities said several people of the few thousand still at the rally threw rocks and bottles at officers, who fired rubber bullets and used batons to push the crowd back onto the sidewalk.

"(Police) started moving in and forcing them out of the park, people with children, strollers," said Angela Sambrano, director of the Central American Resource Center.

Maria Elena Durazo, the executive secretary-treasurer at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said the trouble was instigated by "a group of anarchists, not associated with the rally." She also criticized the police response, saying the rubber bullets were fired on a peaceful crowd with little warning.

'Vast, vast majority' was peaceful
Bratton said "certain elements of the crowd" started the disturbance, but the "vast, vast majority of the people who were here were behaving appropriately."

Late Tuesday, he promised an investigation.

Spanish-language TV station Telemundo said one of its reporters and three camera operators had been injured and taken to the hospital by police. In one incident, television station Fox 11 aired video of a station camerawoman apparently being struck by a baton-wielding police officer in riot gear. Another video showed a cameraman being beaten to the ground by a baton-wielding officer in riot gear.

The Radio and Television News Association of Southern California called for an investigation into "violent treatment of journalists."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was traveling in El Salvador during a trade mission, said the incident was "a most unfortunate end to a peaceful day."

Though fewer in number, protesters marched in cities from Miami to Detroit to San Antonio. Many of those waving flags, chanting, and carrying hand-painted signs said they were frustrated by what they see as little progress.

After last year's marches, which drew a million-plus protesters, the Senate passed a sweeping bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for many of the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants. But the bill was never reconciled with the then-Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and legislation has languished since last summer. Subsequent bipartisan proposals have gotten more conservative.

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