November 18, 2017
LOS ANGELES – An anti-immigrant group of Trump supporters stormed a community town hall organized to educate residents on the city’s immigration and sanctuary policies. Community organizers called the Los Angeles Police Department when the protestors tried to stop the event from taking place. Officers removed two members of the anti-immigrant group in handcuffs, but made no arrests.
About 15 to 20 members of the group We the People Rising, an organization devoted to ending illegal immigration and “protecting the American worker,” chanted slogans and shouted at residents entering the Highland Park church. Several of the protestors also followed people into the building with cameras, asking for their names and whether or not they were legal residents of the United States.
“These guys like to follow us around and scare the people we’re trying to help,” said Milena Jankovic, founder of People Power Los Angeles and an organizer of the event, along with Highland Park Indivisible and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Once the protestors entered the church and refused to leave, town hall organizers called LAPD. Officers initially tried to talk the protestors into leaving voluntarily, but a few members of the group stood their ground and argued with police.
“The event is a public town-hall,” he told the officer. “We registered to come here, sir. We are not to be excluded from this just because they don’t like us being here.”
Any member of the public could RSVP for the sanctuary town hall through emails that were circulated or on the Facebook page of March & Rally Los Angeles, a group that promoted the event.
Immigrant rights advocates decided to move the educational forum into the basement while police talked with protestors, but other members of We the People Rising followed. Several residents who were attending the forum made a human shield at the basement door until police arrived.
“We are American citizens. What are they? A bunch of illegals. They are lawbreakers. That’s what they are,” one member of We the People Rising shouted over the crush of bodies blocking the basement door.
Three protestors were able to get through door. Once inside, they continued filming and disrupting the event, which led to heated discussions with immigrant rights activists, like Cue Jn-Marie, pastor of The Row Church.
“Are you calling these people criminals?” asked Jn-Marie, just inches from a protestors face, “because the Bible says do not mistreat foreigners and you’re also a foreigner here.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center does not track how often We the People Rising tries to breakup events geared toward undocumented immigrants. But the SPLC, described the organization as a “nativist extremist” group in 2015.
While police corralled two members of We the People Rising and the shouting between protestors and immigrants rights activists continued, organizers of the town-hall held their event anyway. They created three small forums at various tables. The scheduled speakers moved between the tables in turn to talk to residents about how they can lobby city officials for official sanctuary laws.
Most of the speakers, like Emi MacLean, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, focused on Executive Directive 20, issued by Mayor Garcetti in March. The directive, said MacLean and others, doesn’t officially forbid LAPD from cooperating with federal immigration authorities, which is one of the reasons Los Angeles has seen a spike in deportations. Event organizers passed out lists of city councilors’ phone numbers, dates of council meetings where residents could speak out for sanctuary laws and dates to planned marches outside of city hall to people at the tables.
Beyond improvising the community event into small groups so speakers could be heard over the shouts of protestors, neither the organizers nor the residents attending the town hall appeared intimidated or scared. The forum continued even as the last protestor was taken away by police.
“This is unconstitutional,” he shouted as officers handcuffed him and led him out of the building. “We are Americans!”