Heroes of the Barrio

They began as a noisy bunch of kid communists with less than average intelligence, only a marginal ability to attract attention and not a chance in hell of overthrowing anything, but they ended up as Revolutionary Heroes of the Pico-Union Barrio. We’ve got L.A.'s boys in blue to thank for that, and I don’t mean the Dodgers.

I’m talking about the May Day protest Tuesday that saw an army of cops immortalize a band of nobodies by charging into them like a phalanx of Roman centurions and arresting 15 of them for everything from assault with a deadly tar bucket to running up and down the street blowing a whistle in a threatening manner.

Probably only three should have been arrested, one for throwing a tire at a cop, another for tossing a bottle and a third for dropping that aforementioned tar bucket off the roof of a two-story building.

But policemen, like tiger sharks, are less than discriminating when it comes to a feeding frenzy. They jumped on anything young and noisy, sometimes six of them wrestling one scrawny kid to the ground in a display of witless overreaction I haven’t seen since the riots of Berkeley 25 years ago.


By the time it had ended on a sun-splashed afternoon at Olympic and Alvarado, those in the barrio who earlier had laughed at the kids were shouting angrily at the police for the excessive nature of their response.

In the odd transformation of social protest, the winners were the people behind bars, and the losers were the ones who had put them there.

It all began as a May Day rally called by the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, two organizations that find it difficult to raise a quorum, much less an army.

About 20 gathered in MacArthur Park, calling loudly on the masses to overthrow us “racist, Rambo-Americans” and revive the gentle spirit of Mao Tse-Tung, whose enduring philosophies of patience and goodwill were lovingly demonstrated last June in China’s Tian An Men Square.

The MacArthur Park communists were an odd collection of outcasts, most of whom I doubt were especially well-versed on the socioeconomic qualities of international political movements. I heard one, a skinhead, not even able to pronounce his hero’s name. He shouted Mao, which he pronounced May-o, in rhythmic sequence, as in “Mayo, Mayo, Mayo!"--but hold the lettuce.

They waved red flags, sang the Internationale and called for the lumpen proletariat to rise up and break their chains. One young man, the irony escaping him, waved the flag of international revolution from atop a portable toilet, to the amusement of the sparse crowd attracted by the noise.

It was all good revolutionary fun, and I was there because of just such expected trumpery. What with Communism’s pants falling down around the world, I wondered what our local Reds were up to and anticipated pretty much what I was seeing.

But then they began marching up Alvarado to challenge barricades erected by the law in another faltering effort to abate drug trafficking, and the good times came to an end.

You knew what the kids were up to when they distributed pamphlets that said “hound the enemy” and “get up in his face.” The enemy, in this case, was the cops, their faces exposed for the precise purpose the noise-makers had intended.

The first unnecessary arrests came about half a block into the march. Everything went to hell thereafter. Heroes are made in such moments of cause and confusion, and while there was no good reason for anyone to emerge with heroic stature Tuesday, they did.

And I’m afraid the barrio won’t forget them.

I’m not ex parte on most things, which, for those who don’t own a Latin dictionary, means on one side only. I try to stay open. On Tuesday I was called a pig by those who thought I was a cop and shoved back by a cop who thought I was a communist.

I find individual policemen for the most part to be even as you and I, good and bad, high and low, smart and dumb. And I find kids who march and yell to be necessary elements of a free society, notwithstanding the absurdity of their cause.

I yelled once, and so did you. We’ll yell again if we have to, because that’s the kind of a people we are, caretakers of a heritage that allows us that right, even if we’re wrong.

We should have let the kids march Tuesday without wrestling them to the ground. We should have let them yell without busting their heads.

Pogo, in his eternal wisdom, was right. We are still meeting the enemy and he is still us.