Defying calls from campaign leaders and principals to stay in school and ignoring the unwelcoming weather, more than 10,000 young people walked off campuses around Los Angeles Wednesday in the largest showing yet of student opposition to Proposition 187.
From the lawn at the Federal Building in Westwood to a side street in South-Central and the steps of City Hall, the teen-agers were mostly peaceful as they marched in rivers of plaid, T-shirts and jeans under the watchful eyes of Los Angeles police, who called a citywide tactical alert.
There was only one report of significant unruliness--in Compton, where 12 arrests were made--and in many cases police asked school officials to furnish buses and successfully persuaded weary students to return to their campuses, often miles away. But sometimes the officers underestimated adolescent stamina and found themselves tracking roving bands of students through neighborhoods.
“Everything was fine until they . . . got unruly and started running in front of cars,” Officer Matthew Klein said as he held curious neighbors back from a corralled group of middle-school students on East 48th Street in South-Central Los Angeles.
Marchers from more than 30 Los Angeles Unified schools participated. Most left campus before noon and many were back at school, or at home, before the dismissal bell. Most of the demonstrators were Latinos.
“It is not fair to take education away from the kids,” said Henry Romero, a 10th-grade Belmont High student, in remarks to the City Council. He was invited to speak after Belmont students walked more than a mile to City Hall. “We could be the future leaders. We could be the ones sitting right where you are someday. You’ve got to give everyone a chance.”
As with previous student protests, there was no indication that the widespread walkouts had been organized by the formal anti-187 campaigns. Most of the official groups had joined teachers and parents in urging students to stay in school and stage sit-ins or political forums.
Instead, Wednesday’s walkout appeared to be the result of a variety of efforts to coordinate the sporadic school protests that have flared up in recent weeks.
On radio talk shows, activists with the One Stop Immigration and Educational Center, who organized a major Downtown march last month, had called for a countywide walkout on Nov. 2. At the behest of worried parents the center rescinded its call.
But, fueled by media reports and continued support for walkouts by a new statewide anti-187 student coalition, individual campus leaders pushed forward with their preparations.
“We felt that nobody else should speak for the students and tell us not to do it,” said Angel Cervantes, organizer of the statewide student group and a Claremont Graduate School student.
Student organizers at San Pedro High School said Wednesday they lured 150 classmates out of school by passing out flyers earlier this week. They and other student leaders said they will ask fellow students to walk out again before Election Day on Tuesday in a bid to defeat Proposition 187, which would bar illegal immigrants from schools and other public services.
During Wednesday’s protests it became clear that some officials and more established groups have jumped on the student-enthusiasm bandwagon:
* At Los Angeles City Hall, council members Richard Alarcon and Jackie Goldberg left a meeting to address the students milling outside. At a protest rally in Long Beach, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti compared Proposition 187 to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
* When an estimated 700 University High School students reached the Federal Building around 10 a.m., the Peace and Freedom party candidate for governor, Gloria La Riva, greeted them with sound equipment and a speech.
* Literature passed out at City Hall, where about 1,000 teen-agers from nearby Belmont High and the Downtown Business High School joined forces, included flyers from organized labor and from the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade encouraging walkouts.
* At the Van Nuys Civic Center, where about 500 students from Birmingham, Grant and Van Nuys high schools and Sepulveda Middle School converged, students were given anti-187 signs produced by Californians United Against Prop. 187, and listing a 900 number for more information at a cost of $5 a call. Grant student Felix Jimenez, 19, said he photocopied the signs on his own and handed them out.
* Accompanying 200 Jordan High School students on their trek through Southeast Los Angeles were five members of the Latin American Truckers Assn., who passed out flyers demanding the right of the United Transport Workers Union of America to organize and bargain with the Santa Fe Railway Co.
The rowdiest and longest demonstration took place in Compton, where at least three groups from several schools--each containing 300 to 400 students and others--marched through the city beginning at 8 a.m., some of them throwing rocks, eggs and bottles at police officers.
During the six-hour march, the groups converged in the parking lot of a Vons supermarket and launched a sit-down demonstration that blocked store and parking lot entrances, according to Compton police Capt. Steven Roller.
Demonstrators broke store windows, frightened store employees, threw trash and vandalized police cars before 80 Compton officers, assisted by 50 sheriff’s deputies, dispersed the crowd, Roller said.
Twelve people--all but one of them juveniles--were arrested and there was an unconfirmed report of one injury.
In response to the widespread student walkouts, the LAPD went on a tactical alert at 11 a.m. Wednesday, allowing commanders greater flexibility in keeping officers on duty beyond their shifts and redeploying police to areas where needed.
“Anytime you have large groups of people out--I don’t care whether it’s a protest like this or some kind of celebration on the beach--experience tells us the potential for some kind of a disturbance is always there, and we should be prepared for it,” said Lt. John Dunkin, an LAPD spokesman.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina plans to go on Spanish-language television today to urge students to remain calm, an aide said Wednesday.
“Whichever way the vote on 187 goes, we want people to put their energies into more constructive types of things,” said Robert Alaniz, spokesman for Molina.
The protests drew onlookers out to their porch stoops and office foyers and reactions were varied, as the opinion polls showing great disagreement among voters would predict.
In South-Central Los Angeles, several hundred youngsters from Carver Middle School walked out in mid-morning and refused to board buses provided by school officials to return to campus. Police followed as the students broke into smaller groups and ran down side streets. Most were fenced in near East 48th Street and Avalon Boulevard.
“This is what the suburban people who support this proposition don’t understand, that this is what’s going to happen if it passes,” said Alfred Rowe, heading home after watching the students finally leave on buses. “We already had one riot down here. We don’t need another,”
In suburban Santa Clarita, a late-morning march by about 200 William S. Hart High School students drew scorn from some residents who watched the mostly Latino group chant Spanish slogans and carry Mexican flags. Many of the onlookers said they had planned to vote for Proposition 187 anyway, but the demonstration strengthened their resolve.
“This is ridiculous to let a Mexican flag go down (the street),” said Marylee Silvius, 67. “It just makes me angry. I don’t like protesters in the first place.”
The Santa Clarita protesters did influence at least one person toward their way of thinking. Stacy Hobbs, 19, a community college student, said she had favored the proposition, but seeing the demonstration “makes me more sympathetic.”
Protests also were reported Wednesday in Orange County, where more than 1,000 students from several schools peacefully demonstrated. There were no arrests. The largest and most organized protest took place at Fullerton College, where more than 500 students from at least nine high schools listened to speeches.
Meanwhile, both sides of the Proposition 187 campaign began throwing their limited financial resources into advertising.
Taxpayers Against 187, a coalition of statewide organizations opposed to the measure, hit the airwaves in Los Angeles on Wednesday with its first TV ad. The 30-second spot is running on seven TV stations.
On the pro-187 side, two radio ad campaigns have started to supplement Gov. Pete Wilson’s TV ads that urge a “yes” vote. Also, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington, D.C., lobbying group, has begun running radio spots statewide charging that special interest groups are seeking to defeat the measure.
In another development, U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich attacked the measure as “the wrong remedy.” He said illegal immigration could be halted more effectively by going after employers who hire undocumented workers.
Contributing to this story were Times staff writers Yvette Cabrera, Aaron Curtiss, Tina Daunt, Paul Feldman, John Glionna, Greg Hernandez, Mimi Ko, Jon D. Markman, Patrick J. McDonnell, Jean Merl, Julio Moran, Richard C. Paddock and Timothy Williams, and special correspondents Maki Becker, Leslie Berestein, Jon Garcia, Mary Moore, Psyche Pascual, Simon Romero, Mark Sabbatini and Eric Slater.