A year after an immigrant rights rally drew 500,000 people to downtown Los Angeles, an organizer alleged that his free speech rights were infringed upon by a city Police Commission decision Tuesday to deny a permit for a demonstration Feb. 24.
The commission rejected the group’s application on the grounds that it would raise public safety problems because the annual Golden Dragon Parade sponsored by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce is expected to bring 150,000 people to downtown on that same Saturday.
Commissioners said the immigrant rights rally could move to Feb. 25.
The decision angered Juan Jose Gutierrez of Latino Movement USA.
He disputed the public safety issue and said a Feb. 24 rally has been heavily publicized since December in the Spanish-language media and with the distribution of 50,000 fliers.
“I take serious issue with it, and the rationale that has been used to justify preventing us from exercising our constitutional rights to express ourselves on that day,” Gutierrez told the commission.
He said the rally was only expected to draw about 5,000 people with the aim of bringing attention to concerns about recent immigration sweeps.
“It’s a burning national policy issue,” he told the panel. “Thousands of people have been arrested throughout the nation. We feel that’s a crisis. Families have been torn apart and we need to do something about it.”
In denying the permit for Feb. 24, commissioners said they were not acting based on the content of the speech involved.
“It’s important to understand that the decisions that are made regarding rallies, parades, demonstrations are made based on the law, not ideology,” commission President John Mack said.
“The decisions are neutral in terms of people’s personal beliefs,” he added.
“On a personal basis, I’m supportive of immigrant rights. These decisions are based upon what’s in the best public interest from a public safety perspective,” Mack said.
Commissioners said they hoped people would not show up and attempt to hold the rally on Feb. 24.
Los Angeles Police Capt. Kevin McCarthy told the panel that the organizers of the Golden Dragon Parade submitted their application a week before the immigrant rights group applied for the same day.
Allowing both large events to occur on the same day would create a “diversion that would jeopardize the level of police service to other areas of the city,” McCarthy told the panel.
McCarthy was joined by representatives of the city’s fire and transportation departments in voicing concerns about allowing both events on the same day.