LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Immigration activists accused City Attorney Carmen Trutanich on Tuesday of trying to “crack down” on political dissent by seeking to penalize them with up to a year in jail for what they described as “nonviolent acts of civil disobedience.”
Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter disputed the allegation, saying activists from Todos Somos Arizona are being prosecuted for handcuffing themselves together, laying down on the street and blocking traffic for hours last July to protest the passage of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070.
“This office is not prosecuting these defendants because they are exercising their right to protest,” he said. “This office respects every individual’s right to protest. What this office is prosecuting is the crime that has been committed by these defendants; that is, they failed to obey a lawful order by Los Angeles Police Department to disperse.
“They were lying in the street, chained together, disrupting traffic, creating a danger to the community, and preventing thousands of people who were stuck in a massive traffic jam from getting to work, from going to pick up their kids from school, from conducting and carrying out their legitimate business,” the prosecutor said.
Through “street theater” staged Tuesday in front of City Hall, activists also protested the impending trials of Todos Somos Arizona members accused of blocking buses from entering the federal detention center in May during a protest against deportation; and of Bus Riders Union members accused of disrupting a May 27 Metropolitan Transportation Authority meeting to denounce bus fare increases.
They also complained about charges against five Cal State Northridge students who protested last March against tuition fee hikes; and against nine other students who held a demonstration last May to call for the passage of the DREAM Act.
Carolina Sarmiento is one of several Todos Somos Arizona protesters facing prosecution.
“We are not criminals, we have not done any violent act at all,” she said. “On the contrary, we think Carmen Trutanich using our tax money when we’re in a crisis moment to process all these community members, and trying to threaten us with a year in jail…is a criminal act.”
Leigh Shelton, a representative for Todos Somos Arizona, said the controversy surrounding SB 1070 resulted in “non-violent civil disobedience protests all across the country, and in those cases no protesters have felt the kind of crackdown that they have in L.A.”
“Even in Arizona, under Sheriff (Joe) Arpaio, the charges were dropped against those protesters,” she said.
Carter declined to discuss the punishment that prosecutors would be seeking against the activists, whose court hearings are set to begin this month.
“Each and every one of these individuals has the right to a trial,” he said. “They can argue their case to a jury and a judge.”
(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)