Student throngs here walk out for 2nd day |
Arizona Daily Star
Mar. 31, 2006
At least 1,150 students from across the city walked out of class Thursday and marched through the streets, the second straight day of protests against a national effort to strengthen border security and crack down on illegal immigration.
School officials and police officers rushed to manage the situation, delivering water, clearing streets and brainstorming ways to prevent the walkouts from continuing as classwork took a back seat to activism.
Those who walked out came from at least 18 schools. Groups of 100 or more students came from Catalina, Flowing Wells, Palo Verde and Tucson high schools. Elementary- and middle-schoolers also joined in the protests, with the largest group from Pistor Middle School.
The actions followed similar efforts in Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego as a divided Congress embarks on possibly changing immigration policy. And as the crowd here took to the streets, several schools held forums for students who stayed on campus and some were critical of the walkouts.
Unlike Wednesday, when students from Cholla and Pueblo high schools meandered around the Southwest Side for hours until their protests fizzled Downtown, Thursday's walk-outs landed most students in front of the Federal Building Downtown relatively early in the day.
Students stood and sat in front of the building, at 300 W. Congress St., some yelling "Viva M้xico" and "Sํ, Se Puede" or "Yes, we can" and continuously encouraging each other not to do anything to get arrested. Workers in nearby office buildings could be seen waving and some came out to the street to watch or cheer.
And even as traffic backed up in the area, dozens of people drove by waving Mexican flags, cheering and honking horns.
Police estimate that more than 600 protesters were in front of the building from about 10:45 until 2:30, but the transient crowd never reached more than about 300 at a time. School officials followed students in cars and said many who left their campuses didn't make it very far, and some returned to school.
No one was arrested or hurt in the protests. The local walk-outs on Wednesday were relatively peaceful, too, though two students were cited for obstructing a public roadway. Some students also reportedly threw rocks at a vehicle outside the U.S. Border Patrol headquarters.
Many of the demonstrators, like 16-year-old Rayann Rascon, a Catalina sophomore, said they felt lawmakers are targeting Mexicans, who she says have to come here for decent jobs.
"Everybody should have the opportunity to better their lives," she said as she walked.
Monique Lopez, an 18-year-old Flowing Wells senior who walked five miles to join the crowd, said the trek was worth it. She's fighting for the rights of her friends and family, she said.
Like Wednesday, amid the passionate talk there also was misinformation, with some saying the government wants to deport immigrants who are in the country legally. Others admitted they'd walked out just to ditch class, but some said they realized the importance of the issues as they walked.
While Catalina students headed straight Downtown, 150 students from Palo Verde left the school at 10:30 and marched four miles to Reid Park, regrouped and then walked another hour and 45 minutes to Downtown, or four more miles.
David Wilkens, 40, observed the rally after buying groceries at the Safeway at Campbell Avenue and East Broadway.
"It's better that they do something democratic than just play video games and ignore what's going on in the world," he said.
For those who made it to the Federal Building, administrators from various districts were waiting with water bottles, first-aid kits and eventually school buses to return them to school when they were ready. Schools didn't provide transportation to the Federal Building.
"Right now, our whole thing is that they stay safe," said Flowing Wells Superintendent Nic Clement, taking a stance similar to that of other school officials and Police Chief Richard Miranda.
Police called in more than 60 officers to help keep the students safe and make sure people who called with non-priority problems were served, too. On Wednesday, those calls were put on hold. Even detectives were in uniform Thursday, putting some cases on hold for a day.
By 2 p.m., there were fewer than 100 students left Downtown, and the area was virtually empty by 2:30.
Later in the day, officials began articulating their increased concern about the walkouts. Officials of the Tucson Unified School District home to the bulk of those who walked out held a press conference, stressing they don't condone the activity.
But officials also continued to walk a fine line, saying disciplinary action will be decided on a case-by-case basis. They said they are not prepared to physically block students from leaving campus because that could backfire, and instead will continue to hold campus forums and encourage teachers to talk about the immigration issue objectively. Students, though, said some of their peers were prevented from leaving their schools throughout the day.
The walkouts are "akin to the civil-rights issues of the past," TUSD Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said, adding that the issue had reached "a tipping point" for some students.
Students and teachers at Rincon met after school Thursday to voice their opinions about proposed legislation. But the topic soon turned to their disapproval of some students who joined the march and rally simply because they're of Mexican heritage, despite knowing next to nothing about the bill.
"It's sad that so many of us don't know what's going on," sophomore Christian Moctezuma told the 20 students and staffers at the meeting.
Pfeuffer also was concerned about the walkouts continuing into next week because the last AIMS test of the year is on Tuesday one some seniors still need to pass to graduate, and others could use an improved score on.
Still, students already were talking about more demonstrations, a move they say is necessary to make their voices heard.
● Star reporters Becky Pallack and Erica Meltzer contributed to this story. ● Contact reporter Daniel Scarpinato at 573-4195 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.