Cambodians Protest in Long Beach for Equal Treatment

LONG BEACH, CA — Tuesday’s April 10th demonstration at Long Beach’s City Hall was the first step Cambodians have ever taken to publicly express their outcry against the City of Long Beach’s unequal treatment of event security planning. Others at the rally have even considered it discrimination with such chants as “don’t discriminate, let us celebrate,” echoing through the hollow concrete walkways of the Civic Center.

Over 100 Cambodians of all ages from Long Beach and nearby Los Angeles, Fullerton, San Bernadino, and San Diego came to support the rally, whose goal was to display the Cambodian community’s anger and frustration towards the City’s lack of a definitive policy. The protestors included leaders from the Khmer community, families, young professionals, entertainers, students, and the disabled.

Despite the cancellation of the Cambodian New Year Celebration at El Dorado Park, the immense feeling of unity and community activism may be a precursor to set forth future awareness in the community. Collective emotions and the fight for the preservation of culture resonated throughout the streets of Downtown Long Beach as banners wavered through the streets and protestors chanted in unison. Cars whistled along honking their horns in support as many on lookers with video cameras took footage.

The demonstration started at 3:30pm outside the Long Beach City Hall and ensued around the Civic center until the City Council meeting commenced. Protestors were denied their rights to freedom of speech as law enforcement officers forced each protestor to abandon their banners before they were allowed to enter City Hall.

Earlier during the protest, officers forcefully took the banner of a student protestor away. The banner mentioned “Social Inequality in Long Beach.” When asked why the officers took the banner away, Pichanary Rotratsirikin answered, n[the officers] said it wasn’t appropriate.”

The protest caught the eye of the local media, with journalist Jason Gewirtz and photographer Leo Hetzel from the Press Telegram covering the story.

The demonstrators joined the City Council meeting, filing in one after another until every unreserved chair was filled. Demonstrators that could not find seats were told to leave the room by uniformed officers although minutes later, nearly two dozen bureaucrats were permitted to stand alongside the stairs against the walls.

After waiting patiently for nearly two hours for the meeting to move onto special agenda items, the measure that drew the demonstrators to City Hall was finally addressed with considerable support from councilwoman Laura Richardson-Batts of the 6th District and the newly elected councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal of the 1st District.

The measure required that City Manager Henry Taboada compile a report on the police department’s security deployment policies within 60 days. Issues such as equality and consistency were discussed between the council and activists. The city council was asked to explain why there was such a large disparity in public safety requirements between the Long Beach Grand Prix and the Long Beach Cambodian New Year.

According to councilwoman Richardson-Batts, the Long Beach Grand Prix, a commercial event, attracted an estimated 200,000 people and was charged about $200,000 for public safety’s cost of $1 per person. However, the organizers of the Long Beach Cambodian New Year was initially required to pay $70,580 in 2000 for an estimated 15,000 person attendance and $37,557 in 2001 for an estimated 5,000 people’s cost of approximately $5 and $8 per person, respectively.

“Why does a commercial entity get charged less for security than a community entity?” questioned Kim Preap.

Furthermore, Him Chhim, the president of the Cambodian Coordination Council (Cam-CC), pointed out that if the ratio of officers to people for this year’s New Year celebration were applied to the Grand Prix event, the Grand Prix coordinators would have had to pay for 1,300 police officers. The Long Beach Police Department only staffs 800 officers.

However, Police Chief Jerome Lance said the large amount of police force was required due to problems related to gang violence in past Cambodian New Year celebrations. Lance went on to explain how police requirements for current years’ events are based on prior years’ event statistics.

Councilman Jerry Shultz explained to the council and protestors that there was a high rate of crime committed in the 1995 and 1996 celebrations at El Dorado Park and that safety was a strong concern.

Quick to notice councilman Shultz’s negative points, councilwoman Richardson-Batts concurred on public safety, but informed the council of the very peaceful celebration in 2000 that Schultz neglected to mention. Ironically, the 2000 celebration had only one small disturbance that took place within the staff of the LBPD.

The measure was unanimously passed by the city council, but the resolve had come a little too late. Cambodians in Long Beach will go on this year without an organized New Year, and the fate of the Long Beach New Year Celebration depends on Taboada’s report in 60 days.

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