Published in Capital & Main:
P resident-elect Donald Trump hasn’t yet sworn his oath of office, but his announced policies have already thrown a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting into pandemonium.
Yesterday, supervisors met to hear public comments and to vote on a measure to create a new Office of Immigrant Services, and to direct a civilian review board to oversee policies on the handling of undocumented immigrants in county jails by the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. It was pretty humdrum stuff, compared to what state legislators are doing.
But that’s not what you’d guess from the reception the hearing received.
Seated before an audience of hundreds in their sleek auditorium the size and shape of a movie theater, with a bevy of cameras surrounding them like a firing squad, the supervisors struggled to slog through a long series of dry presentations by county bureaucrats on the measure, followed by over a hundred oral comments from the public.
Every five minutes, from some corner of the room, a clamor of cackles, chants or boos erupted, either from the large contingent of immigrant rights activists in the crowd, or from the only slightly smaller throng of Trump supporters decked out in red T-shirts and “Make America Great” baseball caps.
“ICE out of L.A.!” a dozen pro-immigrant activists chanted at the assistant sheriff, after he testified that ICE is in county jails “on an almost daily basis.”
The pro-Trump crowd, mostly seated together on one side of the aisle, met the chant with noisy boos. They turned their live-streaming cell phones, held perpetually aloft in front of their faces, in the direction of the perpetrators. “Kick them out!” they yelled to the supervisors.
The outbursts and counter-outbursts repeated themselves another half dozen times through the half hour or so of reports by county officials, initiated first by one side, then by the other, like dueling fans at a USC-UCLA football game. Over and over, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who presided over the meeting, warned that offenders would be ejected from the room, his threats sounding increasingly weary and empty with every repetition.
T hen it was the public’s turn to recite their comments. The majority of them, by far, favored the resolution, which was mildly pro-immigrant. But the handful of outraged voices aligned against it did score points for creativity.
One middle-aged woman who identified herself as an L.A. public school teacher accused Democrats of smuggling millions of undocumented immigrants into California in order to turn them into child prostitutes.
A middle-aged man invoked Vice President John Calhoun and the Nullification Crisis of 1832 to charge each of the supervisors of being Confederate sympathizers for putting “state’s rights” before federal authority in their support for “sanctuary laws.” A young man from West Covina complained that his city’s switch to district elections, made to help increase Latino representation in city government, showed that California was becoming an “apartheid state.”
A weathered-looking woman declared that California was becoming “a petri dish for globalists,” and called for Trump to “intervene in California’s affairs.” The pro-Trump audience members clapped and cheered. Ridley-Thomas pleaded once again for quiet.
Another commenter explained that the Mexican drug cartels are lashing out, upset about being deported. The argument didn’t make much sense, but was greeted with a hearty “Deport them all!” from one Trump voter.
Finally, after two hours, Ridley-Thomas made good on his threat. He declared that the Board was going into executive session, which meant that the entire audience was barred from the room. The auditorium emptied.
The proposal passed by a 4 to 1 vote, except for the part about oversight of the sheriff’s department, which was supported unanimously. A few hours later, with a week and a half left until Trump takes office, President Obama gave his farewell speech. He deplored the deep divisions in our country, rallying his supporters to defend political pluralism, and to safeguard the Constitution against intolerance and autocracy.