Protesters arrested outside Wal-Mart

Christine Mai-Duc, L.A. Times |

Authorities arrested nine protesters, including a man wearing a priest’s collar, outside a Wal-Mart in Paramount, Calif., for sitting down in the middle of a street and refusing to budge.

Around noon Friday, Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies peacefully handcuffed the four women and five men, arresting them on suspicion of illegally assembling. The nine were participating in a rally that drew about 400 Wal-Mart employees, union members and others agitating for better working conditions at the world’s largest retailer.

Dozens of other organized rallies also occurred Friday outside Wal-Mart stores around the country, including one in Duarte and one in Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw neighborhood.

As sheriff’s helicopters buzzed overhead, the protesters were peacefully handcuffed and led away by deputies while the crowd applauded and chanted, “We support the workers. We support them!”

Protesters earlier were also singing, “We shall overcome … Wal-Mart land!”

Several of those arrested were wearing white flowers in their hair and blue bands around their arms. One man was sporting a black shirt emblazoned with “IWW,” for International Workers of the World. Another was in a priest’s collar.

“I think we handled it very well,” said Lt. Minh Dinh of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “We protected the people’s abilities to express their constitutional right to speech, and we also protected property from being damaged. The individuals who wanted to be arrested made us aware of that.”

After the arrests, the crowd started dispersing. Some people headed to the parking lot while others streamed onto three yellow school buses that had carried many of the protesters to the store.

“We’re trying to hold [Wal-Mart] accountable,” said Allison Mannos of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a labor advocacy organization. “You could feel the excitement and the tension of these protesters getting arrested. This was too big to ignore.”

Wal-Mart spokesman Steve Restivo said the number of protests around the country was “grossly exaggerated” by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which backed Our Walmart, an advocacy group that was partly responsible for organizing the rallies.

“We are aware of a few dozen protests at our stores,” Restivosaid. “The number of associates that have missed their scheduled shift today is more than 60% less than Black Friday last year.”

The protesters slowed down some shoppers trying to snag Black Friday bargains.

“We have no what this even is. All of a sudden there are cops and signs everywhere,” said Michelle Lewis, 24, of Fullerton, whose white pickup truck was standing still amid the thick stream of chanting people.

“We are probably just going to go to a different Wal-Mart,” Lewis said. “This is annoying.”