LOS ANGELES - Immigration advocates are struggling to frame images of this week's clash between police and protesters in a way that promotes their cause, with some activists considering using the event to attract supporters.

Some advocates believe the police action against mostly peaceful demonstrators could add urgency to efforts to create a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

But others worry that the movement could be blamed for the melee and that immigrants will be afraid to participate in future demonstrations.

"These kinds of situations, if they are framed properly, can be a powerful inducement to get people to continue organizing," said Armando Navarro, coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights, an umbrella organization for Hispanic groups in Southern California.

The alliance plans a series of meetings next week to discuss how to respond to the clash, Navarro said.

Jorge Mario Cabrera, an organizer of Tuesday's MacArthur Park rally, said many people were still in shock over what happened.

"Right now it's a painful few days that we need to get through," said Cabrera, associate director of Carecen, a Hispanic advocacy group in Los Angeles. "We are very concerned that this incident will quiet down many of the voices that were coming out."

The confrontation began when police tried to disperse demonstrators who moved into a street, according to rally organizers and reporters. Authorities said several people threw rocks and bottles at officers, who then used batons to push the crowd back to the sidewalk before sweeping through the park.

News videos showed officers striking people, including journalists and women, with batons and firing rubber bullets into crowds that included children.

The footage showed police knocking a television cameraman to the ground and shoving protesters who were following orders. People could be seen with injuries from the rubber bullets, including a Hispanic man with bleeding welts on his stomach and back.

The use of force was criticized by politicians and many media and civil rights organizations.

The Los Angeles rally was just one of dozens held Tuesday across the country. The protests were small compared with those held in spring 2006, in part because many illegal immigrants are afraid public events make them easy targets of federal deportation raids.

Octavio Pescador, a Chicano-studies professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the melee would change the tone of the immigration debate.

"Immigrant groups will argue, 'We just came to work and look how they treat us,' " Pescador said. "Anti-illegal-immigrant groups will also use it to their advantage, and argue police were provoked."

Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the confrontation could encourage more people to attend protests.

"It's clearly a further polarization of the issue," Hoyt said. "If Congress fails to act, this polarization is only going to get worse."