Tag Archives: Black Lives Matter

This is not a pep rally

A protester in San Pedro June 6

On Saturday, June 6, San Pedro, California, had its first large gathering in response to the protests that have swept the world since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. There had been smaller protests, in front of the San Pedro police station and city hall, but this morning event was the first to draw several hundred people, in  a march from the police station to city hall, followed by speeches. It looked like a demonstration; there were “I can’t breathe” posters and chants of “No justice, no peace.” Some social media commentators called it a Black Lives Matter protest. But that activist organization was not involved in Saturday’s event. Instead, it was organized by three unlikely bedfellows: The NAACP, the Los Angeles Police Department Harbor Division, and the office of LA City Council member Joe Buscaino.

Organizers hailed this as a breakthrough alliance. But skeptics — and I am one — feared that this was not a breakthrough coalition, but a cooptation. First, the march was channeled (literally, they walked down Channel Street) on to empty roads where there was no chance to engage onlookers or passersby or generally make an impact, which is pretty much the point of a march. One of the participants was controversial police chief Michael Moore, who led his officers into violent confrontations with protesters in LA earlier in the week and at one point blamed those protesters for Floyd’s death. Buscaino, a former cop, is against the cuts to the police department already agreed to by Mayor Eric Garcetti, let alone the foremost demand of BLM: Defund police. Indeed, no concrete changes were demanded or offered at the rally, except for a call to vote for change in November (agreed). Instead of singing “Lean On Me,” “Alright,” “We Shall Overcome,” or even, I don’t know, “This Land is Our Land,” a woman wailed “The Star-Spangled Banner” — as if we were at a political convention, or a football game.

The “Unity Rally” suffered from a serious existential crisis. Many of the participants were visibly and vocally disappointed by the speeches and the presence of Moore and other cops; indeed, speeches by anyone with a badge were largely drowned out by protesters. “This is not a photo op,” they chanted at Buscaino. “This is a protest!” they shouted at the politicians. “This is not a pep rally!” they shouted — incredulously — when the NAACP’s Cheyenne Bryant ended the event by thanking folks for coming to, yes, “a pep rally.” Most people around me turned away in disgust at that point. One young man jumped up and started speaking to the crowd about his dismay with the speakers’ failure to address the real issues of systemic racism. Many stopped to listen to a voice that finally spoke to the real message of this movement.

None of this dissent made the coverage of the “Unity Rally” in The Daily Breeze and the Los Angeles Times. Reading their accounts, I had to wonder if I was at a different event. As a journalist and a scholar of journalism, I can’t say I was shocked: Mainstream news outlets typically report the perspective of the powerful, not those speaking out against power structures. Sometimes the erasure is structural; reporters hang out by the stage, instead of in the crowd, and miss the true story. But at Saturday’s event, you had to be deaf and blind to miss the shouts of the protest against the rally.

All this said, there was an incredibly moving moment that did bind everyone there — a moment that lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck. Bryant asked everyone to take a knee, the  gesture made famous by football player Colin Kaepernick (one of the pioneers of the protest against police violence for years now, whose work is finally being vindicated; the NFL finally had to admit it was wrong to censure him and others). Cops, protesters, politicians, parents, kids, blacks, whites, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Latinx — everyone that I could see kneeled. And for almost nine minutes we were quiet. Mostly. After several minutes that seemed like an eternity, in an act of spontaneous improvisational street theater, voices rang out:

“I can’t breathe!”

“Get off my neck!”

“Mama!”

The final words of George Floyd exploded from the crowd. Staring at the ground, I began to sob. I could hear others crying around me. It was a powerful gesture that has been deployed at protests around the world. Eight minutes and 46 seconds is a long time. Long enough to take a man’s life, just because you can.

As the crowd rose, they started another chant, again, one not led from the podium: “A silent cop is a bad cop.”

I am not against dialogue. I understand that you sometimes have to sit down with your enemies if not to negotiate change, to make them change. For 8’46”, everyone in that plaza — including many police officers — had to to contemplate one man’s dying moments at the hands of another.

Gestures can be powerful. But they can also be easily imitated. What America needs is not gestures, or even words, but action. Action like that the Minneapolis City Council said they would take Sunday night: To not merely cut the police budget, or defund the force, but to disband them.

This is of course exactly what the LAPD fears, and why at this point, they need to listen to the people, more than the people need to listen to them.

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Anthems and change: A Turn It Up! IG Live event with Shana Redmond

TIU IG LIve

Join UCLA Professor Shana Redmond and I in conversation June 9 about the soundtracks of social change, from “We Shall Overcome” to “Fight the Power” to “U.N.I.T.Y.” to “Alright.” A Turn It Up! Tuesday Instagram Live eventa!

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Solidarity on the streets of San Pedro

BLMLA protest San Pedro

People protest peacefully in front of San Pedro police station June 2, 2020.

There were silver Priuses and white SUVs. A fire truck, two garbage trucks, public works trucks, an ice cream truck, a city bus, and several semis honked their horns as they drove by. One rig’s blast sounded like a train whistle, long and loud — that got our adrenaline going. Lots of men in pickup trucks honked or raised their fists, even the one in a big white four-door with an American flag flying from the tailgate and a Trump sticker in the window. “He must be driving his dad’s car,” my friend Sue said. Even some police cars honked. A majority of the traffic passing the San Pedro police station Tuesday afternoon between 3 and 5 showed their solidarity with protesters waving “Black Lives Matter” and “End Systemic Racism” flags. They signaled support either with their horns or with their fists, thumbs, or fingers in peace signs. Many drivers admittedly were handicapped by their efforts to keep one hand on the wheel and one on their cell phones filming. There were only three voices of dissent, from a thumb down to a disturbing “Fuck Floyd.” Some protesters misheard one shout as “Fuck you!” but in fact it was “Fuck yeah!” I could see the joy on the driver’s face.

San Pedro BLM protester

No justice, no peace.

We were a small crowd — about 50 — but given that this was the first protest in often conservative San Pedro since the murder of George Floyd, our presence was significant. And with every passing honk, shout and fist pump of support, we provoked a loud and clear message to the police standing outside watching us, or sitting at their desks inside the station: People have had enough. The horrific video of Floyd’s death has galvanized a worldwide protest movement against police brutality and white supremacy. President Trump’s warning on Monday that he would send the troops to clear the streets was the straw that broke the back for those of us still paralyzed by pandemic fear. He pushed folks like me off the fence/couch and out to the streets to show these protests aren’t about violent extremism: They’re about making long overdue change in our country.

San Pedro steps up

San Pedro steps up. Photo by Sue Maralit

The demonstration was peaceful. Police officers waved hello as my friends and I walked up to join the line of protesters and I flashed them a peace sign. There were people I knew there — all local San Pedrans — and mostly, people I didn’t. We were a notably diverse lot, trending young and female, but my friends and I are all in our 50s. Next to me was Paul, a retired longshoreman; Erin, mother of children in San Pedro High and Dana Middle schools; and Catherine, a young woman with long purple braids. We were black, brown, and white; first-nation, European, African, and Mexican — a “broad coalition,” as President Obama says. The only infiltrators I saw were not from the far right or left but a few Jesus freaks offering the typical crazy — but admittedly timely — apocalyptic rhetoric. There were the usual socialist worker party folks hawking their wares (ironically). After all, Pedro is a union town, land of Harry Bridges and Joe Hill. Artists and activists handed out signs from the punk Pedro printers Calimucho: “Together we are stronger” over two fists clenched together, designed by Ruth Mora.

San Pedro BLM protester

Solidarity in a union town

It felt surreal and thrilling to be out with people again, after months of sheltering in place. Almost everyone wore masks, though social distancing was imperfectly practiced. We came in peace and we left in peace, as curfew neared — and the feet and knees of us olds started to ache. The officers waved goodbye and we waved back.

Graphic from Calimucho Screen Printing

Graphic by Ruth Mora, from Calimucho Screen Printing

The only scary moment of the whole afternoon was on the drive back down Pacific Avenue, past the Sixth Street business district. Stores were boarding up their buildings and a group of scary musclemen in San Pedro Fight Club T-shirts looked menacing and out for trouble. The idea that any of the peaceful protestors at the cop shop or down the street at the city hall building were going to bust some glass and steal, I don’t know, T-shirts was laughable. Remember, violence in this country historically and right now comes from the vested interests and the police who protect them. If nothing else, the protest forced locals to spray paint “BLM” on their makeshift window guards; even if they were just trying to keep vandals away, the message was there this morning, on building after building: “Black Lives Matter.”

Black Arts Matter

Marquee at Warner Grand Theater, downtown San Pedro

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