The occasion was one part solemnity and another part rage, but the energy that resonated from the throngs of protesters who marched on Sunday and paid respect to lives lost seemed, in some ways, hopeful.
The event certainly represented a significant moment in Glendale’s history, one which has been checkered by the likes of the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party and a past reputation as a “sundown town,” when black men and women could work in Glendale by day but were expected to leave by dusk, and often risked their safety if they remained after. An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people marched through the Jewel City’s downtown in support of Black Lives Matter and joined a candlelight vigil on City Hall’s campus organized by the group Black in Glendale.
Among the marchers and observing the demonstrations were the full City Council and school board, City Manager Yasmin Beers, Police Chief Carl Povilaitis, City Attorney Michael Garcia, Assemblywoman and former Councilwoman Laura Friedman, and Congressman Adam Schiff, a Burbank Democrat who represents Glendale.
“This is the long game,” proclaimed the Rev. Sherri James, a Glendale resident who runs an Inglewood church, at the vigil’s end, “so what I want you to do is treat this like a kickoff party. This is not a memorial service. This is the biggest kickoff party in the history of the world.”
Since May 25 — when four Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd on a forgery claim and were later accused in his death after an officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd died — countless people have taken to the streets nationwide under the mantle of Black Lives Matter. The death of Floyd, a black man, has seemingly crystallized decades of frustration and anger over structural racial disparities through America. State and local governments throughout the nation are already debating and enacting reforms demanded by massive protests that have materialized in every state.
Similar demands — usually through the phrase “defund the police” — echoed here, too, along with a call to keep this signature moment going.
“It’s an amazing day,” declared Tanita Fadyeyola Harris-Ligons, a co-founder of Black in Glendale, via megaphone. “We are overwhelmed by the number of people standing in solidarity. But we want you to stand tomorrow. We want you to stand next week,” she decreed, repeating the message all through “next century.”
The march kicked off after 3 p.m. Sunday, after protesters massed at Doran Mini-Park. The demonstration was organized by a group of friends mostly from Clark Magnet High School, who took inspiration from the “peaceful but not passive” protests in Pasadena and Montrose that contrasted with the violent rioting and looting seen following early protests in Los Angeles.
“Glendale has stayed too quiet for too long on racial injustice,” co-organizer Gabrielle Scott, 16, told the crowd. “We want to change an inherently corrupt system. Change starts with us and it starts with you.”
Though Floyd’s death set off the ongoing movement, Scott made a point to highlight the scores of other black men and women killed through police or other outside action that are tied to the broader conversation of racial injustice.
“This is for Breonna Taylor,” Scott continued. “This is for Ahmaud Arbery. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. This is for the hundreds of other voices I have not listed who are not in the world.”
Armenians were well represented Sunday. The Glendale chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America provided water and snacks to attendees. Fathers Ghevont Kirazian and Vache Hayrapetyan spoke at the vigil on behalf of the Armenian Apostolic Church. One of Harris-Ligons’ young sons delivered a message of solidarity, alternating between speaking English and Armenian.
Elen Asatryan, a community organizer and member of the Democratic County Central Committee for the 43rd District, discussed the history of the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, the resulting diaspora and the ongoing discrimination toward the community.
All of this “may be similar” to the experience of black Americans, she declared, “but we do not pretend to understand you. We promise to stand by you and try to understand you.”
Asatryan challenged attendees to consider how they would honestly reflect on what role they played in this historic moment and charged both of America’s main political parties with facilitating or accommodating racist policies throughout the years. She also took aim at those “opportunists” who deface and loot storefronts in the background of other protests.
“Your attempt to hijack this cause has failed,” Asatryan charged. “You have failed.”
Organizers for both the march and vigil on Sunday expressly disassociated with anyone who would branch off to target Glendale’s commercial centers. Indeed, both events went without a hitch and the Glendale Police Department reported no incidents associated with either of them.
Other speakers on Sunday included Tara Peterson, CEO of the Glendale YWCA; Ingrid Gunnell and Tasha Jenkins from Black in Glendale; and Shane Kinnison, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Glendale.
Kinnison used the metaphor of a tree’s roots reaching just as far below the surface as a tree’s canopy reaches into the sky to explain how racism and prejudice can be pervasive even when it isn’t in front of our eyes.
“We are here because of 401 years of systemic racism, which is the original sin of our country,” he said. “It is the original rebellion of our country against our creator and against all of his creatures. Every time we see a death like George Floyd, we see what is truly under the surface.”
In closing the ceremony, James, the Inglewood reverend who lives in Glendale, urged attendees to consider how to change behavior and attitude moving forward as a way to contribute to the necessary societal changes.
“What we are calling for is a change of consciousness,” she declared. “Consciousness in embodied through the habits of what we do every day. You become what you do every day.”