As with demonstrations around the nation, recent Burbank protests have been driven by a serious purpose: demands for racial justice and police reform. But as a Tuesday march through the city highlighted, there can also be an expression of solidarity through music and movement.
“Things like music connect us every day,” said Benjamin Abiola, an organizer the protest. “Everyone feels that soul in their body, and it just shows people that there’s nothing different between us besides our skin color. And if we can both dance and sing to music, then why can’t we stand in solidarity against people who want to oppress us?”
But even as protesters danced the “Cupid Shuffle” in 95-degree heat, the signs they carried bore grim references to the issue that led to their presence in the street: the recent killings of black people.
Abiola told protesters that their march, which took them to Burbank Town Center and back, was in memory of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, whose violent deaths this year have ignited national demonstrations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Abiola encouraged demonstrators to sign an online petition demanding that the Louisville officers who shot Taylor in her apartment face charges.
He also, like many protesters, called for cities to decrease the funding of police departments to invest in minority communities. A lawyer who was present at the protest recorded demonstrators’ complaints regarding various police departments.
But while Abiola, pushed for national efforts at change, he also encouraged protesters to act locally. At the protest, which kicked off in front of a closed Men’s Wearhouse at the Empire Center, Abiola urged those present to seek change by voting in their local elections and making their voices heard at City Council meetings — one of which was being held at the time of the event.
“I myself personally have been in Burbank, and I’ve seen the looks that sometimes we get, being in his community, because there’s not [much] minority representation,” said Abiola, a North Hollywood resident. “So I think it’s important that this community hears what we have to say, and for the minorities that do live here, being able to amplify their voices for the rest of the world to hear.”
The protest attracted between 100 and 200 people, according to Burbank police Sgt. Derek Green. Officers managed traffic as marchers made their way through the city, with people peeking out of nearby businesses to watch and wave.
“One thing I really hope to see is that the momentum continues afterwards,” said Glendale resident Stacy Timothy. “I know sometimes people just do it in a moment, sometimes people do it for clout, and I really hope that … people actually support black businesses, people are actually marching, are actually speaking out on these things.”
COUNCIL MEMBERS ADDRESS PROTESTS
Meanwhile, at the council meeting, residents — including one who was at the protest — expressed disappointment about what they saw as the representatives’ slow response to the causes cited in the demonstrations.
“As our community calls, emails and contacts our city officials to demand change, it is clear that most of our Burbank government representatives feel no need to respond,” Linda Bessin said in a phone call to council members during the virtual meeting. “If there is a response, it is only to defend the status quo.”
Counciwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy addressed the residents who called in, thanking them for expressing their concerns and acknowledging that the council had received criticism that it had not responded quickly enough.
While she noted that focusing on Burbank is important, however, she added, “I think that we should, [and] I’ll speak for myself, consider the larger issue — not paint our city with the brush of the national issue, but move together in a positive way locally and have the conversation that needs to be held.”
The council was also addressed at the protest by Konstantine Anthony, co-founder of the nonprofit Burbank Tenants’ Rights Committee. Anthony, who is also running for council, was invited to speak by Abiola, and told protesters that the council had temporarily moved its Tuesday meeting to the early afternoon from the usual evening time. As a result, those at the protest who had planned to speak that night would likely have difficulty voicing their concerns.
City Clerk Zizette Mullins explained in an email that the shift was scheduled the previous week to avoid conflicting with a potential curfew order, like the one that caused the June 2 meeting to be canceled.
Mayor Sharon Springer said that the city would work to promote equality, agreeing with callers that “black lives matter” during the Tuesday meeting.
“I have never been subjected to racism, but I have witnessed it,” she continued later in the meeting. “To our Burbank black community, we hear you. Burbank is diverse and strong, and we strive for a safe and secure place. … And we as a City Council are going to work together with our community, with our black community, to treat each other equally with empathy, love, compassion and respect as we work hand in hand to build a better Burbank.”