Dozens of protesters gathered in La Cañada Flintridge on Sunday to advocate for police reform, in a demonstration that echoed others held across the nation since the recent death of George Floyd while he was in officers’ custody.
The protesters, clad in face masks, started the morning at Memorial Park before making their way to the busy intersection on Angeles Crest Highway and Foothill Boulevard. Once there, they displayed to passing drivers signs bearing messages such as “Black Lives Matter” or urging donations to funds for those who have been injured or arrested in the protests to condemn the death of Floyd, who perished in Minneapolis on May 25 after a police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes despite his pleas that he could not breathe.
One organizer, a La Cañada High School graduate who asked that she be identified only by the nickname Kaz, said she and her friends initiated the group in LCF after attending the protests in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday. They had been protesting peacefully there, she said, but had to run when police started firing what the friends thought were “beanbag rounds,” or nonlethal shotgun rounds, at demonstrators.
Kaz and another of the organizers, who also asked to be identified only by her first name, Shannon, said others in their group protesting downtown had been arrested, and they did not want to use their full names in the newspaper out of concern they might become targeted by police in connection to those arrests.
After their L.A. experience, the two women decided to focus their protest in LCF to bring attention to the cause in a community that, Kaz said, does not often hear pro-black messages.
The group started with about 17 people, she said, but over the course of a four-hour period it grew to roughly 60 protesters.
Shannon, meanwhile, said that black lives — like that of Floyd — are not valued by the government and police. One officer has been charged with second-degree murder, and three other officers who were present also have been charged, but outrage over the manner of Floyd’s death as well as other recent police killings of black people across the nation has continued to fuel protests.
Organizers of the LCF protest said they are calling for comprehensive police reform — specifically for officers who unjustly kill black people to be held accountable.
The protest was peaceful, Shannon emphasized, though she added that law enforcement kept an eye on the group. The Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station confirmed that deputies were present but did not make contact with protesters.
LCF Mayor Michael Davitt confirmed that the local protest was calm.
“We never got any reports of problems. The protesters were respectful; they voiced their opinions in a mindful, careful and lawful way. We were very appreciative of that,” Davitt said.
LCF has few black residents, with less than 1% of its 2019 population registering as black, according to data from the United States Census Bureau. But protesters said that the status and resources available to many of the city’s white residents put them in a key position to call for reform. Kaz, who is black, believes that those with influence should start conversations on race and inequality while educating themselves on the topics.
She and Shannon added that wealthy LCF residents should support black communities and rights advocates by donating money, saying that one of activists’ greatest challenges is white moderates who are reluctant to get involved.
One of the protesters, LCF resident Mark McIntyre, agreed, saying that for police reform to take root the white majority needs to demand it, adding that he plans to contact Congressman Adam Schiff to recommend that a meeting between law enforcement and residents be organized.
He said he also believes that racism is closer to home than one might realize, referencing an incident in 2018 in which a Latino customer of a Starbucks found that a racial slur had been written on his drinks. At the same time, McIntyre added, LCF is known for the record-breaking price tags for its houses.
“Honestly, to me, that defines this community,” he said. “We have tremendous affluence and, unfortunately, racism resides here.”
Sister Mary Therese Perez, a former Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy teacher who attended the protest, said it is important for the community to know that racism can’t be seen as an issue that is isolated to other locations. She encouraged other residents to look for prejudices within themselves, and to use their connections with other cities to raise awareness of issues.
“The call to love our neighbor as [ourselves] that Jesus gives us is such a powerful call to look at,” she said. “How do we manifest love to others beyond our family? You can look at how much we love our family members, then [I ask], ‘Do I love other people in that same way?’ and really being honest about that, and really noticing inside of myself when I see a place that doesn’t love.”
Protest organizers plan to return on Sunday, Kaz said, adding that its “La Cañada BLM” Facebook group has attracted dozens of new members since the first demonstration. She added that she’s heartened by the support protesters largely received from local residents — one black woman who drove by was in tears as she thanked them for being there.
But, she added, it remains painful to see that, unless there’s a video showing the act, the killing of a black person still means little to many.