Hundreds of residents took to Burbank’s streets this week, joining a nationwide wave of protests demanding justice and decrying police brutality after an unarmed, handcuffed black man died while in officers’ custody in Minneapolis.
Many of the protesters who gathered in Burbank said they wanted to raise awareness of racism and police brutality against black men and women, issues that have been thrust into public view since George Floyd died May 25 after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes during which Floyd was handcuffed and pleaded that he could not breathe. Three other officers looked on while Floyd died.
The officer who is the principal suspect was charged with second-degree murder this week and the three others were accused of aiding and abetting Floyd’s death, but protesters demanding police reform and accountability have continued to flock to Los Angeles and other major cities. Some Burbank residents have been determined not to let their community miss the conversation.
“I think it’s easy for us to look at the stuff that’s going on in downtown [L.A.] and say, ‘Oh, Burbank is not a part of L.A., and we’re safe here,’” said Emma Ayau, who works in the city and organized a protest in front of its Police Department building on Tuesday. “But inequality and racism are nationwide issues — it’s a world issue — and here in Burbank, we’re no exception to that.”
A large protest on Thursday was co-organized by Reed Shannon, a Burbank resident.
“It’s a little bittersweet, because it’s like we shouldn’t have to protest for our lives to matter,” said Shannon, 19. “But it’s necessary, and so we must be the change that we want to see. It’s bittersweet, but it’s beautiful.”
Resident Natalie Kinlow, 18, who organized the Thursday protest with Shannon, Kinlow told a gathering at McCambridge Park that she and Shannon had been upset seeing protests being canceled due to fears of opposition.
“If you live in fear, you can’t accomplish anything, so we decided to come together and stop waiting for somebody else to stand for us,” she said. “We are going to stand for ourselves, but we thank each and every one of you who came out to stand in solidarity with us.” Shannon and Kinlow said they thought more than 1,400 people participated in the event, which included a march, though police estimates placed participation at 500-1,000 people, and spanned three city blocks at one point, according to Burbank police Sgt. Derek Green.
After holding a period of silence for 8 minutes, 45 seconds — the amount of time an officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck — Kinlow and Shannon led protesters to City Hall at about 1 p.m. Most demonstrators wore face coverings, though few, if any, were practicing social distancing.
As they marched, city police monitored the cross streets, ensuring the protesters’ path was free of traffic. Many passing drivers honked or waved to cheer on the demonstrators, some waving signs of their own.
Once at City Hall, protesters knelt in honor of Floyd. A chant referencing black people killed by police went up: “Say their name; which one?”
The group then moved on to the Burbank Police Department, shouting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” There, Shannon and Kinlow knelt on the steps at the building’s front doors, arms raised. Protesters behind them in the street were doing the same, now chanting, “No justice, no peace!”
Doral Miller, a North Hollywood resident who was marching with the group, addressed the other protesters feet away from a statue honoring law enforcement and firefighters. Miller said that the first time he was stopped by a police officer, he was 8 years old and sitting in his mother’s car. The officer said he fit the description of someone police were looking for.
“So, sorry if I have no more tears,” he said. “Sorry if I’m numb to this — because it’s been happening my whole life.”
Miller encouraged those present to turn the energy from the protest into further action, urging them to promote investment in black businesses and to make well-informed decisions at the polls.
“There’s so many resources here in Burbank,” he told The Leader. “Bring those resources to the black neighborhoods if we really want change for black lives. … If black lives matter, research what black lives need in this country, and then go help them.”
BURBANK PROTESTS END PEACEFULLY
The protesters marched on North Third Street back toward McCambridge Park, with residents peeking from their doorways to watch the procession, which roared with chants. Many marchers waved or held up signs in support of the group’s message.
“[The protest has] been really inspiring,” said Reiya Downs, a black Burbank resident and protester, as she walked up the steps to the park. “It didn’t really hit me until now, the impact and how important it was.”
After returning from the roughly two-hour march, Kinlow and Shannon thanked protesters for their presence, saying the event couldn’t have happened without their support.
“We came into this with no expectations,” Kinlow said before the march. It really is the people, the people who come here together and band together to fight. … Even if they don’t look like us, they want to listen to us, they want to help in any way that they can.”
She also thanked protesters for remaining peaceful — something they had emphasized at the rally before the march. Kinlow had told demonstrators that she didn’t want violence or looting to detract from the work being done.
Burbank police had previously announced that officers made 14 arrests overnight from Monday to Tuesday, the majority on suspicion of looting. However, Green, a public information officer, explained that while some people were arrested with items believed to be taken from stores in the L.A. area, there haven’t been any incidents where local groups have ransacked shops under the cover of a protest.
Several Burbank businesses have boarded up their doors and windows as a protective measure, though many have not. Green said police had not made any recommendation to do so, and the path of Thursday’s protest steered mostly away from commercial areas.
He also encouraged organizers of future protests to connect with the Police Department, as Shannon and Kinlow did, so officers can address traffic and other concerns.
“I think we can all agree that there’s always room for improvement and things we can do better in law enforcement,” said Green, adding that the Burbank Police Department planned on issuing a statement regarding the recent events later on Friday (after The Leader’s press time). “What happened back east, those types of incidents ultimately shape the future of law enforcement because [they] lead to change and training.”
Protests have continued in other cities. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday announced several initiatives aimed at improving the Los Angeles Police Department, saying that $250 million would be invested in community programs — some of it taken from LAPD’s budget, a demand by many protesters. He also said all officers would undergo de-escalation and crowd control training to better engage with protests.
SMALLER DEMONSTRATIONS ARISE DURING THE WEEK
Smaller protests took place in Burbank earlier in the week. A brief protest was held Sunday morning on a bridge over the 5 Freeway, and a larger one took place downtown on Monday.
On Tuesday, protests were held at the same sites visited by Thursday’s protest: City Hall and the Police Department building.
The message was largely similar, with protesters demanding police reform. Ayau, who organized the event at the Police Department and is a Glendale resident who formerly lived in Burbank, said she wasn’t satisfied by making social media posts and donating to human rights groups. She explained that her goal of protesting was to bring awareness of police brutality and to pressure local governments to cut funding to police departments.
“That money could be better used, given to our local communities, to homelessness, to fixing all of these problems,” Ayau said. “Arming more police officers with better guns, better weapons. … it isn’t doing anything and it’s just putting our communities more at risk.”
A block away, another group demonstrated in front of City Hall. Like the group nearby, most of the protesters there were wearing face masks, with many holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter.”
“We need to vote, we need to be active in the fundraisers and communities, we need to be active in these peoples’ lives who need our help,” said protest organizer Lillian Powers, a Burbank resident. “Especially since Burbank is such a white-centered area, with all the privilege that we have, all the networks … we really have the opportunity to be able to keep the message out there and alive until something’s done about it — and that needs to happen.”