Voices resonated through a tunnel below a nearby freeway, protesters were nourished with water and vegan burritos, and some even took turns shooting basketballs at a hoop mounted on the front of a moving school bus, right in the middle of a protest action.
As the sun set on a day of protesting against police brutality and legal injustice in downtown Los Angeles Saturday, the thousands of protesters snaking through city streets seemed far from running out of steam.
The gathering — part of the leaderless movement sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man, during an altercation with white police officers in Minneapolis — was just one of more than a dozen Saturday protests around Los Angeles. It featured people congregating in the City Hall area at multiple points.
”Feels like America,” said 47-year-old Tony Tornay of Los Angeles, as he marched southwest down Flower Street, adding he saw it as a large group of “people trying to take the power back.”
Raised as a “middle class white kid in suburbia,” Tornay said he can only imagine the sorts of police abuses minority communities have had to deal with.
“It was bad enough where I grew up,” he said, adding he was happy to add his feet to the percussive movement. “To be honest with you, I’m just here. What else are you gonna do?”
Tanya L., a 36-year-old from Port Hueneme, characterized the event as a “nice peaceful protest.”
She declined to give her last name, saying she doesn’t want her information “out there.”
“We’re tired of police taking advantage of us,” she said, adding she’s happy to hear the Los Angeles Police Department is now facing a lawsuit for its handling of the protests, but remains skeptical. “It doesn’t mean anything until there’s a conviction.”
Tadios Belay, 33, said he was frustrated that L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey hasn’t been more aggressive in prosecuting bad police behavior.
“We are here to demand justice,” he said. “Defund the police…invest in our communities, in our schools, in our health care, in our community service agencies.”
As an Ethiopian living in downtown L.A., he says he understands concerns about police injustice from both the black and immigrant communities.
“We are immigrants from Africa, right?” he said. “We are a victim of the police violence in the U.S.”
Marching alongside was his cousin, Hiwot Zegeye. The 22-year-old said she became more interested in activism after learning about the death of another Ethiopian at the hands of the LAPD in recent years.
“Losing someone from our community, it hurts different,” she said. “I could be next.”
Walking beneath some of the biggest skyscrapers in North America amid chanting, sage burning and placard waiving, Zegeye said she was invigorated.
“I feel powerful,” she said, “like we matter.”
Army National Guardsman Nate Reed, from Santa Ana, is a specialist with the 1st Battalion, 160th Infantry Regiment. That was one of the first units that responded to the Watts riots in 1965. It also patrolled Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King verdict in 1992, during widespread chaos and unrest.
Reed previously deployed during 2019 fires in the Sacramento area, but this is the first protest Reed has witnessed in uniform.
“About a week ago we got the call,” he said, from his post near the Staples Center. “I don’t have TV and I don’t have internet at my house. So I was like, ‘Oh damn! Another fire?”’
He seemed impressed by the vibrant urban occupiers, who had temporarily formed a circle nearby, before continuing up Figueroa Street.
“I think it pretty much speaks for itself,” he said, referencing the diverse tableau of unity along the route. “The numbers are amazing actually.”
But Reed remained uncertain about what the future holds for the protest movement.
“I could see positives,” he said, but added it was important to be ready in case things turn sour again — like during the previous weekend’s vandalism and looting.
A scuffle between protesters and police seemed to near a boiling point further northeast along Figueroa, with an LAPD officer shouting, ”Get back! I said back up!” at 8 p.m., before things simmered down.
Tensions would continue to rise into the darkness, but overall, a festive atmosphere held sway.
Valerie Alvarez, 21, from Hemet, California, and Camm Campos, 30, from Santa Ana, faced off with LAPD near City Hall just before 10 p.m.
“We were getting blocked in over there,” Alvarez said, claiming an officer struck her and Campos. “He came ambushing us.”
After watching video of the incident, Officer J. Chaves of the LAPD’s Media Relations Division said it appeared police had blocked off a road as an officer staging area and were attempting to prevent protesters from entering the street.
He declined to comment on the shoving between protesters and police.
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