Black woman describes terrifying attack by Trump mob in L.A.: ‘I’m thinking I’m dead’
They were hurling racial slurs at her and pouring pepper spray, hot like habaneros, into her eyes and ear. Someone or something — perhaps the butt of a metal flagpole carrying a “Don’t tread on me” banner — pummeled her shoulder, leaving a circle-shaped bruise. Another person snatched her wig off.
As supporters of President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in a violent mob in Washington on Wednesday, a crowd of at least 20 pro-Trump demonstrators, many clad in “Make America Great Again” hats, surrounded 25-year-old Berlinda Nibo on a busy downtown Los Angeles street, she said, feet away from a gaggle of police officers.
“It seemed like these people were trying to kill me,” said Nibo, 25. “To use me to make some kind of statement or something.”
Nibo said she unwittingly found herself in the midst of Wednesday’s pro-Trump demonstration in downtown Los Angeles, where she was accosted and assaulted. Parts of the melee were captured in photos and video that were posted to social media, and the Los Angeles Police Department is looking into the battery as a hate crime.
The demonstration near Los Angeles City Hall began as “celebratory,” said independent photojournalist Kate McTiernan, who was covering the event, but it quickly turned aggressive. Several altercations broke out between Trump supporters and counter-protesters, including some that left attendees bloodied. Six people would be arrested, according to the LAPD — three on suspicion of carrying unpermitted items at a public demonstration, two on suspicion of failing to disperse and one on suspicion of resisting or obstructing an officer.
Nibo said she left her downtown L.A. apartment with a friend Wednesday morning for a late breakfast at nearby Eggslut when they stumbled on the pro-Trump rally in front of City Hall. She stopped, she said, because she was curious: “Why is there a Trump rally? The election is over.”
Noticing that she was the only Black person around, Nibo and her friend decided to leave. They crossed the street and were starting to walk past the crowd, which police estimated at about 200 people, when they realized her friend’s phone was missing. Nibo’s friend hopped on a skateboard and began rolling through the crowd, searching for the lost phone. Nibo was close behind, calling the device from her own cellphone.
About 200 gathered near LAPD headquarters, waving U.S. flags and chanting. An unlawful assembly was declared in Beverly Hills.
People began to break away from the crowd and follow her. Then the taunts began, she said.
“Do you know who Joe Biden is?”
At first, she tried to “play stupid,” she said. No, she didn’t know Biden — who’s that?
“Did you vote for Donald Trump?” another asked, according to Raquel Natalicchio, an L.A. photojournalist who said she started protectively trailing Nibo when she saw the woman walking alone past the protesters.
The jeers continued as more people joined the crowd that was stalking her, so Nibo responded: “I literally said, ‘Let’s move on,’ and then I moved on and moved away.”
The racial slurs started coming, she recalled, then chants of “White lives matter.” Nibo said she flipped off the group and kept walking.
“I’m just thinking, like, wow, I am literally being targeted right now because I am the only Black girl here walking around, and to them I am easy prey because I’m a girl,” Nibo said.
The intensity of the protest surprised Nibo, who had participated during the summer in a Black Lives Matter protest in Hollywood, which she emphasized was powerful in its peacefulness. Despite the sweltering heat, most of the marchers at that demonstration wore face coverings, she said — a stark contrast with the group that closed in on her Wednesday.
She told them to put on masks. Four of her friends are infected with the coronavirus and have fought for their lives, Nibo said. Her mother works as a nurse caring for COVID-19 patients. Nibo, who is unemployed after having worked as a Manhattan Beach restaurant manager, said she takes the virus seriously.
“I was like, why are you guys coming so close to me? There’s social distancing going on. Please, you need to give me my space,” she recalled. “They did not care. They got closer.”
Trump supporters clash with counterprotesters and police in L.A. County as deadly violence erupts in Washington
Someone shoved her from behind. Another man knocked her phone out of her hand, scratching her face in the process.
Then a woman reached up and grabbed her long, wavy mahogany wig — a brand-new hairpiece Nibo wore for the first time Wednesday in celebration of the new year — and tore it off.
Nibo said she punched the woman in the face.
A video posted later showed the woman in the photo, holding a Trump flag in one hand and Nibo’s wig in another: “I did that,” she boasted. “I did the first scalping of the new civil war.” The crowd around her roared in cheers.
The jabs to Nibo came rapidly. A hit to her shoulder. Pepper spray streamed into her face.
“You know the scenes in cartoons when the villagers were coming at you with pitchforks and fire and all that? Literally, I thought that was it,” she said. “I’m going to be on the front page: A young African American girl has been beaten to death on the streets of downtown L.A.”
Soon, a burly man came from behind and held Nibo, strapping her arms to her sides so she couldn’t move. In photographs taken by Natalicchio, a person sprays Nibo in the face while the man holds her.
“I’m thinking I’m dead right here, these people are trying to kill me,” she said. “For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. These people don’t know me. I don’t know you people. Why are you so angry?”
In the viral storm that ensued after Natalicchio posted her photos, social media users lambasted the man, who is shown in other videos as part of the protest, for subduing Nibo while she was attacked.
But Nibo said in an interview Thursday that the man, Roy Ball, started whispering in her ear, “It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK. Calm down,” and “I’m not going to hurt you.”
A news release issued Thursday by the LAPD said Ball “appears to have been a good Samaritan, shielding and helping the woman.”
In a tweet, Toyota USA confirmed that Ball was a former employee who was “no longer employed by any Toyota dealership.” It was unclear whether he had been terminated since Wednesday’s events.
“The actions in these photos are inconsistent with Toyota’s guiding principle of Respect for People. We do not condone this conduct,” the company tweeted.
Nibo’s friend, realizing that she had been lost in the crowd, ran back to her aid and was soon joined by a couple of bystanders. They broke through the crowd and pulled Nibo out of the melee.
“All I could think the whole time was this man who’s in front of me, attacking me, is old enough to be my father,” she said. “How do you feel knowing that you’re out here attacking somebody else’s kid?”
Video on social media shows Nibo and her rescuers crossing the street toward a line of police officers, followed by several straggling protesters. Natalicchio said a passerby, who happened to be a medic, soon began giving Nibo a solution to wash her eyes of pepper spray while the two bystanders entered a heated conversation with the commanding officer at the scene.
According to Nibo and two witnesses, at least one officer told Nibo that she could file paperwork to make a citizen’s arrest.
Video on social media shows her urging an officer to find her attackers before they left. Officers wouldn’t even look at the video Nibo had taken on her phone for at least 20 minutes, said McTiernan, who was also covering the protest.
“It felt like they were avoiding trying to do anything,” McTiernan said.
Josh Rubenstein, an LAPD spokesman, said Friday that police had launched “a personnel investigation associated with her complaints.” The department also completed a hate crime and battery report for Nibo and is investigating her case, according to a statement.
“While glad the facts concerning the Good Samaritan have come to light, the alleged acts of the actual suspects are abhorrent,” tweeted Capt. Brent McGuyre, a Central Division commander.
Another altercation soon broke out Wednesday, turning the crowd’s attention away from Nibo. Her friend grabbed her, saying, “We’ve got to go.”
The two fled down the street.
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