Tuesday morning in downtown Los Angeles began with quiet reverence.
Against a backdrop of city sounds came the splash of water hitting a truck’s flatbed in front of the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters. Then came the names of men and women in Los Angeles killed by law enforcement or while in police custody: John Horton, Matthew Blaylock, Wakiesha Wilson.
“We have 700 names, and we’re still counting,” said Black Lives Matter Los Angeles leader Paula Minor, dubbed “Mama Paula,” as she steadily poured water from a bottle onto leafy branches tied together with string. A little water trickled out as each name was said aloud, until the bottle was empty.
A crowd of a few hundred people gathered around a makeshift stage to honor the dead and commemorate the life of George Floyd, who was murdered a year ago Tuesday when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned the Black man to the ground for nearly nine and a half minutes.
“We pour libations in the hope of having some spiritual umbrella over our work,” Minor said. “It’s honoring those people whose lives have been stolen.”
Catherine Walker, mother of 30-year-old Grechario Mack, who was killed by Los Angeles police in 2018 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall, gave an impassioned speech about the pain she felt losing her son.
“It shouldn’t have took George Floyd ... for y’all to stop doing what you’re doing,” said Wilson, wearing a red shirt and pink face mask featuring the face of her son. “You’ve been doing it to our people for hundreds of years. But guess what, it’s time to stop because we woke up, and we going to stay woke!”
Cheers from the crowd greeted her words. Flags and posters featuring the faces of activists such as Angela Davis and historical figures like Harriet Tubman speckled the gathering. Handmade posters advocated “Fund services not police” and “Amplify black voices.” Another read: “Black lives matter everywhere.”
Anthony Pittman, 28, took a bus from Compton to attend the rally, which he said was the least he could do to support the cause.
“This is a part of who I am. It affects me on a daily basis. I have no other choice,” Pittman said. “I was born and raised in Compton and almost all of my interactions with the Compton sheriff have been negative. So I’m trying to see where this is going and how I can support or at least be a part of it.”
Sitting in a shady spot on the sidewalk, 34-year-old Carolyn Lee said she’s not usually the most vocal at rallies, but she felt the need to be present.
“I think it’s important to still show up,” Lee said. “I can feel overwhelmed personally, but coming here reminds me that there is a community being built and people that are moving the conversation forward and driving change.”
The environment of the rally showcased how much has changed in the city since the previous year’s protests. Los Angeles is largely reopened now, a stark contrast to the pandemic lockdowns that engulfed the county in late May 2020. Chauvin has since been convicted of murder. And the chant “Black lives matter” has become a household phrase, printed on store windows and merchandise.
Long Beach mother Adika Dayo Jackson, 37, stood by a stroller with her two toddlers, aged 2 and 3. She said she felt it was necessary to bring her children to the gathering to remember George Floyd and protest.
“My kids have to understand that the fight didn’t start with us,” Jackson said. “They may not remember the day, but they’ll know that we were here and here for a reason — to fight for Black lives.”
Despite the wave of activism and awareness that followed Floyd’s death last summer, speakers on Tuesday emphasized the need for continued movement.
“About a year ago today, people all over the world saw what we’ve been talking about for years ... changes were promised,” Minor said. “But here in Los Angeles city and county, the change did not occur.”
With Melina Abdullah and Patrisse Cullors playing key roles, Black Lives Matter has transformed from a small but passionate movement into a cultural and political phenomenon.
L.A. County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Hilda Solis said in a statement that Floyd’s death gave Los Angeles leaders “newfound momentum,” and she is committed to rooting out systemic racism through new policies.
“Every resident regardless of their zip code, ethnicity, race, background, etc. deserves to live in a safe and healthy community,” she said in the statement. “Our communities also deserve to hold law enforcement who engage in misconduct and harm accountable as no one is above the law, including those in law enforcement. The work is ongoing and with our community, we will continue to forge ahead.”
At points, the memorial transformed into a rallying cry to defund the police, a phrase echoing last summer’s protests calling for more investment in community services and organizations. After last year’s explosive activism, the Los Angeles City Council voted to cut the LAPD budget, shrinking the police force to fewer than 10,000 officers for the first time in more than a decade.
Los Angeles is now facing a new budget, in which Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed increasing funding for LAPD by 3%. Amid occasional calls of “F— Garcetti” by attendees, Pastor Eddie Anderson of Clergy for Black Lives called on those gathered to continue protesting and pressuring city officials to defund the police and invest in the community.
“We want police accountability, in the name of George Floyd,” Anderson said.
Lisa Hines, Wilson’s mother, concurred: “The Los Angeles Police Department ain’t nothing but hit men and women with targets on our people’s backs.”
After the rally in front of police headquarters, the group marched to the county building, chanting, “Black lives, we matter.”
Similar commemorations of Floyd’s death took place across the country. Floyd’s family spent a busy morning meeting with national leaders, including President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). In Minneapolis, organizers held a community festival and candlelight vigil Tuesday, following a march on Sunday at the courthouse where Chauvin was convicted.
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