Meet the punk band that provided the soundtrack for DTLA protesters from a moving pickup truck
Around 4 p.m. on Friday, 19-year-old Mario Rosas was stuck at work when the protests around George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police began to roil downtown L.A. His bandmates in Pico Rivera hardcore band Vandalize wanted to join in: Cops often busted up the backyard shows that sustain their local Latin punk scene, sometimes pretty menacingly.
Rosas knew they couldn’t sit this one out, especially as the stakes seemed so high for black lives in SoCal and everywhere in America. So they decided to make the biggest noise they could at the heart of the uprising: “Fury Road”-style from the back of a pickup truck, as they played to the burning DTLA streets.
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“We agree with why people are mad. It’s gone on for so long, so many lives are out there that don’t get the justice they need,” Rosas said. “We wanted to have a voice, to show people not to be scared.”
Guitarist Rosas, 21-year-old drummer Jeorge (who didn’t give a last name), vocalist Josh Alexander (who ended up driving instead) and a friend operating a camera all gathered at the edge of downtown in a friend’s truck around 8 p.m. Friday, “just as it was getting out of hand, there were cops everywhere,” Rosas said. “We had to make a decision.”
They decided to go for it, and fired up a gas generator in the back of the truck, next to their drum set and guitar amps. Their friend wheeled them into the Historic Core, and they started thrashing out riffs — some from short, furious songs like “Unanswered” and “Crecer” but many just improvised — to the first waves of protesters they drove past. With so much righteous anger seething through the streets, Vandalize brought a little hopeful levity to a tense scene.
“I didn’t know if people were going to accept it but they seemed pretty happy we were there. One guy was screaming, ‘Go for it, you’ve got the right,’ and then a group of girls in a car with a Black Lives Matter sign asked if they could follow us. When we looked up next, we had 40 cars behind us full of white, brown and black people going crazy. That was pretty powerful,” Rosas said.
They kept it up for around three hours, even getting a circle pit on the streets at a point when the traffic ground to a halt. But as police moved in and began to escalate the violence, shooting riot-control weaponry at crowds and kettling protesters on DTLA streets, the band saw the tension rising.
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“People started running back, saying that cops were shooting. We got to the front and they had their guns pointed at us, and it got a little like, ‘Oh no, what do we do, should we head back?’ But then we said, ‘Nah, forget that, keep playing.’ It was giving people a sense of confidence for us to stay there,” Rosas said.
Eventually, though, they didn’t feel safe, and the band decided it was time to peel out around 11 p.m. Police barricades blocked many of the exits they tried, and they were afraid they’d be roped in and arrested with the rest of the protesters. But they eventually found a way out and headed home for the night.
Rosas said they hoped they could get back out there again, but as the National Guard moved into L.A. over the last few days, they didn’t expect to do it soon. Still, as underground punk shows go, their DTLA tour was one for the record books, and in service of a cause that’s never felt more urgent in their lifetimes.
“People shouldn’t be afraid to be heard,” Rosas said.
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