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‘I haven’t seen anything like this in my 32 years:’ Hundreds in Irvine protest for police reform

Irvine protest
Khalil Mcleod, one of several black speakers from the community who took to the megaphone at a protest outside Irvine City Hall on Wednesday.
(Photo by Ben Brazil)

As she stood in front of hundreds of protesters at the foot of the Irvine Civic Center on Wednesday evening, Cessa Heard-Johnson raised the bullhorn to her lips and urged the crowd to play a role in the national movement to reform the country’s justice system.

“Don’t look for somebody to do something, you do something,” she said.

One by one, black community members took turns sharing their stories, each revealing pain, trauma and injustice.

The hundreds of protesters cheered in unison, chanted together and some cried together.

Many of the protesters who attended the demonstration against the unjust death of George Floyd were in awe that a protest like this could happen in conservative Irvine. Less than 2% of the city’s population is black and the city’s sheltered nature is commonly referred to as the “Irvine Bubble.”

Moneka Broughton, who went to Irvine High School, said a protest like this would never have happened in Irvine when she was in school in the mid-2000s.

“I haven’t seen anything like this in my 32 years,” Broughton said of the national movement.

Hundreds attended a protest for the unjust death of George Floyd outside Irvine City Hall on Wednesday.
Hundreds attended a protest for the unjust death of George Floyd outside Irvine City Hall on Wednesday.
(Photo by Ben Brazil)

The protest was organized by Ava Hojreh, 19, Ida Nariman, 18, and Alizah Gomez, 18. The three women used an Instagram account, @ocforblacklives, to spread the word about the protest.

The women organized the demonstration in Irvine to breach the bubble and educate communities that don’t often have to reckon with injustice. They chose to have a sit-in with speakers to keep the event peaceful.

Irvine police confirmed that there were no arrests at the protest. Unlike other cities, Irvine did not set a curfew.

“We wanted to have a productive and educational event,” Hojreh said.

The police presence was fairly minimal compared to protests in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach and Santa Ana earlier this week. Police were blocking the Civic Center parking lot and weren’t near protesters.

Broughton said she heard constant racist comments while going to school in Irvine.

“We had to take it,” she said. “They thought it was funny.”

Floyd’s death and the countless police killings of black citizens is very personal for Broughton, whose cousin was killed by a police officer. She said the voice of the people is growing, and areas like Irvine that are usually shielded from social controversy are starting to play a role in a decades-long social movement to reform unjust law enforcement practices.

“It’s not easy to ignore it now,” she said. “When it’s across the street from your house, you start listening.”

The floor was opened up to any black person at the protest.

Ty Bailey said his first reaction when he watched the video of Floyd’s killing was, “Not again.”

Patrick George Frierson told the crowd to not jump on the movement temporarily.

“Be a part of the change,” he said.

This was one of several protests that has been held outside Irvine City Hall this week. Irvine Mayor Christina Shea has been commenting about the protests for several days on her Facebook page, at times criticizing protesters and also showing support for the city’s police department.

Shea posted a comment Thursday morning, which has since been deleted, to her Facebook page about the Wednesday protest. She included a response to those calling for a reduction in police spending.

“I will continue to support our law enforcement in Irvine with the top dollars we expend to keep us safe,” Shea said. “I won’t be diminishing their budget. If that isn’t your interest, perhaps living in another community that hosts different values, a less safe environment would best suit your lifestyle.

“We are a diverse community with over 150 languages and my goal is to continue the course ... keep us safe and show the tolerance, protection and love our residents deserve.”

A few days prior, Shea referred to Floyd’s death as “senseless,” but said, “I also want and need to say, I will not allow my City to become a location for an expression of anger and hate against my residents and my stellar police force, who I stand behind one hundred percent.”

Shea also said, “I have instructed my Chief to take whatever measures are appropriate to ensure a safe demonstration.”

The Irvine Police Department thanked the protesters on its Twitter account for “peacefully expressing” their views at the demonstration.

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