Laguna Beach natives come home to lead Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach
Up and down the sidewalk along Coast Highway, right up to the edge where the street and sidewalk meet, protesters stood shoulder to shoulder. Each carried signs that seemed to scream as loudly as they did, their chanting no more muffled by their masks and face coverings than the car horns that blared past.
“No justice!” One protester screamed.
Others shouted back, “No peace!”
Some had sunflowers in their hands. One protester burned sage.
Though Main Beach was reopened along with other city beaches in Laguna Beach for active recreation, the adjacent beachside parks have remained closed. Yet, on Friday, Main Beach Park was where a Black Lives Matter protest began and ended. People shouted names as cars passed through the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Coast Highway, many honking in solidarity.
Others driving past stuck their fists up in the air and some returned down Ocean Avenue, holding up signs out their windows or through their sunroofs.
Protesters cried out names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. They called for the conviction of the four officers involved in the death of Floyd, whose death while in Minneapolis police custody on May 25 has sparked protests across Orange County, the state and the country.
All four officers involved in the incident have since been fired, arrested and charged. Officer Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder. The other three officers — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
One protester held a sign that said Taylor’s birthday was June 5 but that officers have not been charged in her death on March 13.
Moved by the death of George Floyd, residents peacefully protested against police violence in Laguna Niguel and San Juan Capistrano on Wednesday afternoon.
At least 100 protesters appeared at Main Beach, where smaller protests have been held since Floyd’s death. Another is scheduled for Wednesday at Heisler Park.
The protest Friday brought out people from as far away as Los Angeles, including its 20-something-year-old organizers who said they grew up in Laguna Beach but had moved away for college. All of them had gone to Laguna Beach High School together. Two of them, Caspian Brock, 23, and Kayla Pressley, 23, organized a die-in at the high school’s quad when the Ferguson protests happened in 2014.
Brock said she, Pressley and two other organizers, Allie Ricci-Fisher, 22, and Ethan Schlatter, 23, were inspired to act by local protests and the actions being taken by Black Lives Matter activists around the world and the country.
It was important, Brock said, that Laguna Beach join their voices in the conversation as a predominantly affluent white community.
“We can’t hide from the fact that there is systemic racism that exists here and all around this nation, all around the world,” Brock said. “I think it’s important to have this conversation here and to know that this community is not immune from that conversation.”
“We wanted to make sure the voices of marginalized people are heard here [in Laguna Beach] and that we bring it to our hometown because we saw it happening in L.A. I think we all did,” Pressley said.
Ricci-Fisher and Brock said word of the demonstration had spread predominantly by word-of-mouth and that organizers had avoided posting about it on social media to ward off unwanted attention and to keep protesters safe. Ricci-Fisher said that because the community was “tight-knit,” word traveled quickly from one person to the next.
“I’m very pleased with our community coming together and coming down here and [it’s] definitely more than we anticipated, but I’m very happy that it looks like this,” Ricci-Fisher said.
Perry Skenderian, 18, said she grew up in Laguna Beach but felt it was a sheltered place and that people didn’t “realize just how screwed up the world is outside of our bubble.”
Skenderian said she felt it was important for her to participate in the protest to do her part in educating herself and others and make more of a difference than she would staying home and not saying anything. She said she thought the turnout at the protest was “awesome,” adding that she felt Laguna Beach as a whole was more progressive than neighboring towns.
“We are out here to support George Floyd to get his rights and we want to make sure there’s a change in the system because those guys getting prosecuted is not enough,” said Los Angeles resident Naomi Onyambu, 28. “We just want to see there’s a real change in the system. I think [the turnout] is really motivating. It shows that people are really looking for justice and we want change.”
As of Friday afternoon, no curfew had been put in place in Laguna Beach. Two police squad cars were parked nearby, but officers were not present in the crowd.
Laguna Beach Police Chief Laura Farinella issued a statement on Thursday condemning the actions taken by the four officers involved in Floyd’s death.
“We support everyone’s right to free speech and the right to peacefully assemble. The safety of our community remains our top priority, and the Laguna Beach Police Department is closely monitoring the events occurring across the county and the country,” Farinella said, adding that the department has contingency plans in place in the event there is unlawful protest activity.
“It’s just time for change. We’ve seen enough injustice happen and by the time, you know, it’s 2020. It seems like this, it’s time for some serious change and it’s not going to happen unless we stand up,” Helen Kramer, 28, said.
“I think we’ve been silent for too long, especially people who are white, like myself. I think it’s time for us, no longer to [just] not be racist but to be anti-racist and really speak up and defend the people we say we don’t have any problem with,” said Bryn Valaika, 27.
Kramer said she previously attended a Thursday protest in Costa Mesa with Valaika, who attended another protest on Wednesday in Newport Beach.
“I think it’s important to speak up, and we’re going to say the wrong thing, but it’s better to say the wrong thing and learn from it than to not speak up at all,” said Valaika, who lives in Laguna Beach.