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‘Say her name!’ — Black Lives Matter activists gather in Laguna Beach, calling for justice

Margo Ganson, left, and Molly Pritchard kneel for nine minutes during a  protest at Main Beach in Laguna Beach on Wednesday.
Margo Ganson, left, and Molly Pritchard kneel for nine minutes during a Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach in Laguna Beach on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Seated in the small amphitheater of Heisler Park, some people wore hats while others carried signs and water bottles. One pair busied themselves with spraying each other down in sticky, sweet-smelling sunscreen.

People chatted in the shade. Others waited for friends to arrive. Then, Melody Tajalli picked up her bullhorn and what was a scattered group rose to their feet.

The protest was about to begin.

Marching to Main Beach with the company of Laguna Beach police officers and dozens of protesters trailing behind her, Tajalli said, “Say her name!”

The protesters answered, “Breonna Taylor!”

Tajalli, an 18-year-old from Aliso Viejo, said her first protest in support of Black Lives Matter was in San Clemente. She said she has gone to 10 or 11 protests since demonstrations began a little over two weeks after George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis. Protests have continued in cities across Orange County, the state and the country, calling for police reform.

Protesters walk down the stairs on their way to Main Beach in Laguna Beach during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Protesters walk down the stairs on their way to Main Beach in Laguna Beach during a Black Lives Matter protest on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Tajalli said she had spread word of the protest through her personal Instagram account, but that she and her friends also printed fliers and put them in some cities in south Orange County such as Aliso Viejo, Laguna Beach and Mission Viejo. She said she and her friends decided to hold their protest in Laguna Beach because it was a “central place that people come to.”

“Especially right now with summer coming up, there’s so many people here and it is important that all these people here understand what’s going on and understand that there needs to be a change,” Tajalli said. “I feel like this is the same for any county or any city that you go to. It may be a liberal city, but there are always places where there is tension.

“Where there are people who won’t agree with what you’re saying and it’s important to show how you can peacefully demonstrate what you’re standing up for and how you can get a community together no matter what’s going on because this isn’t a political issue. It’s a human rights issue.”

Protesters lined the beach. Officers stood by. Police Chief Laura Farinella issued a statement last week denouncing the actions of the four officers involved in Floyd’s death and the city issued a proclamation Tuesday night at its regular City Council meeting announcing the city’s solidarity with demonstrators.

Sierra Bates, 22, along with approximately 75 others hold signs during a Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach.
Sierra Bates, 22, along with approximately 75 others hold signs during a Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach in Laguna Beach on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Nancy Grant, 80, had a sign that read, “Grandmas for [Black Lives Matter].” She said she’s been marching with her three grandchildren and two children and has gone to a few demonstrations in other cities, but joked that she needed more time to recover between the protests that she attended.

“I think throughout history, in all movements toward justice, it’s the young people who’ve done the heavy lifting ... I feel that most of my friends must agree with me. How can you not? Racial justice should be like motherhood and apple pie,” Grant said, “but their kids probably won’t let them out of the house because of their age.”

Of her sign, Grant said she carried it at her last protest and made it because her older daughter, a school nurse, said nurses were “one of the most trusted groups.”

“And I figure, everyone trusts grandmas. So, maybe people who are kind of hateful will listen ‘cause I’m a grandma and proud of it,” she said.

As cars drove by, some passersby held out signs supporting the protest while others held fists up out their windows. Irvine resident Alex Saravia said she had come to Laguna Beach for a beach day, but decided to join the protest when she saw people gathering at Main Beach Park.

Protesters kneel for nine minutes during a Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach in Laguna Beach.
Protesters kneel for nine minutes during a Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach in Laguna Beach on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I just think the movement that’s going on right now. Everybody coming together and showing that we have one goal, which is to end systemic racism and ultimately to just show the Black community that we are here for them,” Saravia said, adding that she also attended the protest in Irvine.

“So, yeah, I was out tanning, just having a relaxing day, but when you see something like this happening in the world? I can’t imagine just continuing to lay out. I need to be here, joining this, and ... everything else seems secondary to what’s going on right now,” Saravia said.

For Angela Kim and Jackie Le, both said the Laguna Beach protest on Wednesday was their first and that they had been wanting to participate in a demonstration for a while but weren’t sure if they should attend one of the larger gatherings such as the ones held in Huntington Beach, where Le is from.

They said they plan to attend more going forward.

Joane Dao, 18; Gabriella Busalacchi, 18; and Ayana Johnson, 17; came to the protest together. It was Dao and Ayana’s first protest, but Busalacchi previously attended the sit-in at Newport Beach Civic Center.

Protesters hold a sign and a flower during a Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach in Laguna Beach.
Protesters hold a sign and a flower during a Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach in Laguna Beach on Wednesday
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Ayana, who is Black, said she was tired of coming outside and having to worry about what she’s wearing and how she is perceived around her friends and others in general, adding that she felt she needed to come out and do something other than stay at home. Ayana and Dao said their parents initially didn’t want to let them go, concerned about the safety of the demonstrations.

Dao said she came anyway. Ayana’s parents eventually relented. Busalacchi said her parents, on the other hand, let her go.

As the demonstration went on, protesters also shouted out the names of Tamir Rice, who was shot by a police officer and died in 2014, and Sandra Bland, who died in jail in 2015. Protesters also took a knee and a moment of silence.

“I think one of the things with every movement that we’ve seen throughout history is people think that just because we’ve made progress that that means that we’re done,” Tajalli said, “and it’s really important, especially with human rights issues that we continue to advocate and that we continue to speak up and gather and to come united as one voice in order to ensure that we are continuing this progress.”

Sierra Bates, 22, kneels for nine minutes during a Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach in Laguna Beach.
Sierra Bates, 22, kneels for nine minutes during a Black Lives Matter protest at Main Beach in Laguna Beach on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

As the demonstration continued in the heat of June, protesters shouted.

“Say his name!” Tajalli said.

The protesters called back, “George Floyd!”

“What did he say?” Tajalli asked.

The protesters screamed, “I can’t breathe!”

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