Yesterday was an overwhelmingly emotional experience, and without any pretensions I can honestly say, a huge success. I am proud to call the small group that was able to coordinate the effort and bring massive amounts of community members—again, mostly YOUTH—out into the streets to make their discontent heard and felt.
Before even making any plans, we reached out to all the young people we knew had been planning #GeorgeFloyd rallies. This is their moment, and we didn’t want to step on their toes. But everyone kept asking us when there was going to be a march, so we felt the need to create that space for people. When we found out that they had no plans, we decided to set the rally from 3-5 because at that time, county officials were still imposing the overly-broad and unconstitutional curfews for about 5, and we wanted people to be able to make their own decision whether to challenge those curfews or not, because we know many people in our community cannot risk entanglements with the law due to immigration and other circumstances.
By 3:00 we already had a good crowd, and the numbers just swelled. We received drinks from Mi Cafecito and Raffa’s Market, trash bags from the 99 cent store, and water from many, many good-hearted individuals. We brought sage to smudge the crowd and keep negativity away.
Once the crowd had assembled in numbers, we briefly the occupied the intersection of Arrow and Towne before marching down Towne. At certain intersections, we paused to sing “Happy Birthday” to Breeonna Taylor, the health worker who would have turned 27 if she had not been senselessly killed by the Louisville police. At one of the intersections, we also sang Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” as well as “Las Mañanitas” to acknowledge and celebrate our multiculturalism. Throughout the march we called for Justice for George Floyd.
Marching down Garey, we hung a right on McKinley and abruptly stopped, occupying the intersection with Gordon.
There we took a knee for just over eight minutes, our silent fists in the air, honoring George Floyd.
We then acknowledged the land we were standing on: Tongva/Kizh land, unjustly wrested from its rightful inhabitants by settlers through the process of colonization. We acknowledged the four directions, adding to them zenith and nadir.
Then a speaker explained why we had chosen that spot to occupy: to unmask the power behind the police, a power hidden by obscurity. The location was home to the Pomona Police Officer’s Association, which represents the concentrated political and financial power of the police in the city. The PPOA, he explained, was the main opponent of police reform in the city. Additionally, the headquarters had been the site (TW!!!!!!!!) of the sexual abuse of a minor by a PPD officer, an individual who was never forced to take responsibility for his crimes by the legal system. That crime was tied to the larger phenomenon of sexual abuse in our community, which has recently touched the highest echelons of city government. This abuse is rooted in patriarchy, and all must work to uproot the patriarchy present in our selves, our families, and our lives. When we hear about abuse, our first duty is to BELIEVE WOMEN, and to BELIEVE ALL survivors of sexual abuse.
Then the microphone was opened up to hear from members of the crowd. We centered the Black voices and the voices of youth. People spoke raw truths about their experiences with police and racism.
Miranda Sheffield, a community organizer and a coordinator of the action, explained why she was running for city council: to bring community issues into the halls of power. She received a large round of applause.
Jesus Sanchez passed out flyers showing the steady growth in the police department’s budget under the Sandoval regime. “Knowledge is power,” he said, “and now you all have just a little bit more knowledge.”
Yesenia took the mic and urged us all to become involved in the organizations that are working for social justice in the city.
I asked people to spend a few minutes introducing themselves to someone they didn’t know. “Organizing is building relationships of trust, and our relationships with one another is the source of our power,” I explained.
An organizer then consulted the crowd. How do we feel? Are we tired? Hungry? Need to rest? Want to keep marching?
An overwhelming majority wanted to continue, and a discussion was held about what action to take.
Collectively, a decision was made: let’s march to the mayor’s house.
Walking down Lincoln, many of the youth expressed that they didn’t even realize that there were such nicely-kept, upper-middle class houses in Pomona. It has never been a part of their experience. Some neighbors came out and greeted and welcomed the crowd, displaying their own homemade placards.
We arrived at Tim Sandoval’s house and continued our chants of Black Live Matter! Defund Police! And the many others that have come to characterize this uprising.
His wife stood visible in the plate glass window, holding the couple’s newborn baby.
Soon the mayor came out and exhorted us, “I’m with you! I’m with you!” He talked about how he had published a statement about the death of George Floyd. He clamored that he had asked the chief of police to report to him about making the changes recommended by Campaign Zero regarding use of force. His statements did not calm the demonstrators. On the contrary, the mayor’s sister arrived and said something to the effect that protesters have a lot of nerve showing up here when we are “killing each other in the streets.” Many of us took that as a racist comment, and some assumed that it reflected upon the mayor himself. By that time several of the mayor’s racist neighbors had arrived and attempted to bait the crowd, who would not have any of it.
Most of the neighbors, however, remained supportive.
I asked for permission to share why it was important for us to bring our protest directly to the mayor, and the crowd permitted me to speak.
I explained that in 2016 when Sandoval was still a candidate, he had requested a meeting during which he asked what changes I wanted to see in the city. I told him that among the most important was civilian oversight of the police. He told me that he didn’t see the community asking for that, but that if that were to change, he might reconsider. This was before the Christian Aguilar case came to light. Once the officers were acquitted in that case, I explained, we former POST to push forth the proposal. And now, even despite a week’s worth of protest demonstrating broad support for police reform, Mr. Sandoval has reiterated *that same day* over a phone call his continued disagreement with civilian oversight of the police.
I brought up how some people tell me, “we already have civilian oversight of the police! We have a civilian council that has authority to ask questions and demand changes!” And I shared how in the absence of an independent review board, we have been asking the council to assume that role. We asked th ask specific questions about the most recent killing: Chad Jensen’s fatal shooting of Anthony Pacheco. (Jensen is the same guy who beat Christian Aguilar.) Not a single member of the council dared to challenge the power of the police and ask any of those difficult questions. And although it is uncomfortable, it is important that they do so. And in not doing so, they are failing the community in their role of providing oversight, which is why we were there.
Then a sister whose family had suffered horrible abuse at the hands of police spoke. Her brother had overdosed, she explained, and instead of rendering aid, Pomona PD officers beat him. Later, the family moved to Upland. At a Halloween party at which many of the guests were African-American, police arrived and, feeling “threatened,” shot her brother. This does not happen at white parties, where hosts explain that they have a grandfather who works for the sheriff and are left alone with minor admonishments to lower music volume.
Several young people also spoke their truths, just as the sister and I had done. But when young women were talking, the mayor seemed to prefer making side conversation over genuinely listening. It was quite disappointing, especially to those of us that know him and have collaborated with him.
The mayor tried to explain that he was putting together of hand-picked committee of African-American leaders to address the issue. None of the young black people leading the action, many of whom are queer, had been invited to form part of that grouping.
We did have some tense moments here and there, and aside from some questionable comments by the mayor’s sister and one of the bystanders, things were actually pretty respectful. Tim tried to highlight his record of conceding to demands from the immigrant rights movement, and the COVID-19 relief fund, but the protesters refused to let him off the hook for his intransigence on police reform.
He called me a liar but I stand by what I said. He may have supported a different version of a police committee, but that committee had no power whatsoever, and cannot really be considered a bona fide oversight committee, so I resent that characterization.
We pledged to continue the struggle, and marched back to safety.