By Haley Sawyer
Special to the Review
A series of aggressive acts toward Black Lives Matter activists that began in July has drawn concern from South Pasadena residents.
On Wednesday morning, community members gathered outside of the South Pasadena Police Department for a news conference addressing the continuing incidents.
Speakers at the gathering included Fahren James, a BLM activist who has said she’s been the target of aggression at several protest incidents, and representatives from Care First South Pasadena, the Anti-Racism Committee of South Pasadena, LGBTQ+ Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and JusticeLA.
“It’s just not the assaults that they have perpetrated … against peaceful people in many instances,” James told a crowd of about 20 people. “But it’s just the lack of urgency when it comes to supporting Black and brown people in this community and all communities.”
The most recent of the acts that prompted the news conference took place on Oct. 3, when a white South Pasadena resident steered his truck onto a sidewalk curb to confront BLM protesters at the corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Mission Street. Protesters said the man, who later was interviewed by police, yelled, “So, you’re gonna keep putting those signs up?” from the window of his truck.
The driver, who officers said objected to the posting of protest signs on public property, was not arrested or cited that day, although the SPPD said in a prepared statement it planned to forward its investigation’s findings to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to consider the totality of the incident.
“You let people like that get away without any consequence, it emboldens them to come back and do it again,” said James.
Other incidents have taken place across South Pasadena from July through October, according to police reports. In August, a protester walking alone and playing music in the 1100 block of El Centro Street said he was confronted by a husband and wife who, he alleged, attempted to steal his laptop and attacked him, believing he hit their child. The husband was taken into custody on suspicion of battery and later released on a citation, while the wife was released because there was no alternate caregiver for her child, police said.
Another man was arrested in July by SPPD on suspicion of assault after multiple incidents with protesters at Fair Oaks and Mission. Video posted on social media showed him confronting and spitting on James, and he was said to have thrown a rock at the group in a second incident. Additionally, the SPPD received at least nine reports of nails being dumped in driveways of homes with BLM or other related signs on the property.
Speakers at the news conference mentioned Police Chief Joe Ortiz on several occasions, in particular to draw attention to his agreeing to host the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property for a prayer event. Ortiz later canceled the event after community outcry over the group, a far-right organization known for its anti-BLM and anti-LGBTQ messaging, and has said he was unfamiliar with the group at the time.
Bill Kelly, a 30-year resident of South Pasadena and representative of Care First, argued for adjustments — particularly regarding the Police Department — to bring balance to the South Pasadena budget.
“We have had a financial crisis, an inability to manage our money properly in South Pasadena for the past two years that’s resulted in, essentially, the firing of the city manager, the departure of the finance director,” Kelly said, “and now we’re told the reason it’s a mess is because they didn’t have enough people working in the Finance Department and enough money to pay those people. But we have a fully staffed Police Department. You can’t have it both ways.”
With a City Council meeting slated for that evening, James called on residents of South Pasadena to call attention to the morning’s cause by sending letters and messages as well as making phone calls to the council.
“You cannot say we are a community that cares about all people if you cannot understand and recognize that everyone in this community is not having the same experience as you,” said James. “They don’t get the same justice as you do. They don’t get the same respect as you do. I urge you to care. I urge you to speak out.”
Zane Hill contributed to this report.