London Lang said he and a sister were protesting at Melrose and Fairfax avenues in Los Angeles on Saturday night when police began firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
Lang, a 21-year-old who has lived in South Pasadena since he was 5, said his sister was struck at nearly point-blank range by several rubber bullets, requiring hospital attention. Given that the protesters had taken to the streets to decry outsize police responses — particularly toward black Americans and other minority groups — Lang said the authorities were only reinforcing his cause.
Lang, who is black, admitted to having joined in subsequent rioting and looting, but by Sunday had experienced a complete change of heart on the matter.
“I was in the wrong headspace,” said Lang as he hosted a peaceful protest Tuesday at Fair Oaks Avenue and Mission Street that dozens of others had joined. “When I woke up in the morning, I said I wasn’t doing correctly what I came here to do, which was to protest against police brutality and not hurt humans.”
Lang said he returned the items he stole the next day to their stores, but that he “didn’t think that was enough for a sorry” afterward. By Monday, he had decided to place himself at the busy intersection with a sign, which he began sharing on social media like Snapchat. Friends and passersby began to join him, and the protest ballooned to several dozen people at all four corners, and they brought signs, bottled water and snacks.
A speaker blared music — including, at one point, the seminal Public Enemy track “Fight the Power” — and participants did their best to keep social distancing. Supportive honking was ceaseless — at one point, an 18-wheeler trucker blared his horn for several continuous seconds as he navigated a left turn. When the Los Angeles County-imposed curfew began at 6 p.m., Lang loudly thanked his peers for joining him and advised them to abide by the curfews, which began in response to protests in Los Angeles that had become violent.
“I’m unbelievably happy,” Lang said, noting his plans to hold protests throughout the week. “I didn’t think this was going to happen this big. It’s only going to get bigger, too.”
Against the backdrop of the other protests nationwide — which were sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis during an arrest for alleged use of a counterfeit $20 bill — the Monday and Tuesday demonstrations in South Pasadena were relatively uneventful. That may be because of a lack of confrontation: Aside from patrol units, local police officers did not position themselves before the demonstrators, and the City Council even formally endorsed the cause of the protests this week. Additionally, South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz joined others from the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs’ Association this week, along with county Sheriff Alex Villanueva, in condemning the manner of Floyd’s arrest and supporting the nonviolent protesters.
“The city stands in solidarity in the fight against systems of racism and oppression,” the statement read. “Although we are a small city, we are not immune to these injustices. Our strength derives from our partnerships and ability to work together to resolve conflict peacefully and influence change in our larger community. As a city that values diversity, we are committed to the promotion of social equity and inclusion in our community.”
The four police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired last week and by Wednesday were all charged in connection with Floyd’s death. The arrest was captured from several vantage points on video, which show one of the officers kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he says he can’t breathe.
Lang said those circumstances are why he believes the event sparked nationwide protests that have consumed the attention of Americans and much of the world.
“He was there for [almost] 10 minutes. Everybody else was in an instant,” he said, referring to other black Americans who have died in confrontations with police. “No one should die in 10 minutes. The suffering is what I thinking is fueling everyone’s anger.”
Paris O’Kelly, another of Lang’s sisters, also was protesting in South Pasadena this week. O’Kelly, 28, who grew up here, said she was finding a lot of hope in the response in South Pasadena.
“The support is overwhelming, and this community has been wonderful,” she said.
Having grown up with family members who worked in law enforcement, O’Kelly said she believes there are many good people in the profession and wishes for them to join others like herself in standing up against the tragic actions of some of their counterparts.
“I know they’re still out there,” she emphasized. “You don’t get anything without asking, so we’ve got to come out here and make our voices known. Literally, in the Bible it says, ‘Ask and you shall receive,’ and no one listens to it.”
In its statement, the City Council cited a resolution adopted in 2016 that reaffirmed its “commitment to protecting civil rights and liberties of all residents” and to fostering dialogue to speak out against injustice.
“As elected officials we have an obligation to commit to and ensure that our ethnic and social diversities are respected and reflected in every service we provide in order to achieve ideals of equity and safety for all our residents,” the council’s statement added. “We stand unified with the community in supporting peaceful protests against injustice. The issues before us are significant and should not be diminished by opportunistic acts of looting and destruction. These actions distract from the critically important conversations that need to take place in our country around racial violence and social and economic disparities.
“We are hopeful that by working together we can build healthier institutions that address discrimination faced by all persons of color.”