L.A. youth group demands defunding police, other reforms

Stephanie Lai, Luke Money

A youth-led group of hundreds of protesters rallied Friday afternoon outside Los Angeles City Hall as demonstrations continue amid a widening national debate about police brutality and racial injustice in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

The demonstration, sponsored by the Youth Justice Coalition, was billed as a march, rally and open mic for families and youth "impacted by state violence," according to a flier.

In a social media post advertising the event, the coalition called for taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the budgets of city and county law enforcement and prosecutorial and probation agencies and redirecting them to fund youth centers, jobs and the establishment of comprehensive youth development departments.

As the event got underway, posters with faces of Black victims lined the metal blockades in front of City Hall. Black Lives Matters graffiti and messages of “Defund the police" were peppered across the building's concrete exterior.

Peaceful protesters spilled onto Spring Street, leaving one lane open for traffic as Aztec dancers performed in solidarity.

Veatrice Johnson, a 34-year-old Long Beach resident, brought masks to sell for $5 each. They were emblazoned with "Black Lives Matter" and "I can't breathe."

“Even if they don’t have the money, we’re still giving them out," she said. "We want people to be safe out here,” she said.

Johnson recently lost her job due to COVID-19 and created masks to support the movement and help her family financially.

Jennifer Alvarez, a 28-year-old volunteer with the Youth Justice Coalition, said she helped publicize the message from the youth organizers and ensure their list of demands was made public.

“I came out to make sure their voices and messages were heard,” she said. “I’ve been spreading the message of how this is also a matter of public health.”

As they marched to LAPD headquarters, protesters chanted, “You’re about to lose your job.”

Similar calls to defund law enforcement agencies in favor of diverting funding to jobs programs, health initiatives and other services supporting communities of color have grown increasingly loud following the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned his neck down with his knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has pledged that his administration will look for $250 million in cuts from city departments, including the LAPD, to reinvest for such purposes.

While some protests in the early aftermath of Floyd's May 25 death were at times marred by violent clashes between crowds and police and instances of vandalism and theft, recent days have seen a stream of peaceful demonstrations in Southern California calling for fundamental changes in policing.

Other demonstrations were planned Friday in Hawthorne, Inglewood and Pasadena.

Elsewhere in L.A., about 100 protesters gathered Friday at the Ronald Reagan State Building to call for the removal of a statue of Christopher Columbus that sits at the California Capitol.

"As a racial reckoning occurs across the country, we must not forget the many racist symbols of America’s dark legacy of oppression, slavery and colonialism that still stand," organizers wrote in announcing the rally.

Protesters raised their fists and chanted, “When indigenous rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back.”

Sarah Ruemenapp, a 23-year-old Mid-City resident, participated in several protests during the past week, and this was one she did not want to miss.

“I think now is a time to look at what symbols our culture and our city values,” Ruemenapp said. “And colonizing symbols of Columbus are the wrong thing.”

Nikole Cababa, a 34-year-old community organizer, said the statue fails to recognize Columbus’ actions.

“We will continue to stand in solidarity with the American Indian community who have taught us to militantly fight back,” Cababa said.

Calls to remove monuments to the Italian explorer are nothing new. While his voyages across the Atlantic Ocean were celebrated and commemorated for centuries, Columbus' arrival paved the way for European colonization of North, Central and South America — and many activists view him as a symbol of the genocide of native peoples.

Though Columbus Day remains a federal holiday in the United States, some municipalities — including Los Angeles County — have in recent years chosen to instead observe Indigenous Peoples Day.

Earlier this week, protesters tore down a statue of Columbus in Richmond, Va., set it on fire and threw it into a lake. Crowds also toppled a statue of Columbus outside the Minnesota Capitol, and another statue was beheaded in Boston.

Chula Vista pulled down its statue of Christopher Columbus and placed it in storage Friday, hours before a planned protest to push for its removal.