UPDATED ON Thursday, June 4, originally published on May 30 and June 2nd.
“I can’t breathe”
A phrase that is resonating with millions throughout the country and now the world, after George Floyd — a Minneapolis resident — uttered it while being pinned at the neck by officer Derek Chauvin for 8 minutes and 46 seconds; 2 minutes and 53 seconds of which occurred after Floyd became unresponsive.
Chauvin was one of four arresting officers involved in the incident — the other three being Thomas K. Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng — and as the investigation continues, the former officer now faces charges for second-degree murder and manslaughter with a first court date scheduled for June 8. The other three officers were charged for aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder as of June 4.
Though Chauvin and his fellow officers were fired immediately following the controversial incident, no legal charges were pressed until Chauvin’s eventual arrest on May 29. Many advocates for Floyd and supporters alike considered the legal actions to amount to some kind of justice, but a common opinion was that it came too late — a driving factor in international protests. Initially Derek was only charged with third-degree murder, while his fellow officers were not reprimanded for their actions until the following week.
Waves of protests erupted as early as May 26, the day after Floyd’s death, brining thousands of demonstrators that continue to convene in many major metropolitan areas in the U.S., including Minneapolis, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles.
Over a week of intense strife between citizens and police followed, with many protestors disassociating themselves from looters and rioters. However as tensions compounded, some law enforcement agencies became increasingly indiscriminate while simultaneously calculated with their targets, brutalizing peaceful demonstrators, members of the press, and even senators.
Conflicted feelings of anger, frustration, and sorrow resurfaced due to the now largely acknowledged unjustifiable deaths of people of color like Floyd, and February 23’s death of Ahmaud Arbery — a jogger who was gunned down by Brunswick, Georgia residents Gregory McMichael and son, Travis, who of which were ultimately charged with aggravated assault and felony murder — just two names in a long list of unarmed African-American citizens killed by aggressors in the last decade alone. Many members of communities large and small began echoing chants and sentiments that are now pervasive throughout the United States given the current climate of unrest.
South Pasadena residents joined in this crusade for justice, beginning with smaller demonstrations on May 30 and continuing well into the week, with each subsequent day seeing more supporters by the dozens occupying the intersection of Fair Oaks Ave. and Mission St..
Organized by London Lang, Hank Rainey, Lachlan Campbell, and Thomas Forman, the protests culminated in a peaceful gathering at Garfield Park on Thursday June 4, coinciding with Floyd’s memorial service.
As thousands of protestors converged 10 miles away in Downtown Los Angeles, organizer London Lang, a young local resident and SPHS Alumni, shared his harrowing story of transformation and motivation with the South Pasadenan News, relaying the focused goal of bringing together not just this city, but also other small communities, in a moving act of unification.
Lang, who emphasizes an approach that avoids incendiary messages and respects compliant law enforcement, says that as recent as a few days prior to his activist endeavors he was not the same person.
“I’d been protesting out in L.A. because I wanted to get out and learn more about the black community, I didn’t learn too much (about it) at a young age,” says a barely audible London in the thick of the blaring horns of supportive motorists.
Lang explains that his brief but powerful journey began amidst the chaos of police brutality and looting in the Fairfax district on Saturday, May 30, where he “felt the rage, (I) felt everything.” A visceral response brought on by the treatment of his sister by law enforcement.
According to Lang, the police had ordered the crowd to disperse and as his sister was walking away they hit her in the back with a baton, and then “they just (shot) her point blank, as close as you are to me” he gestures, while standing no further than 1-2 ft away. The confrontation “put her in the hospital for three days” London says, another casualty amongst many as more displays of police aggression erupt around the country.
The mental toll the incident took on Lang was enough to make him “want to do violent things, I want(ed) to do everything that you see on T.V. and you know, I kinda did it, I did the looting, I did everything.”
However in the aftermath of the previous day’s riots, Lang recalls the waves of regret that came over him, “I woke up in the morning the next day and I felt like shit. I couldn’t do anything. I cried and I thought about those kids that I harmed, about those small businesses. So the first thing I did was I went back to the store I robbed and I gave them back all $3000 worth of clothing that I stole from them.”
When he returned to the store, London was unsure how the owners would respond to his attempt at atonement, “They weren’t too happy about it but they were appreciative that I returned everything,” he says.
“They said ‘thank you’ for it, ‘but it’s not going to be enough to say sorry, you gotta do something bigger’”, a statement that he immediately took to heart, admitting that he “wasn’t sorry enough”, which drove Lang to organize a local movement.
Other protestors such as Nicholas Corvino, a college student at NorthWestern University says, “We’re just trying to peacefully demonstrate with a small local movement.” Wearing a full-face visor with George Floyd’s widely circulated words plastered on the front, he and his fellow demonstrators, all held signs up high with messages saying, “Black Lives Matter”, “Justice for George Floyd”, and “White Supremacy Kills”.
Corvino was aware of the mass demonstrations being held but opted out in order to observe safe social distancing, “We’re just trying to do what we can within the local community, we are who we stand for.”
As many of the protestors held up signs with varying messages, Lang advises against more negatively driven phrases that demean and generalize law enforcement (such as the ubiquitous acronym ACAB), as he notes that the South Pasadena Police Department “has been cooperative with (us) all day today and yesterday,” adding that he even requested clearance with the department over the phone to make sure that the protest observed social distancing mandates and left room for local businesses to receive customers appropriately.
With tensions escalating by the day between protestors and police, Lang sees the opportunity to foster a healthy relationship with Public Servants, saying that it’s about “Getting all the good cops together to weed out the bad ones. Because that’s what they wanna do, they want to weed out the bad people, that’s what they signed up for.”
Giving merit to his message, some cops around the country have joined in the cause with simple yet powerful gestures such as taking a knee and marching with protestors.
And while Lang sees the response in South Pasadena as successful, he considers it to be only one small piece of a larger picture. The plan is to organize in other communities in the area and rally together, something that he hopes can include local police departments as well.
Dialogue between city officials and department heads is considered the next step in reconfiguring a deeply rooted problem within a flawed system. Reallocation of the city budget for more social services that benefit the people is but one step in a long road to recovery.
The message that Lang ultimately hopes to perpetuate now is that it is not too late for others to join in the push for positively channeling the hurt, “If you’re violent you can come to the light. Anytime! You can always do the right thing! You can always help!”
Stay tuned for more South Pasadena and Los Angeles area Coverage…