While social distancing wasn’t possible, nearly everyone wore face coverings and demonstrators passed out water bottles and hand sanitizer.
The only police presence I saw was in the air — helicopters circled overhead.
[Get the latest on protests around the country.]
Late last week, I talked with Marqueece Harris-Dawson, a City Council member who represents South Los Angeles and has been vocal about issues of race and equity, about what might come next.
Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed:
Tell me about what your days have been like this past week. And how are you feeling about everything?
Every day since Thursday I’ve been spending time walking with protesters, talking with protesters, talking to police officers in the street, talking with businesses.
The rest of my day, I’ve been working with other elected officials, both at the city and state and the county and even national level.
I’ve never felt such strong currents of pain, despair, anger and hope all in the same space at the same time.
[Read more about how protests that started with an image of police violence have been providing more.]
What have you been thinking about what you’ve seen at the protests from demonstrators and in terms of the law enforcement response?
I think the protests are amazing. I never dreamed I would walk up to crowds full of white people, nonblack people screaming, “Black lives matter.”
It’s a uniquely American moment. For the generation of people for whom this is their first big social moment, this is Boston Tea Party-level. This is the Stonewall Riot-level.
The world’s not going to be the same after this. And it’s great to see people coming to their power to take the mantle.
[Read The Vallejo Times-Herald’s reporting on the Vallejo police officer who shot and killed Sean Monterrosa, a San Francisco man, last week in the midst of protests.]
The police response — it’s been, in Los Angeles, I think, mostly good. There were things that could have been better.
Normally, you have a protest one day and then it gets bigger the second day and maybe it peaks on the third day and then it starts to dissipate. Since Thursday of last week, these marches haven’t gotten smaller, they’ve gotten bigger. So I think the L.A.P.D. has been stretched and challenged, and I definitely think they’ll grow from this.
[Read about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call to create standards for crowd control, from The San Francisco Chronicle.]
What did you think about the mayor’s announcement that his administration would seek to cut $100 million to $150 million from the Police Department’s budget and look for ways to spend it on other community programs?
It was a good first step. It indicates to the people of Los Angeles that he heard us and that he feels the pain and he feels the frustration.
What other kinds of things will you support?
One, we have to substantially reduce the role and our reliance on police officers to do a variety of tasks. Then we’ve got to reduce the proportion of the budget that is taken up by the Police Department.
There are so many other public safety strategies that you can’t ever pursue, because every time there’s an extra nickel, we give three or four cents of it to the Police Department.
[Read more about the debate nationwide over defunding police departments and “reimagining” public safety.]
And that’s really a longer term struggle.
As an example, during the pandemic and in the lockdown, I heard about armed police officers escorting homeless people into buses to go to shelters. The reason we have police officers doing that is because we don’t have anybody else.
If all you’ve got in your toolbox is a hammer, you tend to think everything is a nail. And that disables society as a whole and ends up with death and injury, for particularly African-American young men, but also people of color in general.
How were you seeing South L.A. through all this, where protests were very deliberately peaceful and there wasn’t any of the vandalism or looting other places have seen?
I think people didn’t come to South L.A. because the investment class hasn’t come to South L.A. in a real way. So their stuff wasn’t here. And so I think protesters wanted to flip the script on what they were taught in history books.
Tell me about how you’re thinking about investment in South L.A., particularly in light of the pandemic and the economic downturn.
The impacts have not hit yet, outside of the immediate employment numbers.
That takes a while to hit the streets. Every investment that was about to happen or was on the books in South L.A. before is still on the books and no one’s reporting, we can’t do it now. Now, two months from now, that could be different. We just kind of have to wait and see.
For a lot of people, investment is inevitably tied to gentrification and displacement. Do you see that dynamic changing, now that we’re not in a boom?
The scenarios are very divergent. There’s one scenario that says, it takes pressure off the housing market and so, it’ll become less of an issue for a short amount of time.
Another scenario that says it has the exact opposite effect. People see investment opportunities. The famous investment saying that goes, “Buy when there’s blood in the streets.”
And those scenarios produce such divergent outcomes that it’s hard to prepare for either.
What would you say to nonblack Angelenos who are, like you said, coming into their political power, who want to make their actions and their voices more sustainable in a longer term way?
One thing I would say, they need to stay in the streets.
The budget proposal, I’m telling you, just two weeks ago, you would have been laughed out of the building, if you even suggested half of that as a cut. That’s only happening because they’re there. And what I want them to understand is that more is possible, but you’ve got to keep the pressure on.
You cannot let up and let the forces of the status quo reassume their position.
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.