Conrad Pratt wanted to find a way to speak out about the death of George Floyd and acts of police brutality against black people. So he got on the phone on Tuesday morning to talk to two friends he had worked with at a Hollywood restaurant shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At noon the next day, thousands of people gathered on Santa Monica Boulevard at La Cienega to stage a peaceful protest march that stood out for its size and for the diversity of its participants — a diversity that reflected that of Pratt and the two friends who helped him organize it. Pratt, who lives in West Hollywood, is a gay Asian-American man born in Hawaii. Lowam Eyasu is an African-American woman from Eritrea, and Tony Meda (who many know by his actor name Tony D’Meda), is a gay Latino who moved to L.A. from Oregon.
Like many of his friends, Pratt had been spending time on social media looking for protests nearby that he might join. When he decided to create one on his own and reached out to Eyasu and Meda, they decided that social media wasn’t the right way to promote their event. Out of fear that social media posts might attract people with bad motives, they decided to just start texting friends and inviting them to join them.
Pratt arrived at the intersection of Santa Monica and La Cienega at around 11 a.m. on Wednesday to meet with Lt. William Moulder of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, who he had met on Tuesday to alert him to the planned protest. “I gave Bill an estimate that at most 100 or 200 people would show up, thinking it would 50,” Pratt said. “We met behind one of the large dumpsters (that law enforcement had placed to block traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard.) Then we came around, and my jaw dropped. Bill said we are going to need more patrols.”
Thousands of protestors gathered over the next half hour and then marched west on Santa Monica Boulevard to San Vicente, carrying signs and chanting slogans calling for justice in the name of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, caused by a police officer kneeling on his neck after handcuffing him, sparked protests nationwide. Those protests brought to the forefront other incidents, such as the death of Taylor, an aspiring nurse, who in March was shot eight times by Louisville, Ky., police officers who broke into her apartment in a search for a man who didn’t live there.
After waving signs and chanting in front of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station on Santa Monica at San Vicente, the protestors then turned east and marched to La Brea Avenue, where they were met by National Guard troops.
Pratt said he had been nervous about alerting the Sheriff’s Station to the planned protest because it was about police brutality. But he praised Moulder, who he said “kind of followed me around and made sure that I was safe. I’m really happy with the way that turned out.”
Pratt says he isn’t really an activist. But he was one of the founding members of the One Pulse Foundation, created in response to the mass shooting of gay men at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. by a Muslim terrorist. Pratt had lived in Orlando from 2008 to 2012. An actor and dancer, he now lives in West Hollywood and moved here after leaving a tour with Ricky Martin.
Eyasu, who is an actor and a screenwriter, said it was important to her said that they not use social media to promote the event. She noted that another protest that had been promoted on social media was cancelled after threats were posted there. Someone briefly posted about Wednesday’s event on Instagram and then took that post down.
“We didn’t have an organization behind us, a legal team. We were worried about the safety of everyone,” Eyasu said. “We thought if we just did it by word of mouth it would be safe.”
“I have been to protests a lot, but that was the first one I’ve ever led a march in,” said Eyasu, who walked Santa Monica Boulevard carrying a bull horn. She used it to add Breonna Taylor’s name to the “say his name” chant that was focused on George Floyd and then began including a “say her name” chant.
Eyasu describes herself as a “Southern California girl.” But she notes that she was born in Sudan and raised in Eritrea, where her father fought in the war to separate their country from Ethiopia. “We came to this country as refugees,” she said. “My parents found their American dream.” She said she learned from them that “change doesn’t just mean you show up. ” You also have to work behind the scenes.
Tony Meda said Pratt deserves “one hundred fifty percent of the credit” for organizing the protest. He showed up expecting to see 30 or 40 people sitting on the sidewalk holding signs. “I was, like, floored,” he said of the turnout. “The outpouring of support, and people with the same mission who wanted to say something.”
Meda said the fact that he and Pratt and Eyasu are people of color from different backgrounds meant the protest would be diversified from the start. And he said he was relieved that the protest was peaceful. “You really can’t tell people how to protest,” he said. “We can’t say you can only protest with us they way we want.”