A protest against racism and police brutality attracted many thousands of people today in what some described as the biggest march in West Hollywood’s history.
The protest march was organized by All Black Lives Matter and began at 11 a.m. at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard, which was painted with large all-capital letters spelling out ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER. The popular tourist thoroughfare was closed to vehicle traffic from Highland Avenue to La Brea Avenue.
The protestors marched west and entered West Hollywood at the intersection of Sunset and Crescent Heights Boulevards shortly before noon and were continuing to march west on Santa Monica Boulevard at 2:30 p.m. Among those waiting to join it at Santa Monica and Crescent Heights were West Hollywood City Council members John Duran and Lauren Meister. Councilmember John D’Amico had jumped on his bicycle to join the march. Law enforcement officers estimated as many as 20,000 people may have participated in the protest march.
The march was scheduled to end at the intersection of Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards, where some stopped to “take a knee.” That intersection, which features the LGBTQ rainbow colors on its crosswalks, today also had a large image of the blue and light blue, pink, and white transgender flag in its middle.
The protest is the latest of several in West Hollywood. This one stood out not only for the size of the crowd but for the relative invisibility of law enforcement officers. The presence of Sheriff’s deputies and National Guard troops armed with rifles on the street and on top of Rocco’s restaurant and bar at the June 6 protest had drawn criticism from many local residents. Today, Sheriff’s deputies on motorcycles escorted the march into West Hollywood and several stood at major intersections such as La Cienega. There was a small line of them across San Vicente Boulevard south of Santa Monica, blocking the street in front of the entrance to the Sheriff’s Station.
Today’s protest was one of many that have happened across the country since the May 25 death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck after arresting him. There have been many protests across Greater Los Angeles and one organized specifically for West Hollywood calling out the deaths of Black people at the hands of police officers.
Today’s protest took the place of one that had been announced by Christopher Street West, organizer of the annual LA Pride parade and festival. CSW earlier had cancelled plans for the Pride parade and festival because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had led the City of West Hollywood to cancel such public events. But then on xxx it announced it would stage a march in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter organization from Hollywood into West Hollywood.
But CSW failed to reach out to BLM officials or Black LGBTQ community organizers before making that announcement.
“They just kind of stepped forward too soon without checking with and getting the full endorsement and support from Black LGBTQ leaders … and organizations,” ABLM organizer Brandon Anthony told KTLA5.
CSW admitted as much in a social media post Monday, saying the group would withdraw from formal sponsorship of the anti-racism event, but stand in solidarity.
“We apologize to the Black Lives Matter organizers,” LA Pride officials wrote in their post. “Conversations did continue and grew to later include leaders from Black Lives Matter LA, and subsequently, an Advisory Board of Black LGBTQ+ leaders has formed to lead the upcoming All Black Lives Matter solidarity march.”
According to a website for the march, the LA Pride organizers stepped back “out of recognition and respect to the years of work and action of Black LGBTQ+ leadership and community organizers,” but would “stand unapologetically in solidarity with efforts to dismantle racial (in)justice, systemic oppression, institutional barriers, policy brutality and discrimination of all kinds.”
According to All Black Lives Matter, the march aims to “amplify Black Queer voices” and support Black Lives Matter demands to “prosecute killer cops” and “defund the police and reinvest in the community.”
ABLM officials said they would not engage “official police involvement” in organizing the march and would reach out to black-owned businesses rather than the corporate sponsors sometimes sought by Christopher Street West, highlighting issues that may have been points of contention.
There has been push-back against police participation in pride marches, given that they originated in commemoration of a 1969 anti-police riot outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.
Last year, Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva marched in the LA Pride event, but New York- based LGBTQ+ activists staged an alternate event in that city last year to avoid marching with police, as well as any support from corporate sponsors.
San Diego Pride organizers recently announced that police would not be participating in their event this year, given that their presence could be threatening to other marchers.
As public health officials continue to worry about large gatherings creating a spike in coronavirus cases, All Black Lives Matter included a tag line on the event flyer reading, “COVID-19 guidelines encouraged and enforced.”
On the website, organizers cited the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Black and LGBTQ+ communities and urged protesters to “take protective measures, including wearing face coverings and avoiding large crowds if you are at high risk or displaying symptoms of COVID-19” and provided a link to public health recommendations.
Anthony, who has also produced LA Pride’s hip-hop stage for several years, said the march’s 11 a.m. start was in honor of the trans community. The ABLM website explained that the time was chosen in honor of Tony McDade, a black trans man shot by a Tallahassee, Fla., police officer at that hour on May 27. Police say McDade was armed with a gun and suspected of fatally stabbing 21-year-old Malik Jackson.
In Monday’s post, LA Pride organizers also committed to diversifying their board.
“We recognize systemic racism, implicit bias and privilege permeates this country, and this includes the history of our organization. We hope to see progress and change from within,” officials wrote. “Following the All Black Lives Matter march, the CSW Board will continue to work with the new Advisory Board to examine internal policy and further diversity its Board to include more voices and perspectives from the Black LGBTQ+ community.”