Declaring that “Black Lives Matter” and championing the powerful “I Can’t Breathe” theme, a crowd estimated at up to 700 marched for miles along the Huntington Drive median Saturday to protest the May 25 death in Minneapolis of George Floyd while he was in police custody.
Traffic slowed, horns blared and motorists shouted words of support as the throng slowly trooped through town to object not only to Floyd’s death but the manner in which he perished. The incident was captured on video that shows one of the arresting officers kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes as he declares that he can’t breathe.
That time element was mentioned on several signs carried Saturday by members of the group that assembled at San Gabriel Boulevard before marching two miles west and back again.
The four police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired and have been charged in connection with the incident.
The demonstration was organized by Marley Stark-Moniz, a rising senior at San Marino High School, with assistance from her friend and classmate Mya Saw.
“I wanted to organize this because I felt that it is extremely important to educate those who aren’t aware” about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) cause and systemic racism, Stark-Moniz said Monday. “I wanted to show support for our allies and encourage those of us with more resources to use those resources for the betterment of those who are less fortunate. I wanted to start a conversation about this movement within the community, and I wanted to create an impactful moment in order to raise awareness and bring this issue to those who cannot feel the importance of it or its effects.”
A Link Crew leader at SMHS, Stark-Moniz is also involved in the school’s drama program. She volunteers for an agency that raises money to provide African families with access to tools, skills, and resources needed for economic independence and sustainability.
“It honestly felt necessary to stand up for those who are too oppressed to stand on their own,” Stark-Moniz continued.
Saw supported her friend by lending her organizational skills to the cause.
“I strongly stand by the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Saw, who is active in cheer and dance at SMHS. “San Marino is a city rich in resources that can and should be used for the betterment of … the unheard. We, as the youth, should have just as much control in our futures and generations in addressing those who do not. We did not choose where we live or where we go to school. But what we can do is help end the silence.”
There was anything but silence once the march reached its destination at Huntington and Chelsea Road as passionate participants, including Stark-Moniz and Saw, further expressed their support over a bullhorn as more than a dozen police officers stood by on the parkway, which was briefly closed to motorists.
Blair Imani, a 2012 SMHS graduate who is black, explained the frustrations of being a member of a minority in San Marino, where she said she was often asked by classmates whether she “belonged” in the town or questioned whether or not her parents could afford a home in the city. But she said she found herself “in a state of shock” at Saturday’s event.
“I saw my former classmates, many of whom ostracized me, shouting ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Imani told The Tribune. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Wearing a helmet she donned before her short bicycle ride to the event, Imani told the group that “Black people don’t get to decide if this is a moment or a movement. We have been doing this work and it’s up to everyone else to stay engaged. Don’t let us down.”
Imani said she will forward “demands of student whistleblowers” to district administrators.
Ben Capouya, a 2016 SMHS graduate who is a senior at Washington & Lee University, said he was proud to participate in the demonstration, which wound to within a block of his family’s home.
“I think it is important to bring the voices of color to our community, which has been historically white and Asian for many years,” said Capouya, who is majoring in business administration and minoring in poverty and human capability. “If we want to create a San Marino that is socially in tune, we need to have events such as this demonstration. I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who live in the vicinity of San Marino. It is important that we expand our prowess out to communities that need our resources.”
Police Chief John Incontro, who oversaw the police response to the event, said the march “went great.”
“It was wonderful to see the community out there and even the people who were not residents of San Marino,” Incontro said. “Our goal was to ensure that we were able to facilitate the First Amendment rights of the organizers and those who wanted to march, and I feel we were able to do that.”
Incontro held a meeting on Friday with Stark-Moniz, Saw and their parents, who proposed marching on the median, and Incontro readily agreed. He said there were approximately 30 officers from the San Marino, South Pasadena and Alhambra on scene, with provisions for an additional 40 sheriff’s deputies if needed.
At the very end of the march, a woman bolted into traffic and confronted motorists as well as marchers, marking the only incident of the proceedings. At that point, officers shut down eastbound Huntington Drive and diverted traffic via Oak Knoll Avenue for about a half-hour until the demonstration ended of its own intention.
“This was a first for our community, as far as I know,” Incontro added. “It was an opportunity for San Marino to show its diversity, and I thought that was outstanding. The march was all about expressing views, and that is what our country is all about.”