[Updated] Pasadena saw a remarkable display of solidarity in a massive, peaceful “park-in” and vigil at City Hall Tuesday, following a caravan from First AME Church in Northwest Pasadena, as a local response to the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on May 25.
Three days of protests in Pasadena have produced few arrests and no looting or injuries, in marked contrast to other L.A. County cities, from Los Angeles to Santa Monica.
Escorted by police, more than one thousand cars, according to police estimates, moved south down Raymond Avenue and, with horns blaring, entered Centennial Square from the north down Garfield Avenue, to the front of City Hall, where they were directed and parked in neat rows by event volunteers.
The cars completely filled the square, extending for blocks in all directions.
The event, which was allowed to run past the county’s 6 p.m. curfew, was co-hosted by the Pasadena branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) along with faith leaders from the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA) and the Community Clergy Coalition (CCC).
NDLON Co-Executive Director Pablo Alvarado said Tuesday before the vigil, “A catastrophic failure of leadership in the United States has created a vacuum that is being filled by people who will no longer tolerate the state-sanctioned violence, kidnapping, and killing that comes with white supremacy. We are grateful, unequivocally, to every single person who has actively joined in protesting the murder of George Floyd. We peacefully protest to deliver one simple message: “Black lives matter.”
A police officer at the scene estimated that the event drew 3,500 people.
Numerous cars circled the surrounding blocks, unable to enter, while lines of cars extended for blocks around City Hall.
A number of city leaders gathered at First AME prior to the caravan, and talked in support of the protest, including Mayor Terry Tornek, who spoke about the peaceful nature of the protest before the caravan left for City Hall.
“I think the reason for [the lack of violence here],” said Tornek, “is that the people involved have been Pasadena people, not outsiders who are looking for trouble.”
“Pasadena folks have a long tradition of being civically active,” he continued, “and knowing how to behave, and they know what generates results, and to the extent that they are results-oriented, they know that just being violent, and being damage-oriented, is not the way to move the ball down the field.”
Other elected officials also spoke at the event.
“We’re going to create a space that’s going to allow this city, this community, and ultimately this country to take stock,” Pasadena City Council member Victor Gordo told the crowd. “If we are not providing justice and fairness and opportunity for all of us, then we will not ever, ever meet our collective greatness as a people.”
Pasadena Police Chief John Perez was direct in his support of the caravan and vigil, telling Pasadena Now, “The message today is that people have the right to demonstrate and show their anger with what happened with Mr. Floyd. We’re all angered by what we’ve seen, and this is their right.”
Speaking to the threat that the event could turn violent, Perez, “Nobody’s going to hijack this event, and take this right, this constitutional right, to make the change they want to see in policing. There is no police officer who has not seen that video, and there is no one who is not bothered by what we see. That’s not what we stand for, that is not our culture.”
Perez then actually directed street traffic himself, as the first line of cars made their way south to City Hall.
Addressing the packed event, Councilmember John Kennedy thanked the participants, and then told the crowd, “This is what we should expect from the next president,” and gave a specific wide-ranging list of changes to occur in the US, which included $1 trillion of investment in minority communities, a low and very low-moderate income housing trust fund for affordable housing nationwide, and that the US government “make it a fundamental right for every child in America to be educated, to the age of 22, whether city college, or trade school, or four-year universities.”
Kennedy also called for land grants for African-Americans as “repatriation” for the broken post-Civil War “40 Acres and a Mule” promise made to freed slaves by President US Grant, but later rescinded by President Andrew Johnson.
While the overall mood of the vigil was one of hope and unity, a number of speakers spared no anger in discussing the killing of George Floyd.
‘His killing was torture and murder,” said Councilmember Tyron Hampton, as he implored members of the crowd to take action in the coming days and weeks following the vigil.
He spoke of his five-year-old daughter, who, he said, asks him about “buildings on fire” every morning.
“It’s hard for me,” he said, “because I have to tell her about years and years and years of people we have elected, doing nothing. There has been no change.”
“Get in touch with your City Councilman!” he continued, shouting, “Get in touch with your state legislators and make sure that change actually happens, so that when I talk to kids, I can tell them they’re going to make it home all right.”
Leaders, speakers and participants were all moved by the event.
As resident John Sanborn commented on social media Tuesday evening, “I’ve never experienced a protest parade of cars before. Cars were decked out for literally miles. Horns blared out to call and response chants from folks walking the streets beside them. Folks cheering from porches and front lawns. This was both somber and at the same time, tremendously hopeful.
“As I walked past folks hoisting signs and shaking tambourines,” he wrote, “I heard a little boy say to his father, from atop a brick wall, ‘I love you Dad.’ It was a moment kids will remember, hopefully, as the time in their lives when things started to change for the better.”
Sanborn added, “I hope this idea catches on across the world, and the movement grows and succeeds in affecting change.”
A previous protest, earlier in the afternoon, drew about a hundred participants who marched from Old Pasadena to City Hall and back again. The group later joined the larger early evening vigil.