EL CENTRO — Billed as a memorial to George Floyd with a poignant moment of silence that lasted 8 minutes, 46 seconds, the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck that led to his death, the June 13 event at Bucklin Park had a much different feel than its predecessor two weeks earlier.
The weekend event in El Centro’s central park had more of a feel of a call to arms and a call to action then the June 1 rally on the steps of the Imperial County Courthouse, where more than 400 members of the community and local law enforcement officials gathered to peacefully demonstrate against police brutality.
This time around, the Imperial Valley Social Justice Committee and the local Black Lives Matter movement were looking more toward enacting change than simply bringing about awareness.
“At the first protest, it seemed like the organizers just wanted to see who would show up. Now it feels like they want to see who will get involved,” said Juan Andres Real, 22, a San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus criminal-justice major who volunteered to help during the June 13 gathering.
“A lot of people feel like we are disconnected because we (Imperial Valley) are a rural community. We see things happened in San Diego, LA or New York and think we are isolated. We feel like our voice doesn’t matter much, but it does,” said Real, who is contemplating running for the Imperial Unified School District board in the next election.
Real said his first step to enact change was to get more informed. It was early in the June 13 event that he learned of four local men who died during Imperial County law enforcement-related actions.
At the rally, I.V. Social Justice Committee chairperson Marlene Thomas shared the stories of Tommy Yancy, Adrian Parra, Edmund “Bubba” Gutierrez and Charles Sampson, all of whom lost their lives while either in the custody of local law enforcement officers or during traffic stops in the Imperial Valley. When Thomas asked members of the crowd who was aware of all four incidents, only one among the 200 people raised a hand.
“What was different about tonight was that those present have reflected and looked into the mirror. These young people out here want to make a change. I have had at least four people come up to me and say that they want to run for office,” said Thomas.
“There was definitely a difference in attendance today. This time it was activism time, time to get organized, get systematic, rally around the cause and be more intentional in what we are trying to do, like educating people about their rights, teaching them how to vote and getting people into office,” said Elijah Bañaga, organizer of the Collective Movement, an Imperial Valley-based, faith-based social justice group.
“We brought people down from San Diego that are teaching us. We are being systematic in creating change in the Imperial Valley and getting connected to the larger movement,” Bañaga said.
“I teach young people about restorative justice, which is an alternative to our punitive justice system. We’ve been around before George Floyd because there have been many George Floyds,” said Aeiramique Glass Blake, executive director of Generation Justice, a San Diego-based youth-led activism and advocacy organization that attended the protest to support, offer guidance and speak during the rally.
Generation Justice centers its work around helping young people in advocating, doing activism work, and organizing their communities and their schools around criminal justice reform, Blake said.
“Most recently, we just got a resolution passed with San Diego Democratic Central Committee to no longer take money from police unions or police associations. We know that it is a huge conflict of interest that our political system is so interconnected with our police system,” Blake said.
When politicians and district attorneys are funded by police unions, they are less likely to take action against criminally accused officers, she added.
“I have met with many law enforcement leaders in the Imperial Valley, and I can tell you that people here are more progressive and ahead of other communities, but you still are not where you need to be and there has been trust broken in the cases of locals being beaten or killed by police that were mentioned during the protest,” said Blake, whose stated mission in attending the event was to give local youths tools to enact change in their communities.
“A lot of people were asleep before George Floyd, not because these things weren’t happening, but because before the pandemic everyone could sweep things under the rug. A lot of young people have the ability to say we are not gonna play by your rules, continue to allow you to have your knees on our necks, harm us or brutalize us in any way. We are going to fight, and we have the energy to do it,” Blake said.
During the protest, Mark Wheeler, SDSU-IV’s new associate dean of academic affairs, spoke in support of the BLM movement and announced that SDSU has made a requirement for all criminal-justice majors to take an African-American law studies course.
The event ended with a silent candlelight vigil for Floyd during which everyone in attendance held up an electric candle for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.
“This memorial showed people how long the 8-minute, 46 seconds George Floyd had a knee on his neck actually was. I’m glad the young people came out tonight to show their solidarity and their demand for justice and equality,” said Hilton Smith, a coordinator for Imperial Valley Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter and the I.V. Social Justice Committee are planning their next demonstration for some time in early July.
This story is featured in the Jun 18, 2020 e-Edition.