By Meera Sastry
The protests that swept the nation in response to the killing of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality have occupied a massive range in terms of size and setting — from gatherings of tens of thousands in Hollywood to single-person outposts in towns that have never before seen such progressive public activism.
The leaders of El Segundo for Black Lives, an organization recently founded in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, say they have struggled to make their voices heard in a city some in the group perceive as “hostile to people of color” and describe as “notorious” for “racial bias” in press materials. Yet they have felt an outpouring of community support recently. The group has held four events since their inception at the end of May: three protests and a Juneteenth Remembrance Ceremony at El Segundo Library Park held last Friday on the holiday.
“People reached out and said they had never felt welcome in El Segundo before seeing our protests,” says El Segundo for Black Lives coordination and demands leader Keith Puckett. “It’s surprising to say there’s a Black Lives Matter protest going on in El Segundo — just the sound of that goes against its reputation and what you would expect.”
Known as a family- and- business-friendly coastal “surfurbia” (to quote the architectural critic Reyner Banham) with a quaint downtown, El Segundo does not immediately jump out as a hotbed of racial tension or political activism. Yet the group’s protests for racial justice have brought the community together, says head of press and social media Elias Garcia. Each protest has grown in size, with the latest on June 13 drawing a crowd of over 250, and these gatherings are now a regular presence at the corner of Imperial Avenue and Main Street.
“Speaking as a Black woman, it really touched me to look to my right and see another mother who’s white with her children shouting ‘Black Lives Matter’,” head of events and education Tanya Taylor says of her experience at the protests. “It was just the most heartwarming thing. Someone who has experienced discrimination and racism can actually feel, in a moment like that, your community coming together.”
Taylor also describes why it is especially important for small, predominantly white communities like El Segundo to express their solidarity with Black Lives Matter. “We’ve had questions such as ‘why not Inglewood? Why not Crenshaw?’” she says. “It’s important to remember that El Segundo does have Black residents. We are here. To say that if your neighborhood only has four or five Black people, that they don’t matter, is ridiculous.” (U.S. Census data estimates that as of July 2019, El Segundo’s population was 71% white and 3.8% Black or African American.)
Beyond the protests and events, the organization plans to continue their work in a long-term way through policy change: they are currently compiling a list of demands to share with the mayor of El Segundo, the city council and police department. Those include, as Puckett says, a review of use of force guidelines, a reduction of the operating budget for the city’s police department, the creation of small business programs for minority-owned businesses and demands for curriculum changes and increased diversity in the El Segundo Unified School District’s student body and faculty.
Though there remains work to be done, the leaders of El Segundo for Black Lives are confident that the support for their movement signals the arrival of a “vocal majority” of residents who will continue to take a stand against racial injustice.
To learn more, follow @el_segundo_for_black_lives on Instagram or @ESforBlackLives on Twitter.