It was later in the afternoon Sunday when demonstrators took over the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue, the mood almost celebratory. The march had garnered enormous support, growing to over 3,000 people, as apartment spectators joined in and motorists honked their horns. Now, with some of those same motorists stranded behind the crush of people in the intersection, march organizers tried to help them maneuver their vehicles away.
Seeing this, Kevin Anderson planted himself in front of traffic, making it impossible for anyone to pass. When an organizer asked him to move, he stood straight—eyes forward—and would not budge, refusing to meet the gaze of organizers and motorists begging him to move.
One organizer, laughing, said, “This isn’t what we are about.” Anderson, 28, told her what he had told the others: “Everyone wants us to do what they say and move for their convenience. I stand firm on what I believe, and this isn’t a convenient march. This isn’t to be told what I can and will do.”
Kevin Anderson, who has lived in Long Beach for 3 years, was born into turmoil. The day he arrived home as a newborn—in Los Angeles near Manchester and Normandie—was the first day of the 1992 Rodney King riots. His family has a photo album dedicated to the events of those days, which included families being pulled out of their cars by police.
Though he believes strongly in the cause of ending police brutality, Anderson almost didn’t attend Sunday’s protest because he was disappointed to find out it would be peaceful and “there’s nothing peaceful about what’s going on; it’s not going to change anything.”
Understand that the Kevin Anderson agitating for change with the police is the same Kevin Anderson who has family in law enforcement and the military. The same Kevin Anderson who, he says, has had friends killed in confrontations with the police.
This issue is nothing short of life and death to him, and therefore he believed the march should have a desperate note to it, angry, and not something that receives oohs and aahs like it was an attraction at Disneyland.
So no, he wasn’t going to move.
“This protest for some people is to make them feel good, to get their steps in on their Fitbit, to go home after and say they got out and did something,” he said he told the organizer who asked him to move. “This protest for you may be a peaceful one to say you’ve organized something for Floyd. And your comment is exactly why I’m not walking with you, I’m standing for us.
“I’m tired—exhausted—going out of my way to make anyone else feel good. Just like the rest of us are tired of shutting up and doing exactly what they feel we as African Americans should be doing.”
At a different point Sunday, Anderson found himself standing straight again, at the intersection of Broadway and Pine, purposely inches away from police officers blocking protesters. Anderson said he wasn’t scared; he doesn’t live in fear. Regardless, as he stared into the eyes of armed officers, emotion got the better of him and he began to cry.
He said that at the moment, he was overwhelmed by so much that was running through his mind, one being that black men like him have no power when interacting with police.
“I have nothing on my record—I can run for president or mayor if I wanted to—but the fact that they can liberally switch and do anything they want, to say that they feel threatened and to pull a gun out and get shot […] is kinda what took over my body,” Anderson said. “Just looking at their faces and seeing nothing in their eyes. Like just cold.”
Anderson said that looking down to see the weapons in the officers’ hands gave him a feeling of helplessness. He had hoped that some of the police would put down their batons and join the protest, similar to what had happened with a Michigan county sheriff earlier over the weekend.
Anderson said standing face-to-face with every officer on Broadway was the only way he could vent his frustration without getting killed. When officers told him, “‘I understand’ and ‘I feel you, but I have orders’,” he found it hard to understand.
“Where is the ‘but’ coming from? Why is there a but?” Anderson asked. “If this is a peaceful protest and we the people are being as peaceful as we possibly can just stopping traffic and letting our voice be heard, why aren’t you walking with us?”
It’s that feeling of helplessness, he said, that no matter how many protests are held, no matter how many car horns are honked, if he was to get shot, he’d simply end up another name being yelled, like George Floyd.
“The people are frustrated, they’re tired,” Anderson said. “I can’t breathe is not a slogan, it’s not a catchphrase, that’s a real feeling.”
“I can’t breathe” was not only uttered by Floyd when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for over 8 minutes before Floyd lost consciousness and eventually died in late May; it was also said multiple times by Eric Garner, another black man killed by police when he was put in a stranglehold by an NYPD officer during an arrest in 2014.
“Nothing is going to change. That’s the frustration that everybody has; that’s the reality in which we live,” Anderson said. “That a dog’s life is really valued a lot more than a black man just because I’m a few hues darker than that person.”
Anderson was referring to the recent incident in Central Park where there was as much public outcry over the treatment over a woman’s dog as her threats to call the police on a black man telling her to leash her pet.
Anderson said he felt moments of great camaraderie during the march, standing alongside people of different ethnicities, though they were all hurting the same. When thousands kneeled at Shoreline Drive and Ocean Boulevard, he saw it as a beautiful moment “that hurt, but in the best way.”
“People are hurting all across the country,” he said. “To see that outside my doorstep was something I’ll never forget.”
Anderson said he wasn’t surprised by the looting and vandalism that eventually overshadowed the demonstrations, seeing it as a human act born out of frustration and helplessness so that “the only thing we can do is revolt and tear shit up.”
“The world,” he said, “is completely turned upside down.”
Anderson was joined in the protest by his mother, who works for the Los Angeles Police Department, his sister and her young sons, ages 10 and 3. He said they not only marched in memory of George Floyd but for the African American community’s ongoing trauma they face at the hands of government systems and policies rooted in discrimination.
“Trauma is our history,” he said.
As far as what is next, he said he believes that the task now lies with the new generation, an angry generation.
“It doesn’t start with the people in office. It starts with the people that are frontline, walking the streets and yelling for change.”
He’s willing to be that person, even if it means he makes no friends with the establishment or even those trying to change it. It is not an easy road to walk or stand straight upon, but it’s one he’s prepared to travel, pushed along by the words of Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
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