Poignant Moments From Saturday's Police Protests, and Counter Protests

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - From the woman whose voice cracked while calling for an investigation into a man whose body was found hanging in Palmdale, to the Gospel song belted out by a celebrity in a Gardena park, to the sidewalk discussions between Donald Trump supporters and Black protesters in Torrance,Saturday was another day of impassioned demonstrations throughout Los Angeles County.

This is the fourth weekend of actions in the Southland and across the United States in response to the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Floyd was killed when a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and face-down on the ground.

The officer was fired and has been charged with second-degree murder.Three other officers involved in the arrest were also fired and have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

A gathering of Trump supporters in Torrance attracted about 100 people, as well as a smaller group of racial equality activists.

On the southeast corner of Madrona Avenue and Torrance Boulevard, Trey Clark, of Torrance Peaceful Protests handed out water bottles and snacks,including to proud Republicans like Benjie Bundoc, 54, and his wife Mary Ann,who held signs like “THANK YOU TORRANCE PD, GOD BLESS'' and “BLUE LIVES MATTER.''

Clark said he understands there are diverse of opinions about how to improve relations between marginalized communities and police.

“People have deep convictions about the issue of police brutality,''said the Torrance resident, who serves as a pastor at a local church. “We'reout here voicing our concerns.''

Mary Ann Bundoc, a Torrance resident, said she wanted to show her support for the Torrance Police Department because they had been involved in aprogram that helped their daughter during a tough time in her life.

“We owe our lives to them, in a way,'' she said, describing how the program assisted people with mental health and other challenges. “Our family member would always call 911.''

But, she added, it was a journey for her to develop trust with officers, since they immigrated from the Philippines -- where relations with police can be even more fraught than in America.

“I cannot help myself but always be scared of the police, with where I come from,'' she said, suggesting protesters don't understand how lucky they are to have the freedom to express criticism of authorities. “You cannot do in the Philippines what you're doing here.''

As she spoke, a car filled with young men shouted expletives at her,before driving away.

She shrugged it off and smiled.

“Blue lives matter?'' yelled a young Black protester who approached on the sidewalk, but didn't want to give his name. “I never seen a blue person in my life.''

His 22-year-old friend, Xavier Hernandez, said they felt it was a slap in the face for the Trump supporters to hold a rally on a weekend filled with Juneteenth events, marking the end of slavery in the United States.

“They're trying to counter protest,'' he said, urging racial equity activists to band together. “We should be teaming up to fight the 1 percent.''

Paul Rodriguez, an Apple Valley resident, said as a veteran of the U.S. Army, it was important for him to show his appreciation for law enforcement.

“All they have to do is obey the law, and obey what the officer is telling them to do,'' he said, suggesting the Atlanta killing of Rayshard Brooks was justified. “If it was me, I would have shot him in the leg.''

Mike McCoy, 66, shouted a series of pro-Trump phrases through amegaphone to a chorus of honking from supportive drivers.

“You know what those people need to do?'' he asked in an interview,referring to Black Lives Matter activists. “They need to grow up.''

The resident of Orange said he doesn't believe racism is a problem in American police forces.

“Just Google these things,'' he said, refuting it could even be possible. “If I flap my arms hard enough I can fly.''

He quickly conceded the last point, but reasserted his opinion that structural racism isn't a problem in American law enforcement.

Some of the police reform protesters later showed up at the Black Lives Matter event at Rowley Park in Gardena, which was held in honor of fathers killed by police violence. It was specifically focused on the memory of Kenneth Ross Jr., a 25-year-old man who was killed by a Gardena officer in 2018 near the site of the gathering, which attracted at least 400 people.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office found the officer had acted in self-defense. Supporters of the family told the crowd they weremad that the body camera video of the killing was only released two months ago,and wouldn't have seen the light of day if it weren't for pressure from BlackLives Matter activists.

“He was a father, son and a brother,'' said Eddie Anderson, a pastor at McCarty Memorial Church in Los Angeles, who helped set up the event.“Police does not make us safe.''

Anderson said he'd like to see money be diverted from police departments and earmarked for job-creation efforts, better educational resources and violence intervention workers.

Marlene Giacomazzo, a 37-year-old woman from France, who was waiting in line for funnel cake sponsored by the cast of the Oprah Winfrey-produced show “Greenleaf", said she's been trying to go to at least two protests every week.

“In France, it doesn't excuse anything, but we have a different type of racism,'' she said, adding she had a personal reason for heading to the South L.A. event. “Gardena is the city of my ex-husband, and he's African American.''

The event kicked off with a chant of the name “Andres Guardado.''He's the 18-year-old Los Angeles man who was shot and killed by at least one sheriff's deputy on Thursday in Gardena.

Around the same time, Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a press conference where he said his deputies were seeking video of the fatal shooting, and said Guardado had an illegal firearm.

Authorities had also claimed Ross was a dangerous man with a gun, his mother, Fouzia Almarou, told the somber crowd at the park, in a no-holds barred speech that drew frequent applause.

“My son didn't have no gun,'' she said, registering her disapproval of District Attorney Jackie Lacey's handling of the case. “I don't give a f***if they hang that mother******“Jackie Lacey, b****, you're going to f****** h*** where you f******belong.''

But Almarou said she was encouraged by the up well of support for police reform in the wake of Floyd's death in Minneapolis.

“That's where I'm from,'' she said. ''I'm so happy.''When Kenneth Ross Sr. spoke, he kept it short and sweet.

“Tomorrow's Father's Day,'' he said thinking of the son he lost.“And the next week is his birthday.''

Both Deborah Joy Winans and Merle Dandridge, who star on OWN network's“Greenleaf," sang rousing numbers for the crowd.

“You put a bullet in my heart,'' Winans sang, “I won't stop breathing.''

Dandridge hadn't planned to present, but got up to sing a classic Gospel number, William Batchelder Bradbury's ''He Leadeth Me,'' which was composed in the middle of the Civil War.

“I can't be silent, can you?'' she asked before launching into the classic.

Family members of Ryan Twyman, Daniel Hernandez and Eric Rivera --killed by police officers or sheriff's deputies -- were also in attendance atthe event.

Meanwhile, at the sheriff's station in Palmdale, protesters were assembling to demand answers in the case of Robert Fuller, whose body was foundhanging in a tree on June 10.

As things got into full swing around 7 p.m., upwards of 80-100 protesters faced off with more than 40 deputies in riot gear.

One protester's voice cracked as she yelled at deputies.

“The whole world is watching!'' the protesters repeatedly shouted inunison.

Sarah Muzquiz, 21, of south Pasadena, said she doesn't believe the initial finding that Fuller's death was a suicide.

“I just think the police have lost their heart,'' she said. “We're all human and we have to support each other.''

Muzquiz said she's convinced it must have been a ''lynching,'' given that the man was discovered in a tree near Palmdale City Hall. She believes that even if evidence surfaces confirming the original stated cause of death --such as in the hanging of Malcolm Harsch, about 50 miles away – structural racism in the community likely would have still played a part.

“If he's that depressed, why is he that depressed?'' she asked.“Black people in this country are seen as dangerous.''

Her friend Tuesday Thornton, 26, grew up nearby near the border of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. She says she's witnessed plenty of structural inequality in area cities.

“Gentrification is forcing Black and Brown people to move to these areas where the systems are historically racist,'' she said. “I call it white supremacy.''

She, too, called the death a ''lynching'' and said she feels that even if it turns out to be a suicide, she would blame systemic racism for driving the man toward a death wish.

In the heat of the moment, as the crowd yelled “What happened to Robert Fuller?'' -- with snipers looking down from the rooftop – Sharif Harvey, a 56 year-old man from Lancaster, took a different tack.

His years in prison taught him what it takes to get the attention of authorities. On the one hand, he said, physical violence can draw a reaction –something he proved through several altercations behind bars.

But another avenue, he stressed, is constructive, pointed, dialogue.“They take orders,'' he said of the front line deputies in riot gear,adding as a Black Muslim, he tries to live his life in a way where he doesn't react irrationally to situations. “We need to put these people in a position to help us.''

That's why he approached Sgt. Sandecki, a mustachioed man who called for reinforcements to the tactical line.

“My objective was to find out what is the protocol,'' Harvey said,describing his effort to discover where advocates for a complete investigation can best apply pressure. “He responded to me good, because I responded to him good.''

Sandecki told Harvey he doesn't actually have any part to play in the investigation. After all, he was called in with several other deputies from another station to assist with the protest response.

“He was fine,'' Sandecki said, who declined to give his first name,describing Harvey's constructive interaction.Harvey said he hopes a recording device near city hall can be unearthed to prove the truth of Fuller's death once and for all.

Just after 8 p.m., refrains such as “Cops and Klan go hand in hand!''had died down, and at least one officer exchanged personal stories of loss and frustration with a protester standing inches from his face.

The crowd had dipped to 50-60 people by 8:30 p.m, as a news program airing on KFI AM 640 at the time questioned the response of the sheriff's department to Fuller's death.

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