Kevin Cody

No riot going on: Black Lives Matter comes to Manhattan Beach

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Activists Malachi McMahon, Dalia Feliciano, and Jemal Williams with fellow Black Lives Matter protesters at the Manhattan Beach pier. All three protest leaders, and a fourth who was not present, Nia Marshall, attended Mira Costa High School. Photo by J.P. Cordero.

by Mark McDermott and Ryan McDonald

The word was out Monday. A Black Lives Matter protest was coming to Manhattan Beach.

On social media platforms Facebook and NextDoor, residents fretted at what was to come. NextDoor in particular had hundreds of comments. 

“I have an idea—do not allow this ‘protest’ to take place,” wrote Peggy Malpee on NextDoor.  “Enough is enough. The minute a group is allowed into a community, it is just a matter of time before looting and violence occur. Is that what you want?” 

“I just heard it was someone from MB that invited this protest/looting,” wrote Montie Taylor on NextDoor. “Is that true? I hope not.” 

“Let’s identify them and be proactive,” replied Rory O’Brien. 

“If they touch Ercoles or North End I will fight,” wrote Dennis McGivern on Facebook. “Lol.” 

Nearly all downtown Manhattan Beach businesses boarded up. Skechers president Michael Greenberg paid and organized for the bulk of the plywood window protection. 

Photo by JP Cordero

A poster began circulating early Tuesday on social media. A Black Lives Matter protest was indeed scheduled for noon in front of the Manhattan Beach Pier. A disclaimer across the top of the poster said, “We are here to facilitate peaceful protest and demand justice for black lives. No violence will be tolerated.” The poster included instructions for what to wear —  all black, face and head coverings, eye protection, comfortable shoes, and no loose clothing, jewelry, or hair. Protesters were instructed “to walk uniformly in a line, so as not to give the appearance of a mob” and to “ignore verbal assaults and reject invitations to expressions of violence.” 

Twenty minutes before noon on Tuesday, protesters began streaming down Manhattan Beach Boulevard. They mostly walked single file, or in small groups, and were mostly young; some were African-American, some Latino, a few white, a few older. They were uniformly disciplined. Some greeted the police officers who had cordoned off the street. Mayor Richard Montgomery watched from the parking lot overlooking the pier. 

By noon, a few hundred protesters stood at the foot of the pier. They held signs: “Black Lives Matter,” “Enough is Enough,” “I Can’t Breathe.” 

They chanted: “This is what democracy looks like,” “No justice, no peace,” “We will end police brutality,” “Silence is violence.” 

Photo by JP Cordero

More and more people arrived, both protesters and observers, swelling to a crowd of about 1,000. 

Social media was still abuzz. “BLM protesters are Mobbing Up on Manhattan Beach Pier right now,” wrote Jeff Hennebry on Facebook. “Hope they don’t burn it down.”

Chants eventually gave way to individual speakers. 

“I understand you have this nice beach here,” said Malachi McMahon, one of the protest’s leaders. “You have these nice homes. But you got to realize, we are human as well. So I understand that this may not personally affect you, but when we are hurt, everyone else is hurt.” 

McMahon, who is 18, said he attended Mira Costa High School. He was a running back for the MCHS Mustangs, and as a musician was once profiled by the school paper. 

Former Mira Costa High students Malachi McMahon

“But I can say, as a person of color, I didn’t feel completely accepted,” McMahan told the crowd. “Some people were nice to me…but I don’t think they were ever able to understand my story, able to empathize, to put yourself in my shoes, as to what it’s like to wake up every day and really be in fear of my life. Or to wake up every day and when I step outside I have to make sure to carry myself a certain way, because I don’t want a gentleman to see me as a dog or a criminal.”

Jemal Williams, a friend of McMahon’s and a fellow Mira Costa alumnus and Mustang football player, shared that he keeps the vehicle registration for his car in the map pocket of the driver’s side door, rather than his glove compartment. He said he does this to make it less likely that he will be killed while presenting his license and registration when he is pulled over by police — which, as a 21-year-old black man living in the United States of America, he has come to expect to happen often.

“I shouldn’t have to do that,” he said. “I should be able to reach, like a normal civilian, into my glove compartment, and get my license and registration, without them thinking, ‘Oh, he’s reaching for something, let me put a bullet in his back.’ And then I’m another story. And then stuff like this is happening, and you have looting, because people are just tired of the system.”

Dalia Feliciano, another of the protest’s organizers, graduated from Mira Costa in 2018. She said that, along with McMahon and Williams, she was not surprised at the online hostility and boarded-up windows that greeted them in the city where they went to high school. But she encouraged those assembled to take it as a sign of the difference they could make.

Photo by JP Cordero

“This kind of thing happens all the time to marginalized people in America,” Feliciano said, referring to the death of Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed by Louisville police in March, whose death, like that of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has been a flashpoint for national protests in recent days.

“Our lives get stolen, we get violated in our own homes. And what do we hear? Silence, crickets. Now look, when we all unify, look at how scared they get. Look at all these boards,” Feliciano said, gesturing to the plywood-covered storefront windows on Manhattan Beach Boulevard. “They boarded up the Ralphs on Sepulveda [Boulevard] 10 minutes away — 10 minutes away!”

“We are all here today simply exercising our First Amendment right, am I correct?” McMahon asked. “But if we all look around, that’s slowly being taken away…They want us to shut up and accept it, don’t do nothing about it. Because if you come out, we going to bring them boys on you all.” 

McMahon gestured to the police. A fleet of squad cars lined the top of Manhattan Beach Boulevard above the pier. The officers, though cooperative with the protesters, each wore a long wooden baton on their belts, the kind used in recent days to quell protests in cities such as Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, and Washington D.C., where things had taken a violent turn. 

Manhattan Beach Police School Resource Officer Donovan Torres finds common ground with a Black Lives Matter protester. Photo by JP Cordero

“Another thing I’ve noticed,” McMahon said. “We all tune into the media. What do you see? The looting, the rioting, the thugs, the criminals. Hey, they heard that we were coming down here today, and what did they do? They boarded up the whole city. They boarded up the whole city, the parking lots and all. But we just came here to spread a positive message. I don’t blame anyone, not anyone personally. I blame the system. I blame the conditioning, the media, the constant portrayal of human people as something less than. We will no longer accept that. The time for change is right now.” 

Feliciano, perhaps aware that on social media rumors had swirled that this was a protest started by outside organizations like Antifa, told the crowd that this was simply a movement of young people who wanted a better future.  

“This protest was organized by black and Latino youth,” she said, raising her voice to a high, almost tattered pitch, breaking with emotion. “This is not about our personal grievances with the city of Manhattan Beach. This is about black and Latino youth, the leaders of tomorrow, advocating for the generations of the future….We will no longer sit silent. We are not okay with fearing for our lives, fearing for our father’s lives, our brother’s lives, our sister’s lives, our babies’ lives.”

“Tamir Rice was 12 years old when they murdered him for playing with a toy gun with an orange tip,” Feliciano said, shouting out each word. “This is not okay.” 

The group surrounding her erupted into a chant: “Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!” 

When McMahon started speaking again, the chants died down. 

“I don’t think y’all understand,” he said, speaking quietly. “Who else’s heart feels heavy? Who else is just tired?  Who else has had enough?” 

McMahon paused and looked straight in front of him, where a middle-aged white man was at the very front of the audience watching the protest. 

“I’m sorry,” McMahon said to the man. “But why do you feel personally affected?” 

“We are all humans,” the man said. 

“Thank you,” McMahon replied. “That’s it, right there.” 

Destination Manhattan Beach 

On Sunday, Williams and his father drove to Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles to witness the destruction wrought by looters the day before. According to accounts in the Los Angeles Times, protesters had gathered peaceably in the Fairfax district on Saturday afternoon, but by nightfall, rioters in the area were smashing windows and stealing merchandise from fashionable retailers. Several buildings were set on fire. Williams, who started a clothing company run out of downtown Los Angeles, said he felt horrible for the shattered businesses. As he and his father took pictures of the aftermath, Williams also sensed the historical heft of the moment. That night, he texted McMahon.

“I said, ‘Lets go to a protest. I want to spread a positive message.  I’m not trying to loot or nothing like that.’ And he said, ‘Where at?’”

At the time, protests and rumors of protests were so prevalent on social media that it was difficult to keep up. Williams, who is living at home in Inglewood while back from college in Texas, suggested a place they knew well.

“I told Malachi, Well, let’s start our own protest. We’ll go down to Manhattan Beach. We went to school down there, we got friends down there. Plus, I don’t think Manhattan Beach has had a protest like that, ever,” Williams said. 

Photo by JP Cordero

They had their work cut out for them. As had occurred Saturday, peaceful protests in Long Beach and Santa Monica descended into looting on Sunday evening, inspiring the first of several days of countywide curfews. And just as social media was being used to organize and plan protests, it also became a place to stoke fear of them. One widely circulated post from the Twitter account @Antifa_US advocated foregoing rioting in urban areas in favor of “the residential areas…the white hoods.” (The post, hashtagged “Blacklivesmaters,” was later determined to be the work of a fake account belonging to the white nationalist group Identity Evropa.) Some posts specifically suggested targeting cities in the South Bay, and were recirculated on NextDoor and local Facebook groups. One protest that had been planned for Monday at Bruce’s Beach was canceled.

That day, McMahon and Williams drove to Manhattan. They stopped by Manhattan Pizzeria and saw that it and many other businesses had been boarded up.  As they walked through downtown, they saw a familiar face. 

MBPD Chief Derrick Abell, who is the city’s first African-American chief and also helps coach freshman football at Mira Costa, was walking down Manhattan Avenue. He was out assuring business owners, many who were boarding up their shops, that MBPD would be there to protect them should the riots engulfing parts of Los Angeles reach Manhattan Beach. He didn’t coach either McMahon or Williams, but as football guys, he recognized them, and they recognized him. 

“It just so happens that God is everywhere,” Abell recalled of the chance encounter. “I couldn’t begin to tell you how these things play out. I was walking down the street and saw them walking towards me. ‘What’s up fellas?’” 

The three stopped in front of Manhattan Market and talked. Abell could tell they were hurting from the events of the past week, and tried to share his own experiences to give them hope. Abell, like McMahon and Williams, is originally from Inglewood. He was likewise a star athlete who used his abilities to play in college and gain an education and try to make a positive difference in the world. What had occurred to George Floyd deeply affected Abell both as a police officer and as a black man, and he shared that with the two young men. 

PHoto by Malia Balzer,

“We had a great talk,” Abell said. “Particularly as a father, as a father figure, as a coach, and maybe as a leader in this community, I hoped I could shed some light on what I think is happening, and what I thought about Minneapolis, and about what went wrong. More importantly, as a black man, I felt really sad for the situation to have taken place. We have worked so hard since everything that went on with Rodney King in 1992, and we made progress. That this could still happen —  it was a very sad day for me. I think the kids appreciated my honesty.” 

He told them he tries to lead his own police department as one of partnership. “We try to work with everyone,” Abell told them. “It doesn’t matter what race, what economic background, what area they come from —  we should all treat each other with the same respect afforded anyone, and the same dignity as anyone.” 

Williams said that Abell spoke from the heart, and it really touched him. He hadn’t yet mentioned the protest, because he didn’t want Abell to think they had plans to loot or anything like that, and in his mind, at that point, the protest was likely to be small. But finally, he blurted out the reason they were in town. 

“You know,” he told the chief. “I’m going to be honest with you. We are protesting here tomorrow.”

Abell had to laugh. Given his experience with his own kids, he knew he couldn’t tell the young men not to do what they were hellbent on doing. Instead, he asked them to work with MBPD to ensure that the event was as safe as possible. 

“What I don’t want is for you to do something like this and for people not to hear your message,” Abell told them. “If there’s a lot of other noise, that takes away from the opportunity for you to be truly heard.” 

They were all on the same page. Williams and McMahon had already reached out to Feliciano and Nia Marshall, another Mira Costa alumna, about how to spread the word about the protest while ensuring that it remained peaceful.

As they strategized, they found themselves recalling scattered, painful experiences associated with being a minority in an overwhelmingly white and wealthy community. Feliciano said that holding the protest at the Manhattan Pier was a way to both challenge and recognize a place that had shaped their adolescence.

Photo by Kevin Cody

“We chose Manhattan Beach because every single one of the organizers has a direct tie, whether it’s because we lived here or we went to school here. We all have a direct tie to the community. And what we have shared and discovered in talking amongst ourselves is that we all have experienced instances of racism in Manhattan Beach. It was to show the community that we, that, you know, black and Latino youth, are in the community, we are active members of the community, and we have a voice and we will use it,” Feliciano said. “But also, I didn’t doubt that members of the community would show up. For as many racist experiences as I have had, I’ve also had a lot of really loving happy and supported experiences with the community members of Manhattan Beach. I think that our demonstration, and our choice to demonstrate in Manhattan Beach, does address both sides: telling the racist people we’re here and you can’t kick us out, and telling the people who support us, directly inviting them to use their presence to strengthen our message.”

They formed an Instagram account, MB Peace Protest. They had to be vigilant that other, unaffiliated groups didn’t tarnish their nascent movement by encouraging violence or looting. At the same time, they had to get the word out; a protest doesn’t communicate anything if nobody comes. 

Williams prayed on it: both that people would come to the protest, and that nothing bad would happen. He rose early Tuesday morning with a good feeling. He texted McMahon. 

“You up early,” came the reply. 

“It’s game day,” Williams texted back. “I’m excited.” 

Williams and Feliciano met again with police Tuesday morning to work out details. They estimated that the protest would attract 40 to 50 people. The police had to plan for more; they were uncertain if other groups would take advantage of the protest, and put nearby agencies on notice for mutual aid should it be needed. A crime analyst had been monitoring social media for any signs of trouble. There were some disturbing messages, particularly on Twitter. “Go protest in Manhattan Beach and Hermosa where all the white supremacists are,” read one tweet, part of a chain. “Take it to their hood for once.” 

Photo by JP Cordero

Marshall, who graduated from Mira Costa in 2019, made the difficult decision not to attend, in order to lessen the chance of contracting COVID-19 and infecting her family members. (The vast majority of the assembled crowd wore masks.) She described the days since Floyd’s death as “the most stressful week I’ve endured in a long time.” As she took in the news from around the country, she began to suspect that others felt the same. 

“You see this man who is clearly innocent, and he’s killed in cold blood. It literally brought me to tears,” Marshall said. “And then I saw the reaction that America had, and it kind of just heightened the reaction that I had. You were seeing more needless pain caused to people. I never want to watch people suffer. Honestly, that’s what moved me to want to protest: to bring sort of the spirit of healing to our country. Because a lot of people are really hurt, are really broken right now.” 

Feliciano and her family moved to the South Bay from Eagle Rock when she was a kid. Marshall, like McMahon and Williams, grew up in Inglewood. Their families worked to get them into the Manhattan Beach Unified School District to take advantage of the schools’ resources. The organizers’ experience with the protest reflected an expansive notion of community: one in which the price of real estate does not dictate where people may find themselves feeling at home.

“Even though I’m not from Manhattan Beach, I spent a good deal of my formative years down there. I was a Junior Lifeguard, I went to high school there, I was a Girl Scout there. But I did always feel separate from the community, even though I had spent a good deal of time there, and that was because of my race. I felt a connection to it but at the same time felt alienated from it. I thought that it would be a good idea to open up a conversation about it,” said Marshall, who is black. “Now is a time when race relations in American really have people’s attention. And so I figured it would be good to take the plunge down there, just try to use it to unify us, rather than make it something divisive.”

Game day

Malachi McMahon had been at the center of a mostly white crowd in Manhattan Beach before, back during his football days, when he had some star turns as a running back for Costa at Waller Stadium. But he’d never had their attention in the way he did Tuesday at the pier, and he wanted to make use of it. 

“I don’t want the emotions to override the facts,” he told the audience. 

Helicopters flew overhead. News cameras surrounded the protesters. The mayor of the city watched from the parking lot above. McMahon said that what was being protested was not only the blatant violence that has ended too many black lives but the economic forces underlying it. He referenced statistics regarding America’s racial wealth gap. 

“The typical black family has only 10 cents for every dollar held by a typical white family,” McMahon said, citing a disparity that has been analyzed by the Institute for Policy Studies and Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. “ I don’t want to divide us. We all in this together. That’s true. But think about that. Only 10 cents for every dollar is held by the black community compared to the white community. So if we don’t hold any economic value, then it’s nothing to kill us off. It’s nothing to leave us dead on the street. We need black ownership.” 

McMahon brought up Bruce’s Beach, the city park that contains a chapter of Manhattan Beach’s own tragic history regarding black ownership. The land was owned by the Bruces, a black family who operated a successful resort that was a destination for the broader L.A. African-American community in the 1910s and early 1920s. The Klu Klux Klan unsuccessfully tried to burn the resort down, but then in 1924, the city itself took the land by eminent domain. 

Photo by Anne Williams

“I was speaking with a gentleman yesterday, and he was an officer, and he said, ‘People like us used to own Bruce’s Beach,’” McMahon said. “Let’s not worry about the divisiveness. Just because we are preaching pro-black doesn’t mean we are anti-white. That’s not what it is.”

“We just want to be equals,” said Williams. “When we wake up as black men….our parents tell us to be careful, and explain to us that when we get pulled over by a cop, we have to put our hands on the dashboard. I fear for my life every time I get pulled over by a cop.” 

Shortly thereafter, the protest leaders led another chant: “Empathize, embrace, empower!” 

McMahon took a moment as the chant ended to shout out MBPD. 

“They’ve helped us out,” he said. “Officers, thank you so much for keeping us safe, making sure everything goes well and is handled properly.” 

Williams led a prayer for George Floyd. It was a solemn moment. All the protesters knelt to the ground, holding hands, and closed their eyes. Much of the audience likewise bent down in prayer.

“Thank you for this beautiful, blessed day, God,” Williams said. “Thank you for bringing us all together as one to have a peaceful protest. Please bless George Floyd’s family, as they are going through a tough time right now, God….Please bless the world to come together and to be better in the future. Because we need a better future.” 

McMahon took a moment to talk about the past. He said that black people were first brought to the United States as slaves, and though that institution is gone, part of the system that came with it remains. 

“There’s a mental aspect to that, right? When you see somebody and you see something less than…We have to change the way we think, the condition,” he said. “We have to condition ourselves to see each other as one another, as human people.” 

Members of the local community began to step forward, to share their own thoughts. Phil Morris said that he’d been living for 30 years as a black man in Manhattan Beach. 

“I have lived here in peace. I have lived here in love. And I want Manhattan Beach to be recognized for that. And I thank you for being here,” he said, turning to the young protesters. “And I am shocked to be here, because Manhattan Beach lay low. No more. No more. Because it’s not just the inner cities, it’s not just the South, it’s not just the Midwest. This is why you are on the coast —  coast to coast.” 

Photo by JP Cordero

Morris said patterns of oppression are so ingrained in American culture that neither those oppressed nor the oppressors are often aware.  

“It’s not your fault,” he said. “But it is your responsibility. We have been oppressed. We have lived under 400 years of oppression. So you understand the psychology of what my man is saying: we need to break those chains, as well, as black men and women, and as a society. So you have to understand both the Yin and Yang, you have to understand the hard and soft. There is not cause without effect. The effect you feel is causal. It is not a dream. It is not fake. It is real.”  

“You’re what gives me hope,” he told the protesters. “Because you have a fresh take on this. You’re not beaten down and bruised and cauterized and numb to this, from either side. We rely on you to bring fresh voices. We rely on you to bring order, visibility. You are going to be here long after me. So what do you want? Who do you want to be?” 

Another man also stepped forward. Cedric Jones, who owns a local business, said that he’s raising two young men, aged three and six, and that he doesn’t want them to experience society the way he has had to, as a black man. 

“I’m scared for my wife now,” he said. “When I go for a run, she’s like ‘I need to know where you are running.’ What kind of life is this? I can’t even run the streets without giving my wife a map-by-map chart of where I am going, because I might be shot in the streets.” 

“I haven’t had any problems with the city of Manhattan Beach and I love y’all for it,” Jones said. “But there is a real issue going on…And listen to me, when we say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and somebody says, ‘All lives matter…’ Stop saying that to us. We know all lives matter. That’s the dumbest thing you could say to us. And let me say this, if for any reason this starts happening to white people, Asians, Latinos, guess who’s going to be standing up with you?”

Finally, a little boy spoke up. He was white, maybe eight years old, a typical surf grom, with a shock of long sun-bleached hair. 

“No one is going to clean up the mess but us,” the boy said.

The crowd erupted in a long cheer. Shortly thereafter, the protest leaders directed the gathering south. The plan was to walk to the Hermosa Beach pier. 

“Keep it peaceful,” McMahon said. “And keep it powerful.” 

Taking a knee

Feliciano took a look behind her as she loped across the sand, heading south toward Hermosa Beach. The crowd, once bunched together and standing on a slope, revealed itself in greater majesty as it spread over several flat blocks along The Strand and the bike path. She walked quickly and found herself deluged with people wanting to talk. Her voice lost some of the commanding edge it had when she held a microphone. In its place was the breathless giddiness of a person newly aware of her ability to make a difference.

“It’s amazing, it’s validating, it’s gratifying. It’s beautiful to see that people see, hear and understand our message. The fact that we were able to stand out there for almost an hour with absolutely no violence was so absolutely beautiful. It’s just a testament to what can happen when youth unite. Our goal was to finish the demonstration with no injuries and no arrests. And so far, we’re doing really well,” she said as she walked.

As they departed, Bob Beverly, owner of the Shellback Tavern in Manhattan Beach, which overlooks the foot of the pier where the protest had taken place, wished them well on Facebook.

“All is good downtown Manhattan Beach. Thank you to the protesters for showing respect for our community,” Beverly wrote. “We at Shellback Tavern could not bring ourselves to ‘board up’ our ‘neighborhood joint.’ Thank you for proving our faith in you. Here is to changes in the future. As you march towards Hermosa, please show the same respect for their community.”

As they walked, the crowd made way for the occasional surfer or passing jogger. They drew the attention of construction workers laboring on job sites along The Strand, who leaned against unfinished walls and windows as the young crowd walked and chanted. McMahon held a small speaker on his shoulder and carried a microphone for the occasional amplified chant. As the bike path and The Strand merged into one at the border with Hermosa, the crowd funneled and dilated, giving it the appearance of picking up people as it went. At Slater’s 50/50 on the northwest corner of Pier Plaza, patrons sitting in the Strand-facing patio applauded.

Police officers from half a dozen other jurisdictions had followed the protesters from Manhattan to Hermosa. They stationed in patrol cars surrounding the intersection of Pier and Hermosa Avenues, but gave the protesters wide berth in Pier Plaza, where the organizers decided they would conclude the protest by getting everyone to share a moment of silence and take a knee. 

During the gathering at the Manhattan Pier, Williams had held up a sign prepared by Marshall with two pictures. One showed former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who several years ago began taking a knee while the National Anthem played before football games to protest police brutality. Its counterpart was a still of a video of former Minneapolis police Derrick Chauvin with his knee pressed against George Floyd’s neck while Floyd lay restrained on the concrete; Chauvin was subsequently arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with Floyd’s death.

After about 20 minutes, the crowd began to disperse. Some walked along Hermosa Avenue, where local contractor Morgan Sterling was putting up plywood on the windows of Chef Melba’s Bistro. Sterling spent much of Monday and Tuesday fielding similar requests from businesses in Manhattan and Hermosa, and did them all for free [See story on page 10]. Mary Harcourt, owner of the Lilac and Lemon beauty spa next to Chef Melba’s, stood waiting to help the members of Sterling’s crew who were getting ready to cover her windows.

Harcourt, whose business has been shuttered for nearly three months due to restrictions taken to combat the coronavirus pandemic, said she supported the demonstrator’s right to protest. She made the decision to board up her windows after seeing most of the other businesses nearby do the same, fearing that being one of the few uncovered would make her a target. Seeing the kids stream by from Pier Plaza, she said she wasn’t concerned about them, but rather any opportunistic rioters that could follow later.

“I’m more worried about what could happen after the curfew,” Harcourt said.

Back in Manhattan Beach following the protest, things took a brief turn towards real conflict. MBPD Sgt. Tim Zins, one of the few MBPD officers who also was on the force during the 1992 Rodney King riots, said riots in Manhattan Beach were never a possibility 28 years ago. 

Photo by JP Cordero

“This was much different,” Zins said. 

MBPD had studied how other peaceful protests had turned into riots and found that it usually happened when a different group from the organizers arrived. That is what they witnessed at the foot of the pier at about 3 p.m. 

“This was a different group entirely,” Zins said. “They must have picked it up on social media, or Channel 11. It was a different element that came in, and that element was very verbally antagonistic toward our officers.” 

MBPD had planned for this scenario. The options other departments had taken were either to mass and approach the antagonizers or stand back and wait to see what developed. MBPD stood back, but also had been prepared for the use of force —  mutual aid arrived from Hermosa, Gardena, El Segundo, Torrance, and the LA County Sheriff’s Department. Patrol cars lined Manhattan Avenue. In total, Zins estimated 120 officers were ready to engage. 

The group was given a final order to disperse before being arrested. And they dispersed without incident. 

“That is why we bring in more officers, to show we are not going to allow looting, or any other criminal act that may come with a bad crowd,” Zins said.

Zins said that the last part of the day’s activities had nothing to do with the peaceful protest that had come before. “Those are two separate stories,” he said. “All in all, things went great.” 

Chief Abell said that working with the young protesters gave him hope for a better future. He said he hopes to host a frank community discussion on race to continue the dialogue that they started. Abell said at the end of the day, he gave them his cell phone number and asked them to stay in touch —  whether they needed a recommendation, advice, or just to talk. 

Mira Costa Principal Ben Dale with march organizer and former Mira Costa football player Jemal Williams. Photo by Kevin Cody

“They showed what is possible when you do the work to bring about positive change in a peaceful way,” Abell said. “You can have a positive impact on your community, and you can be a model for change not only for Manhattan Beach, but for this entire county, and state, and country. What they have done is a great example of that. These kids are powerful, man. They are the future of our country. I told them, ‘Listen, folks like me are going to retire, and you are going to take care of us.’” 

Over the past week, “taking a knee” at protests has become a way for police officers, national guardsmen and elected officials to signal empathy with the demonstrators’ cause. For the organizers of the MB Peace Protest, the effort to get those gathered to lower a knee in unison became the clearest indication of their success.

Feliciano said that the moment on Hermosa Pier plaza is one that she will take to her grave. 

“Jemal,  Malachi and I are standing there waiting for everybody to gather in the plaza so that we could call for everybody to take a knee,” she said. “And people just kept coming and coming and coming around the corner. Every time that I thought that it was everybody, more people came: more people with signs in their hands, more people with their friends, more people with smiles on their faces. When we finally got everybody into the plaza it was basically full. That moment gave me chills. It was really incredible to see so many people standing in solidarity, in such a large demonstration of peaceful civil unrest.” ER 

 

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