• Black Lives Matter in Small Towns, Too

    I’ve lived in a small town — South Pasadena, CA — for over 25 years. Many consider it an idyllic liberal community. Fewer than 10 miles from Downtown Los Angeles, South Pasadena is a popular television and film location for All American Town, USA, the oldest builder of floats in the historic Tournament of Roses Parade, and the nation’s first AGZA green zone. As a white woman, I’d felt safe and protected in this bubble — and only when I allied myself to black activists in a visible way did I start to see another side to this city.

    On July 8, I was protesting in support of Black Lives Matter in the company of a fellow protester and organizer, Fahren James, who is Black. A man with an extensive criminal record named Joe Richcreek, bearing a rock and a sharpened drumstick, spat in my face as I filmed his hostile behavior on my phone. The spit also hit Fahren.

    The South Pasadena Police reluctantly filed a report, and only after Fahren insisted. Two nights later, he threw a rock at Fahren, calling her a “fucking bitch.” Without help from the police, she tracked Richcreek down and he was finally arrested, though not for the spitting assault — only for throwing a rock at Fahren — and he was released soon after. The police reports for these two assaults are full of inaccuracies and biases, especially against Fahren, making her — the victim — sound like the suspect.

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (NY-14) recent response-speech to Rep. Ted Yoho’s (FL-03) calling her a “fucking bitch,” delivered on the House floor, applies to Fahren; Richcreek hurled these same words at her. They seem popular lately.

    “It is a culture of lack of impunity,” Ocasio-Cortez said, “of accepting violence and violent language against women, an entire structure that supports that.”

    Richcreek’s violence toward Fahren was certainly not limited to his words.  He came back for the third time the afternoon of July the 19, riding his bicycle to the corner of the BLM protest with a pipe lodged under his arm, and he threatened a BLM protester. When the police arrived, they had to be briefed by five members of the community on the two prior incidents of hate crimes, never mind that they occurred a block from their police station and City Hall.

    Where would Richcreek be if his skin were darker?

    He clearly has problems, but he’s free to harass people, and the fact that he isn’t suffering consequences for his lifetime of antisocial behavior speaks to the exact white privilege that the BLM protests address.

    Performative politics abound in South Pasadena, where nails were found in the driveways and on the porches of million-dollar BLM-supporting homes, and councilperson Michael Cacciotti and Mayor Bob Joe made a point to visit these victims; yet no one has reached out to Fahren or to her brother, London Lang, who started the ongoing BLM protest over 50 days ago.

    They also abounded in the virtual community forum where Fahren and I relayed our experiences in a Zoom storytelling setting — private, no recording allowed — organized by the city council’s new Future of Policing in South Pasadena Subcommittee, formed in response to the popularity of BLM. The chief of police, councilmembers, and about 70 other community members listened. Once again, they did not reach out to us afterward.

    They abounded still in the proposed hate crime resolution proposed five days after Richcreek was arrested, though the attacks were never mentioned in the City Council meeting. Councilmember Marina Khubesrian has been holding court with the South Pasadena Youth 4 Police Reform and the Anti-Racist Committee, and her solution is to create a mural, while disregarding the attacks and the SPPD’s negligible response.

    All of these events have happened against the backdrop of South Pasadena business owners who have taken a different stance entirely. One posted on her Facebook that she doesn’t support BLM because it’s a hate group. Another commented on my Instagram: Please don’t bring the wrong attention to South Pasadena… We don’t need looting here! Or the business owner whose grammatically Trumpian council meeting public comment against the local BLM protest reads, in part: Are we willing to put our residences at risk by defunding the police department. All Lives Matter. Stop the racism by having to distinguish what color your skin is to be an American. We are all Americans.

    I’m frustrated by the so-called progressive council people who sit on the dais and proclaim “All Black Lives Matter,” yet they have failed to recognize or acknowledge the Black lives that were attacked at our crossroads, and continue to be threatened.

    What happened to Fahren and me is not unusual. It is happening to people, and mostly women, all over the country who have the courage to stand up to the status quo. White allyship is not always comfortable. It’s a journey on a road that isn’t straight or smooth. It requires acknowledgment of a historically racist framework.

    The BLM movement is relevant to all enclaves — and especially to those who like to fly under the radar. The universality of the importance of this movement is significant in small towns like ours — towns that have enjoyed the luxury of saying “This doesn’t happen here.”