It’s with grey skies and grave determination that makes hundreds of San Gabriel inhabitants take to the streets on June 6.
Organized over a scant four days, this local protest is a part of the nationwide response to the murder of George Floyd. A near four weeks after the protest, this is the look into the two teenagers behind it and the aftermath.
Liz Campos, a sophomore at Cal State Northridge recalled the rapid escalation from an idea of a protest to its final fruition.
“Me and my partner Gabriel McPheter came up with the plan to put together a protest on Wednesday night and had an event date of Saturday,” Campos said.
There had been multiple events around the area, most notably in Pasadena and Alhambra, that had occurred within a few days prior but Campos, unfortunately, was unable to attend. Motivated by her unavailability to attend earlier protests, she set out to organize one in her own town. Given the sheer amount of preparation required, she needed someone who’d be able to help her pull it off.
That’s where McPhetor comes in.
Meet Gabriel Frank-McPheter, San Gabriel’s very own teen advocate for justice. Dedicated to supporting the fight for racial equality, he’s the 15-year-old grilling local councilmen and councilwomen about defunding and demilitarizing the police. Therefore it’s no surprise that when Campos reached out to her fellow alumni from Gabrielino High School, it’s McPhetor they tell her to contact.
Once acquainted, the two began preparations immediately.
It was a complicated process, compounded by the current pandemic happening. In a span of four days, they were met with the challenge of having to meet all necessary objectives involved in planning. Those objectives included contacting the city mayor, setting up a march route and addressing concerns about safety in the face of the coronavirus.
“It was fun, a little stressful at times, but a good experience and a good outcome,” McPhetor said.
One particular instance that happened during organizing stuck out to both Campos and McPhetor. They (who had already been in contact with police about whether a permit was required or not) had initially been open to the idea of asking the police chief to speak at the protest.
“Asking our city’s police chief to speak among other community members at the march about his support for the protest and a statement on George Floyd would be interesting to hear given that our chief was a Black police officer,” Campos said.
However, the main idea that had been stressed was that this protest was intended to amplify the voices of Black community members. Therefore after receiving feedback from their community and guidance from Campos’ close friend, it was ultimately decided that instead of having the police chief speak, more time would be allotted to community speakers.
It’s one example of the many various decisions that required Campos and McPhetor to actively listen and apply the opinions voiced to them by members from their community.
“This was a huge learning experience for me personally in being able to understand the movement more and at a deeper level, listen to community members and their concerns, and apply criticism effectively and move forward with it,” Campos said.
When the day of the protest finally rolled around, anticipation was thick in the air. It was anticipation charged with the need to speak out against injustice.
People from all parts of the city came out, making sure to bring their signs and masks. It was a stressed point that all protesters would be expected to follow social distancing guidelines while taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves.
As the crowd began to thicken, McPhetor mentioned that he had noticed one man near the sidelines of the library. He was discouraging protesters, telling them “not in San Gabriel, go away.” Regardless, the turnout was far more than what both McPhetor and Campos had expected.
“Initially, we had anticipated only 30 to 50 friends, but it seemed that over the days, word about our march only continued to spread, and on the day of the march we had roughly around 450-500 people,” Campos said.
Armed with a megaphone and a sign that aptly read “Use Your Voice!” Campos led the march through chants compiled from the Black Lives Matter website. Once reaching the San Gabriel Mission, protesters held eight minutes of silence in honor of George Floyd and countless others lost to police brutality.
Community members were then encouraged to use this opportunity to platform their voices. Some speakers recounted the rage they felt in the face of injustice. Others out poured the grief they had been feeling the past week.
Just as Campos and McPhetor promised, the platform was open to any person of the community. And as the number of speakers dwindled once the clock started nearing three, people leaving the protest had their spirits high, hoping that their actions that day motivated seeds of change to grow.
McPhetor speculates that it is partly due to the protest that San Gabriel lawmakers passed Resolutions 21-30. Resolutions 21-30, passed three days after the protest, is the proclamation of San Gabriel’s support for the peaceful protest. Within it, the city promises to review and possibly revise the policing policies in place at the moment.
Now, almost four weeks after the protest, Campos and McPhetor are continuing to find ways to make the fight for racial equality a consistent part of their lives.
McPhetor, who now has contact information of both the mayor and a city councilperson, states that he’ll be demanding changes from local politicians. He’s been discussing with politicians about future changes to the police budget and policies currently held in San Gabriel.
When asked about what advice he’d give to other youths looking to start advocacy, he recommends to first educate yourself. Then start the groundwork of communicating with other local leaders in your area.
In a similar vein, Campos is also interested in keeping the community active.
Impacted by the sense of togetherness she had felt during the protest, Campos is establishing a group for politically active teens in San Gabriel. She encourages more people to get involved in local politics and continue the conversations needed to incite change. However, she states that it’s imperative the city itself continues to reach out.
“San Gabriel needs to do more than wait for people to reach out to them when they have time,” she said. “San Gabriel has to want to support its people and show that they care by actively seeking out its youth and members of the community and ask what they want to see done.”