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Activists protest racism, police brutality in Los Gatos #BlackLivesMatter march

By Sofia Rossi and Cooper Bowen

National/World Editor and Editor-in-Chief

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On Wed., Jun. 3, hundreds of protesters marched down Los Gatos Boulevard in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, joining millions worldwide in a shared cry of outrage against police brutality and systemic racial injustice. Spurred by the viral video of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on May 25, community and student activists organized a peaceful protest to highlight deep-rooted racism in Los Gatos.

From 9:30 to 10 a.m., mask-wearing protesters trickled into the plaza and parking lot outside the Starbucks located at the Los Gatos Boulevard–Blossom Hill Road intersection. Dozens quickly grew to hundreds as the parking lot filled to capacity, making social distancing guidelines nearly impossible to follow. Right before the march began, lead student organizer and rising LGHS sophomore Nika Sabouri stood on an elevated bench and delivered a brief speech, emphasizing the importance of upholding the peaceful nature of the protest, as well as the role police officers would play in keeping demonstrators safe. Then, using red, black, and green bandanas, she identified key organizers who could answer questions and help maintain peace.

In coordination with the protest, police cars blocked all vehicle traffic from Blossom Hill Rd. to the Los Gatos Public Library. After organizers concluded their introductions, demonstrators funneled into the empty street and began the 45-minute march. The crowd easily stretched the entire width of the street, even spilling onto the sidewalk and median. To accommodate for congestion as the road narrowed, protesters sometimes ventured into the adjacent lanes of traffic, prompting police cruisers to occasionally drive by and respectfully order them back to the designated lane.

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Carrying signs, hundreds of protestors march down East Main Street towards the Los Gatos Public Library.

A sea of homemade cardboard signs emblazoned with black sharpie and colorful paint undulated above protesters, bearing prominent slogans of the BLM movement; some phrases included: “I understand that I will never understand, but I stand,” “If you are not angry you are not paying attention,” and “Respect existence or expect resistance.”

As the march progressed, residents along Los Gatos Blvd. cheered from their porches and sidewalks, while passing cars honked their horns in support. Many even joined the protest themselves, drawn by the infectious passion and atmosphere of the crowd.

Frequent call-and-response chants, including “Whose lives matter? Black Lives Matter!” and  “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” punctuated the march. Vocal members of the community initiated the rallying cries, and the rest of the crowd would erupt in a unified and impassioned response. Activists also honored the memory of recent victims of police brutality with chants such as “Say his name! George Floyd!” and “Say her name! Breonna Taylor!”; both Floyd and Taylors’ deaths catalyzed the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests currently sweeping the nation.

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A placard memorializing George Floyd stands out starkly among a myriad of cardboard signs.

Many demonstrators shared with El Gato News the reasons why they decided to protest. Read their comments below. 

Chris (Community member) – “I’m sick of the injustice in this country, and black lives matter. I’m here to support them. I just want to see justice. I just want black lives to matter and an end to police brutality.”

Emma (Class of 2022) – “I’m very privileged; I live a very privileged life, and I would like to use that privilege to make a difference. I absolutely hope we see reforms in the system [because of these marches]. I hope our culture and the police system changes for the better. I think [issues of police brutality and racism] are absolutely prevalent because of how many people are white in our community. Really educating the students, especially on how to view equality and be self-aware of their privilege, is really important.”

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Community member Deirdre holds her hand-painted sign honoring #BlackLivesMatter.

Deirdre (Community member) – “[I am here today] because I witnessed a murder, so I had to do something. I’ve been to [the] downtown San Jose marches too; [racism] is just disgusting. [These protests are] moral for me—it’s like a bonding thing. I just think it’s important for everyone to be out protesting, because it’s unacceptable.”

Lucie (Class of 2021) – “I believe in what we’re protesting for. I hope that we see actual prison sentences for the men who killed George Floyd, and I hope we see new improvements in the justice system and with cops.”

Melanie (LGHS parent) – “Racial justice is one of the causes I feel strongly about. Things like this [march] help bridge the gap of the racial divide, because there’s not a lot of diversity in Los Gatos. Seeing all these people come out in support of racial justice empowers the kids themselves. When they’re alone in high school, they might not always feel like they can stand up, and this [march] gives them that boost that [helps them to] stand up.”

Francesca (Class of 2022) – “I definitely recognize my privilege as a white person and I live in Los Gatos, which is a very rich, privileged area. I want to use that to protest for something that I strongly believe in. I think that by doing these protests it really shows that we’re all here and we all know what’s right. The more people that protest, the more it shows that the country really needs to move forward.”

Anubha (Community member) – “I feel everybody is equal, and that’s why there should be changes. I think [racism and racial injustice] is everywhere—we just have failed to acknowledge it, and we need to acknowledge it now. We are whatever color we are.”

After coming to the end of their route, protesters took a seat on the lawn in front of the public library, gathering around a large metallic sculpture where the organizers convened. The crowd, according to the Los Gatos–Monte Sereno Police Dispatch, numbered approximately 1,000 by that point.

 For the next hour, a series of guest speakers gave speeches on various topics, including their personal experiences with racism and the importance of bringing about change. Notable community activist speakers included Abby Lucas, Alicia (who asked to omit her last name), Ana James, Kamelle Mills, and Pilar Crawford. Several LGHS students also shared their own stories, defining the protest as one grounded in student activism and initiative.

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Lead student organizer Sabouri passionately addresses the crowd at the end of the march.

Rising senior and lead student organizer Elizabeth Madison delivered the first official speech of the day, describing specific instances of racism she has both witnessed and experienced at LGHS: “Slurs are as common as trips to the bathroom in a school plagued with smoking addictions… Students freely shout the n-word across the lawn like it’s a casual greeting between friends. I’ve seen teachers time and time again turn their cheek when racial slurs are used in their classrooms… No one should have to walk down the halls of their own school or the streets of their home town and feel as if they are out of place.”

Student speaker Donya Behroozi, also a rising senior, emphasized the importance of non-black allies in the battle against racial inequality, especially at a predominately white school like LGHS: “I will support all of you to help fight the continuous injustices faced by people of color in our world. I will scream their names [George Floyd and Breonna Taylor], I will sign the petitions, and I will protest alongside you all. Because that’s what we’re meant to do as a community. We’re here to create a united front to finally bring the justice that you all deserve… We’ll start small but get farther than anyone has ever seen.”

In an impromptu condemnation of the LGHS administration, graduating senior and lead student organizer Casey Kamali explained that she and the other organizers wanted to have protesters gather on the lawn in front of LGHS, instead of the park in front of the public library. She shared that the school would not allow this to occur, despite the police allegedly agreeing that the front lawn was the safest location. After Kamali made this statement, the crowd—a large portion of whom were high school students—immediately responded with a series of boos in fierce disapproval of LGHS’s decision. When asked to comment on the accusation, LGHS Principal Kristina Grasty communicated that the town would address the incident in a forthcoming statement. This article will be updated when new information becomes available. 

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Mask-wearing demonstrators proudly carry signs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It is no secret that LGHS has a long-standing history with racism; only three years ago, two racist promposal incidents at the high school gained national media attention. The first incident involved an LGHS senior boy who asked a senior girl to prom wearing blackface and posted it on social media; the second concerned a junior boy who asked a sophomore girl to prom in front of an audience with a poster depicting a lynched black man and the words “Do u wanna be like a N****r and hang at PROM?”

More recently, on Fri., May 29, an unidentified student or group of students intruded on a class Google Meet and “[interrupted] the class using the n-word.” Furthermore, an account with the username @lghskoolkidsklub (Los Gatos High School KKK) surfaced on Instagram. Further investigation connected the account to a series of white supremacy pages targeting Bay Area high schoolers. On Jun. 3, a second Los Gatos KKK account—not associated with the high school—emerged and has yet to be taken down. 

Within 24 hours of the original LGHS KKK page circulating, “a highly offensive racist Snapchat posting by an LGHS [freshman]” went viral on Twitter, garnering over 53,000 views and 1,400 retweets as of Jun. 4.

Student speeches at the protest largely focused on the painful experiences of black people and other people of color at LGHS. Speakers also called upon demonstrators to be more than just not racist, but rather actively anti-racist. Kamali summed up the overarching message of the protest in an emboldening call to action: “If you see something, step up and say something. Don’t be complacent or you are complicit.” 

Photo Credit Maddie Dewhirst

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