Black Lives Matter Finds Love & Support In LA’s Mostly White Suburbs
Photographs & Text by Todd Bigelow/Contact
As the BLM movement reaches new heights, several national media outlets have taken notice of a substantial difference from previous Black Lives Matters support: White suburbia is joining in.
“As crowds have surged through American cities to protest the killing of George Floyd, one of the striking differences from years past has been the sheer number of white people.”- New York Times , June 12
“The deliberate decision of protest organizers to steer demonstrations to whiter, wealthier areas may have played a role in a wider awakening,” said Jody Armour, a professor at the USC Gould School of Law who specializes in racial issues.- Los Angeles Times , June 21:
“Demonstrations in response to Floyd’s death are spreading beyond urban centers to whiter, wealthier, more conservative suburbs than prior protests against police brutality and racism.” – Los Angeles Times , June 6
“Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis has led white Americans to call out racism against Black Americans more vigorously than at any moment in recent memory.” – Los Angeles Times, June 28
Many are not only taking it to the streets, they’re taking it to the manicured, wide streets of suburbia. I photographed several of these suburban protests in predominantly white, middle class communities after being surprised by the locations of BLM demonstrations. In Thousand Oaks, a city that is 82% white with a median household income of $105,000, they demonstrate on sidewalks by Bentley dealerships, police in riot gear nowhere to be seen. In Simi Valley where barely 1% of residents are African American, white teens hang-out sunroofs screaming “F**k the police!” as they drive by the civic plaza where, 28 years earlier, four LAPD officers were acquitted by an all white jury in the beating of black motorist Rodney King which led to the deadly 1992 LA riots. In West Hills, where barely 2% of residents are African American, hundreds gathered after a middle aged white man organized a protest on the neighborhood Facebook page.
The fact that a progressive movement calling for transformative police reform could find support in long-standing, conservative, white suburbs is indicative of imminent change and a new reckoning for America’s long struggles with racial equality. In Black Lives Matter, Suburban Edition, senior citizens lead marches, wide-eyed children get their first experience at civil disobedience, women wave signs that read “White Silence = Violence,” and West African dance music rises from a landscaped park along with calls for defunding the police.
New York Times: “In the first two weeks of coast-to-coast protests, support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased by nearly as much as it had the previous two years, according to Civiqs, an online research firm. Just over half of American voters support the movement, and in dozens of towns that held protests, the population was almost exclusively white.”- June 22, 2020
New York Times: “We see so many white people who hate us, absolutely hate us for the way that we look,” Ms. Patton said, adding: “To see white people on the front lines, it’s exciting to know that these younger generations of white people care.”- Cherish Patton, BLM Organizer, in a June 26 story.
Polling data makes it clear why protests are popping up in suburban landscapes like Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and elsewhere. Following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York in 2014, only 43% of Americans felt police abuse of minorities was a systemic problem. Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, that number exploded to over 69% as demonstrations reached far beyond urban landscapes.
Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley have always been Republican islands in a sea of Democrats with both cities serving as home for many law enforcement officers (so many that LA Weekly once wrote a profile about Simi Valley called “Copland”). Politically, Simi Valley has nearly 14.5% more Republican voters and Thousand Oaks checks in at 10% for the party of Lincoln, yet both suburbs have held large Black Lives Matter demonstrations despite having a very low percentage of African American residents. West Hills, tucked into the western most edge of Los Angeles, is considered slightly more diverse. Although separate party affiliation figures for West Hills are not available, it is part of the 30th Congressional district which is in the Democrat’s hands, but the African American population remains below 2.5%.
Below is a small sample of images. ©Todd Bigelow/Contact Press Images