As Angelenos gather for the second week of demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd, volunteers can be found among the masses every day, handing out food, water and hand sanitizer to the protesters marching in the summer sun.
“People have to take care of themselves,” said Briana “B” Moreno, while holding a garbage bag at a protest at City Hall on June 8. “In order to fight the man, they still need to be healthy.”
After Moreno, 31, recovered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma a couple of years ago, she realized health’s importance. Despite the looming danger of COVID-19, she attends protests, collecting garbage and passing out food, water and hand sanitizer to the crowds of people protesting against racial injustice.
“I have disposable income,” she said, mentioning how she was rehired after being furloughed because of COVID-19. “I have no problem going and buying as much water and supplies as people need.”
Despite being raised by her father, who was a former police officer, she stands with the movement and wants to speak out against racial injustice and the killings of innocent black people.
“While I agree with every single solitary thing that is happening, I just want people to remember they’re still human and they’re still susceptible and they need to stay hydrated and they need to stay clean,” she said.
When nurse Cristina Coronel has a day off, she and an informal network of around 100 of her peers attend protests around Los Angeles, wearing a red cross on their backpacks and offering first aid to the protesters.
“This is important,” Coronel said at a protest in front of City Hall on June 8. “This is bigger than us. I have a skill set that I can contribute beyond just being present and having my voice heard.”
The worst injury she treated this week was a dislocated shoulder, she said. Most of the cases she has seen at the protests have been people fainting due to dehydration or low blood sugar.
However, nurses in her network helped protesters at demonstrations where policemen fired rubber bullets in the crowd, causing severe injuries, she said.
As a nurse who is exposed to COVID-19, Coronel said she has to be careful at the protests, “but the concern of people getting hurt without the proper attention is greater, and the need to be here is greater than the virus, and that’s unfortunately where we’re at.”
Black and brown communities have been affected by COVID-19 at disproportionate rates, and she emphasized how racism is unfortunately embedded into the health care system.
“COVID is a black and brown disease and all of this is intertwined,” she said. “It’s all one in the same cause. Racism is a public health concern.”
In the past, Coronel has also worked as a nurse in the jail system.
“I’ve worked at the intersection of a broken health care system and a broken legal system, so all of this is tied in. You can’t marginalize an entire people for so long without there being consequences. As a health care provider, I see those consequences firsthand.”
While her plight as a first-generation Mexican American may not be the same as what African Americans have gone through for generations, she said she feels compelled to help in any way she can.
“There is a lot to be proud of, but it’s a movement that doesn’t occur in a week,” she said. “I’m hoping the momentum continues and people stay empowered and continue organizing.”
Brandon Wetzel, Jasmine Dodson-Schmanek and Rebecca Campione are part of a group of volunteers who travel from Hollywood in a rented Jeep to pass out food and water at protests around Los Angeles.
“We’ve been out pretty much every day since the protests have started,” Dodson-Schmanek said while standing next to their large cooler in front of City Hall on June 8. “We just noticed a lot of other people handing out stuff, and we wanted to contribute.”
After posting on social media, the group received donations and purchased snacks and water to distribute to protesters.
“I want to make sure that the other people who are out are taking care of themselves, because I’ve pushed myself to the point where I was ready to pass out more than one day in a row,” she said.
The group said this is the sixth day since it has started volunteering at protests, saying it has seen no violence and has beeen uplifted by the kindness of the people.
“I’m typically a person who kind of has lost faith in humanity, but these last couple weeks have really filled my heart and restored me with a faith in humanity, as everyone’s just come together all over the world,” Wetzel said.
After being raised in a small town, Wetzel said he has overcome the “redneck” ideology that he learned in his teenage years after joining the military and moving into cities with more diversity.
“People of all walks of life are affected by the decisions of white people,” he said, saying that he and the network of volunteers plan to attend protests until justice is brought to the families who have lost lives to police brutality.
The group of volunteers hopes the momentum from the movement continues, it said, emphasizing that the officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s death have still not been charged. Taylor was shot eight times by Louisville police in Kentucky after they entered her home with a no-knock warrant.
“It’s been 400 years of injustices and it’s been all building up to this moment this year, so I just think it’s super important to keep pushing,” Campione said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”