Ten days ago I was in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday.
From the pavement, I watched the Freddie Gray demonstration and protest march. It was a small demonstration with probably no more than 300 people taking part. They were escorted by two police cars at the front of the march with another 20 cars following a short distance behind the last demonstrators.
By the heavy police presence, I presume they wanted to be on hand should the demonstration turn sour. But it was peaceful with bystanders quietly looking on.
I clapped as they passed by and got looks of appreciation from the marchers. You remember Freddie Gray. He is the 25-year-old black man from Baltimore who was arrested and suffered a fatal spinal injury on April 12 while being transported in a police van.
White people too must be concerned at the number of black men being shot by police officers throughout the US.
His death has sparked demonstrations in a number of US cities. Baltimore's chief prosecutor has charged six officers with crimes including murder and manslaughter.
What did surprise me was the number of white people taking part in the march. Although why should I be surprised? White people too must be concerned at the number of black men being shot by police officers throughout the US.
There have long been accusations and tensions between the police and poor communities in many of the predominantly black cities. Police brutality and violent conduct against black suspects may have had to be endured in the past but it is now drawing national attention. Particularly after video evidence has emerged to contradict official accounts.
As it happened the day before, I visited the offices of the Watts Labour Community Action Committee (WLCAC). It is a non-profit community-based organisation dedicated to improving the quality of life for residents in South Central Los Angeles. It was set up after the race riots in Watts in 1965. These raged for six days and resulted in more than US$40 million worth of property damage. It was the largest and costliest urban rebellion of the civil rights era.
The president and CEO, Timothy Watkins, talked about that time and what is happening today. He said the riot and unrest in Baltimore and other parts of the US were not just about Freddie Gray and the others who had died, it was also about the same grievances and discontent of 1965. Substandard housing, inadequate schools, indifferent health system and high unemployment rates.
He said while white parents could plan to take their children away on holidays and send them to good schools, a black mother prayed her children would return safely each day from school.
At the WLCAC Centre, they have a permanent Civil Rights Museum that includes a film set depicting the hold of a slave ship. It is filled with human forms crammed into the space to evoke the deplorable treatment of human cargo during the slave trade passage. It was a chilling and sobering sight. The museum also focuses on Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and moves into more recent times.
I was amazed at the support the centre provides to those needing help. It receives federal, state and local government funding as well as from private foundations and corporate grants. It is at the forefront of innovative community development strategies. It encourages personal development, fights for the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage, and bridging intergenerational gaps.
But I was saddened to hear Mr Watkins say that in the 50 years since the civil rights actions, attitudes remain largely unchanged.
Racism, bigotry and prejudice are just below the surface with the majority of white people, who continue to live in fear of the black population.
He said the slaver cargo holds had merely been replaced by prison cells. I presume from personal experience Mr Watkins knows what's just below the surface but the marchers I saw that Saturday were mainly white. They carried banners calling for justice. Equal justice.
I don't think you can generalise and put everyone in the same basket. Or can you?
-Merepeka lives in Rotorua. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart the spread of political correctness.