On Sunday, June 28, almost a thousand people gathered at Southwest College. Rhythms played by master drummers and chants of “Justice for Ryan,” called the crowd together as libations were poured and prayers were offered. People gathered in t-shirts donning the hashtags, #JusticeForRyanTwyman and #ItCouldHaveBeenMe. There was a huge banner with Ryan’s name and cardboard cutouts of his face. Mike Twyman, Ryan’s uncle, served as opening speaker, reminding people of who Ryan was, “a good father, a son, a special young man.”
Ryan Twyman had just turned 24-years-old, three days before two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies killed him. Surveillance video from the apartment complex where he was killed shows Ryan sitting in his vehicle in a parking stall when deputies approach, snatch open the rear door unannounced, and begin shooting when a startled Ryan Twyman attempts to back away. Deputies fired 34 shots at Ryan, first from their handguns, before one of them returned to their vehicle and retrieved an assault rifle. Ryan was unarmed. Immediately following, the deputies beat Ryan’s friend to the point of hospitalization. They also brutalized his girlfriend, then arrested her for resisting arrest, a case that she has to fight in addition to dealing with the loss of her children’s father.
In the weeks that followed Ryan’s murder, the family and community organized. A community meeting was held with the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission (COC); there were vigils, marches, and rallies. Many of those who participated reported being terrorized by police as a result of their involvement. One of the lead community organizers was arrested for a minor probation violation the day after he led a hugely successful community rally; the arresting officer is reported as having said, “You think that little political [stuff] is cute.” A 20-year-old young man was pulled over leaving the COC meeting and had guns pulled on him and his 12-year-old sister. They were not cited or arrested, but deeply traumatized. These are only two of the reported incidents of harassment.
Last week, members of Ryan’s family and Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles (BLMLA), which has been working closely with them, attended the regular monthly Oversight Commission meeting to report the harassment during the public comment period. Commissioners were deeply concerned; they asked questions and committed to follow up, but lack the subpoena power necessary to force the Sheriff’s Department to respond. During a meeting break, BLMLA and lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild, held a session for the family and residents to file official complaints about the harassment they have been experiencing. They confronted Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who was caught entering the building as they were leaving. Villanueva had lied publicly about meeting with the Twyman family. When Ryan’s sisters asked him about it, he repeated the lie before making a hand gesture to “shoo” them away. The families of #QuentinThomas and #AnthonyVargas, also killed by sheriffs, chanted the names of their loved ones at an inhumanely unphased Villanueva.
As Sunday’s march took off from Southwest College and headed east on Imperial, the crowd overflowed from the sidewalk into the street. Drivers were enthusiastic, many honking and yelling words of encouragement, chanting along with the marchers; some parked and joined in. The pedestrian line was shielded by motorcyclists on brightly-painted bikes. The crowd teemed with Ryan’s enormous family, friends, members of the community, children, pastors, members of Black Lives Matter, White People for Black Lives, Brothers-Sons-Selves, the ACLU, and others. David Hogg, the 19-year-old co-founder of March for Our Lives (school shooting victims from Parkland, Florida), marched inconspicuously among the crowd, using his vast social media platform to amplify Ryan’s story.
When the crowd completed the mile-long trek from Southwest to the Sheriff’s Station, deputies immediately closed the glass doors. The crowd chanted “No Justice, No Peace” and “Black Lives…we matter,” infinitely repeating Ryan’s name. Deputies jeered, made faces, flipped off the marchers and attempted to antagonize. A few uniformed deputies emerged from the side of the building and challenged some of the young men, putting their hands on their weapon belts, and telling them, “Come around back.” Ryan’s family called the crowd to order. Speaking over a bullhorn, they reminded the marchers of why they were gathered, of who Ryan was, and of the injustice of his murder. The crowd was moved to tears as they were reminded of Ryan’s three children who are left fatherless.
There was also a call to action. Demands were read: 1) Release the names of the officers who killed Ryan and fire them. 2) Release all videos in unaltered, unedited form. 3) Hold an independent investigation. 4) Stop the harassment of the family and community and dismiss all harassment-related charges. In addition to the demands for the Sheriff, they also pointed to District Attorney Jackie Lacey, demanding that she prosecute the officers who murdered Ryan. Ryan’s sister, Dominique, stated that 540 people had been killed by police on DA Lacey’s watch and she has refused to prosecute. They are demanding that she take action for Ryan.
As the rally came to a close, children handed out flyers to the crowd and asked them to call Sheriff Alex Villanueva to tell him to name and fire the deputies. Ryan’s mother and father pledged to make continue to push, next by demonstrating with BLMLA outside DA Lacey’s office on Wednesday afternoons. Rather than dispersing after the rally at the Sheriff’s Station, the crowd marched back in unison, taking over the street, playing rhythms on orange buckets and amplifying chants. “Say his name! Ryan Twyman!”