By Jorge Rivas
This story originally appeared on Fusion
A recent Black Lives Matter protest in Los Angeles captured local media headlines for temporarily shutting down the 405 Freeway, one of the nation’s busiest highways. But local Angelenos focused on a much different image that came out of that protest.
A photograph of two Latina women wearing matching brown berets and standing in formation alongside two black members of the Nation Of Islam was shared thousands of times on social media within hours of being published on July 11.
The women, who are dressed in paramilitary-style uniforms— brown shirts, army belts, and brown cargo pants tucked into army boots— are members of the East Los Angeles Brown Berets, a civil rights organization that says it is “in solidarity with all oppressed people of color who struggle for a better tomorrow.”
“I always hear about black and brown people clashing, but this scene captured the Brown Berets and the Nation of Islam standing side by side,” said photographer John Garcia, a Chicano artist who lives in East Hollywood.
The photo has been shared on Facebook more than 6,000 times since in three weeks. But its reach has been far greater across different social media platforms.
The caption of the original photograph reads “In solidarity with BLM Los Angeles Womyn of the East Los Angeles Brown Berets standing in formation with the Nation Of Islam.”
A similar photo of the same scene has been shared hundreds of times also.
Shifting demographics in South Los Angeles have traditionally caused tensions between black and Latino gangs and elected officials, but on the community level both sides have come together to fight police brutality in the past. That’s why this photo has captured the attention of so many people across the city—it shows the two groups as allies standing together against a repressive force that has targeted both communities disproportionately.
Also solidarity stories among minority groups don’t usually get much mainstream media attention.
“This picture shows the Brown Berets, the brownest of the brown, standing side by side with black people without an issue,” Garcia told Fusion during a telephone interview.
The story behind the photo is also interesting. Black Lives Matter protest organizers asked the Brown Berets if they could help with security and crowd control at the protest. The Brown Beret activists say they were happy to lend a hand.
“When people see this picture I hope they recognize that we need more of this unity between the black and brown struggle,” said Cindy, 23, one of the women pictured in the photo. “We also need to show that it’s not just men who are strong. I love how the picture plays that part. Both struggles are coming together to be upfront.”
Her compañeras agree.
“We are a militant group and not afraid to stand up for what is right,” adds Luz Catalina Mireles, 19, the Brown Beret member pictured in the foreground of the photo below. “We would never provoke, but if it came to self-defense, we would strike back.”
The Brown Berets’ national leadership says their movement supports Black Lives Matters.
“We are fully supportive of the Black Lives Matter Movement. It is extremely important that the world understands that we are in a fight for human dignity and basic human rights,” said Commander Chimalli Cuetlachtli, the outgoing National Commander of the National Brown Berets.
“This country is steeped in racism, oppression, and colonialism [but also] movements and organizations that are fighting for the rights of people of color are necessary,” said Cuetlachtli.
Between 2000 and 2014, law enforcement officers in Los Angeles County used lethal force that resulted in the deaths of at least 589 people, according to a report from the Los Angeles Youth Justice Coalition, a youth advocacy organization. The report found that between 2007 and 2014 53.5% of those killed were Latino, and 28% black. About half of those killed were under the age of 30.
Garcia says his photograph may have also caught people’s attention because of the calmness displayed in the women and men—an image that contrasted with TV media reports that portrayed the protest as chaotic.
“The news portrayed hyper-aggressive young people protesting, but it was pretty calm,” Garcia told Fusion in a telephone interview. “It was real inclusive, and you felt a positive vibe.”