A black woman in Los Angeles is hoping for change after volunteers at a church asked her to leave their lawn by posting “no trepassing” signs and saying “all lives matter.”
Alex Marshall-Brown, an actor and stuntwoman, was looking for a nice patch of grass to relax on Tuesday as she did some research on outdoor excursions to try during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was looking up different campgrounds and looking to plan out my route,” she told BuzzFeed News.
She ended up on the lawn outside St. Paul’s First Lutheran Church, a place she’d been before. Ten minutes after arriving, trouble started.
First, it was two local security workers on bikes who told her they’d received a call about her presence and that they were advising her to go. They said if she didn’t go, the next step would likely be that whoever complained would call the police.
“I said that was an unusual choice considering I was a person sitting on grass,” Marshall-Brown said.
She said she politely declined to leave and the security workers rode away.
“My spidey senses are tingling and I’m trying to figure out who made that call,” she said.
That’s when she noticed a woman in a window across the way at an elementary school affiliated with the church. Marshall-Brown said the woman looked away when she noticed Marshall-Brown had seen her. Soon after, another woman came out of the school and checked the locks on the church, she said.
At that point, Marshall-Brown said she was feeling very uncomfortable and posted on Facebook about what was happening.
“I wanted to make sure at least that existed before whatever else came next,” she said.
Two men then came out with “no trespassing” signs, which is when Marshall-Brown took out her phone and started recording.
The two men do not speak to Marshall-Brown initially as they prepared to put the signs up, until she said “hello.”
“Welcome,” the man with the drill said.
“Am I?” Marshall-Brown replied.
“No,” he said.
In the 5-minute video, the man with the drill can be seen telling Marshall-Brown she’s on private property and that they’ve had “problems” with people in the past. She pressed him, asking if she posed a threat to them as they continue to put up the sign.
“We have to treat everybody the same — all lives matter,” he said at one point.
“I said nothing about any lives, sir,” she responded.
A shortened version of the encounter has also gone viral on TikTok, where it was posted by one of Marshall-Brown’s friends.
An older woman also shows up and appears to record the incident herself, expressing concern about the well-being of the school’s students.
“You clearly have you own agenda,” the woman says.
After she stopped recording, Marshall-Brown said she posted the video to Facebook where it started gaining traction. Before long, friends and family began to join her on the patch of grass to check on her safety.
“The largest we had at any one time was 13 to 15 people who just appeared,” she said. “I was very reassured by the showing of my friends.”
She stood her ground, but said she was frightened at the thought of police being called.
“From the very beginning it felt very strange because no representative from the church had taken the time to come out and notify me with any dignity,” she said. “It was absolutely terrifying to sit there and to know black history in America and know how easily things get swept under the rug.”
The church did immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment, but did post a statement on their Facebook page.
“The disrespect demonstrated by the individuals does not represent the attitude of St. Paul’s First. I was out of town at the time of the incident, but I believe it could’ve and should’ve been handled more respectfully,” said Santiago Botero, who is acting principal at St. Paul’s school. “While Alex was not complying with that policy, she was clearly not harming any person or property and it should’ve been more clearly and more respectively communicated to her.”
He also apologized to Marshall-Brown and said he too has experienced racism as a Latino immigrant.
“As Christians, it is our duty to demonstrate to others the love and mercy that Christ shows to us,” he said. “Unfortunately, this did not happen yesterday.”
The following day, Marshall-Brown was invited by Botero to visit the church and chat, along with a pair of her friends and a former church member who was frustrated with racial discourse within the congregation. She said he “apologized profusely and sincerely, I believe.”
At one point, she said, they were joined by the priest, who defended the men in the encounter, saying they were trying to protect the property. Marshall-Brown, however, said that “does not excuse the fact that his actions could have threatened my life.”
Marshall-Brown said she’s hopeful that their conversation will lead to change and she’s trying to help them by pointing to anti-racist resources and making herself available if they want to continue a dialogue.
“They are saying some of the right things,” she said, “but true reformation is in the action, and I’m looking forward to seeing what that looks like with them.”