A Sea Of Sunflowers In Silver Lake
How one family’s search for justice makes a powerful statement two years after the LAPD shot and killed Mely Corado.
Melyda “Mely” Corado was killed by a single LAPD bullet through the window of a Silver Lake Trader Joe’s on July 21, 2018. She was not a criminal. She was not a suspect. She was a grocery store manager doing her job when she was murdered by the LAPD for being unlucky enough to be a bystander.
Quite literally, her death could have happened to anyone.
It’s important to keep that fact in mind when you are gazing out on the crowd of thousands of people holding up sunflowers; marching in memory of her death and in search of justice for the two LAPD officers — Sarah Winans and Sinlen Tse — who killed her. She was never famous, or well-known. But she was, and still is, loved by the people who knew her and by the thousands who have gotten to know her name after her death.
This past Sunday, July 19, protesters gathered at the Northeast LA Police Station to march towards the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s where Mely was shot dead. It was hot, and there was little shade given to marchers by the cloudless blue sky, but hundreds began to fill the parking lot across from the police station. There were not only marchers in attendance, but also news vans, film crews, and a DJ truck blasting some of Mely’s favorite tunes. (Including “Express Yourself” by N.W.A., because she had nothing if not great taste.)
There were a few attendees who were not, strictly speaking, invited. As the crowd grew larger, some began to notice movement on top of the police station: a patrol of a handful of cops keeping an eye on the crowd from above, one even going so far as to pull out his phone and snap a picture of the gathered marchers. For the ‘gram, perhaps?
This patrol did not go unremarked upon by the crowd. As the throng prepared to take its first steps down San Fernando Road, Mely’s father Albert Corado Sr. grabbed a mic and pointed out the officer watching from the roof of the station. “You guys killed my daughter!” he told the cop getting paid to sit on a roof, “And you’re gonna pay for it!”
However, the march remained free of further harassment by the cops, which probably speaks to how peaceful the two-mile walk itself was. It’s become disturbingly common for LA protests like this one to have lines of officers waiting and watching protesters from the sidewalks, itching to stomp down on violence that isn’t there. Often, their presence alone creates violence — whether that is the silent scare tactic of “we’re always watching you, so stay in line” or outright physical abuse of protesters.
But without the presence of needless cops, the true message of the March for Mely could really shine. It’s amazing to see the presence of someone so palpable long after they are gone. The Corado family provided marchers with brightly-colored t-shirts, posters, and even face masks (which certainly says something about the state of protesting in 2020), all with Mely’s serenely smiling face emblazoned on them.
And of course, her presence was seen in the sunflowers that were given to participants as they began their march. “Mely is here right now, in every one of these sunflowers. She went down as a seed when they put her in the ground, and they brought her up as a flower, as a sunflower. Every one of these petals here is you. We carry on as a democracy, we take the consensus as a people. […] We’re all here together, symbolically, in this flower. The petals are us, and the core is Mely. And we’re all here together in a big circle, attached to the core,” explained one of the day’s speakers as the crowd gathered together just up the hill from the Trader Joe’s where Mely was murdered.
As the crowd took a knee together in the middle of the intersection, they raised their sunflowers high. A vast blanket of thousands of bobbing yellow petals lifted up, in unity, in memory of what was lost and in dedication to change for the future. The image and the message it sent are hard to ignore.
“I was talking to Mely last night — we always talk,” said Mely’s father, Albert Corado Sr., as he faced the throng of marchers. “And she said, ‘Daddy, what are you worried about?’ I said, ‘I don’t know if people are gonna show up tomorrow.’ And she said, ‘Daddy, it’s me! It’s Mely!’” The thousands-strong gathered crowd cheered its approval.
The idea that no one would come seemed particularly laughable to anyone who knows Mely’s brother, Albert Corado, who did much of the organizing for the march both this year and for the one-year anniversary of Mely’s death.
While volunteering for the Nithya Raman campaign, organizing for NOlympics, and Ground Game LA, and raising over 2 million dollars for the People’s City Council, Albert has also been raising a veritable tweetstorm to drum up support for this march.
Nearly 2 years ago I lost my sister. My best friend. @LAPDHQ killed her. I'm going to dismantle their department, their union, and their pathetic police commission. And I hope you'll all join me . There will be #justiceformely— Albert Jaragua Cøradø (@digitalurn) July 17, 2020
Here's the email I sent to several of @MayorOfLA 's email addresses inviting him to The March For Mely. Join us on Sunday and explain yourself, Eric. The people of this city want to hear from you. pic.twitter.com/7MFClZiyHe— Albert Jaragua Cøradø (@digitalurn) July 16, 2020
Now months into a global pandemic and with increased protests for Black Lives Matter and against police brutality, it seems that this march wasn’t anyone’s first rodeo. Many of the marchers this weekend had been out at several similar protests, and were armed with signs, slogans, and knowledge of how to act at a march. When cries of “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE” went out, no one needed prompting to answer “NO RACIST-ASS POLICE!”
“When we march, we chant,” said one of the women leading the call-and-response as the march drew near to the Trader Joe’s, who wished to be referred to as H. “When you’re leading the chant, you chant until you have no breath left to give, and you hope someone will pick up the chant for you. Mely’s chant is over now. She has no breath left to give. It’s up to us to chant for her now.”
And chant they did. As the march entered the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s parking lot, no doubt scandalizing the rich, white patrons doing their Sunday shopping, multiple speakers came forward in support of Justice for Mely.
The first to speak was City Council candidate Nithya Raman. “Mely’s memory is so alive on a day like today, in this sea of sunflowers,” said Raman at the conclusion of her speech thanking the Corado family for their continued fight for justice. “That’s the lesson I’m taking from Mely Forever.”
One other powerful speaker of the day was Black Lives Matter LA activist Dr. Melina Abdullah. She, too, spoke of Mely’s obvious presence at the march. “One of the things that we know is that when they steal our people from us, they can steal their bodies, but they cannot steal their spirits. I never met Mely in life, but I feel her presence here.”
She continued, “It’s important to remember that when we say, ‘Mely Forever,’ we’re summoning her into the struggle, and we’re saying that we will step forward righteously and demand justice in her name.”
Dr. Abdullah also acknowledged that, in a way, true justice for Mely is impossible because justice would only be served if Mely was still alive. The LAPD officers who killed Mely never gave her the option of justice.
But Mely’s voice also lives on in her family, who gave speeches as well. Her father and two brothers, Albert and Michael, each took the microphone in turn, but the real star was Mely’s 13-year-old niece, Leila Mendoza.
Despite her young age, Mendoza didn’t hold back. She called out LAPD Chief Michael Moore in particular for his complete mishandling of Mely’s autopsy and cover-up of his officers murdering an innocent woman, calling him the “CEO of the circus.” It’s clear that whatever illusions she may have had about the LAPD before, her aunt’s death at their hands truly opened Mendoza’s eyes to the inherent corruption of police. “Who are we supposed to call when the police are the murderers?” she asked, to uproarious applause.
Albert Corado closed out the Trader Joe’s assembly with impassioned memories of his sister and the day she was killed. He also mentioned his organization of last year’s march, during which City Councilmember David Ryu was granted a request to speak. “Had I known who he was and what his record was, I would have never allowed him to speak,” Albert says now. Ryu has accepted nearly $45,000 in campaign donations from the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
Albert knows better now. It’s interesting that the only two non-family members to speak out for justice for the murder of a woman of color to be women of color themselves.
While David Ryu was excluded this year more because of his hypocrisy rather than his personal identity, his exclusion gave rise to more women of color speaking out in solidarity with their fallen sister. Albert ended his speech with a powerful call to action: “They took from me my best friend, and for that, I’m going to dismantle the LAPD… I hope you will all come with me”
The crowd cheered its agreement, waving their sunflowers in solidarity.
The fight to defund and abolish the police won’t be won overnight. But with people like the Corado family taking action, we’ve got a real chance.