“We are planning for a peaceful demonstration, but just in case…”
Those were the words of City Councilwoman Joy Brenner prior to what turned out to be the first of several peaceful demonstrations at locations around Newport Beach on Wednesday, June 3.
Demonstrators at all protests held signs and chanted “Justice for All,” “Black Lives Matter” “I Can’t Breathe” and “George Floyd” in response to the asphyxiation death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman on Monday, May 25.
Newport Beach police, supported by officers from several other cities, were stationed strategically to handle any potential unruliness, should it have occurred. Additionally, according to Brenner, the city hired two battalions of Orange County Sheriffs for backup. The call did not go out.
NBPD Spokeswoman Heather Rangel noted, “Our community is really supportive of our officers, which speaks volumes about our community. The majority of our department is on duty; even our detectives are in uniform.”
At the 12 p.m. protest at the corner of Coast Highway and MacArthur Blvd. in Corona del Mar, a crowd estimated at 500 people stood mainly on the sidewalk in front of Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank. Restaurants on either side of the bank, The Bungalow and Rothschild’s, were closed and boarded up in case the protest got out of hand, which had happened in some other cities. A few other stores along Coast Highway were also boarded up.
Unlike the majority of protestors, most of whom appeared to be in their 20s, 63-year-old CdM resident Colleen Howes held up a sign supporting Newport’s police department. “I’m so proud of our department,” Howes proclaimed. This was not her first protest: several months ago, Howes said she had protested the closing of Newport’s beaches. “I’m also here in respect for our businesses and because this cause is just,” she said, as she picked up her placard and went back to join the chanting crowd.
Lily, 20, from Long Beach, and her friend, Carolina, 22, from Orange, both students at a career college, arrived to their first civic protest as it was starting.
“This really hits home,” Carolina said, while Lily stated she wanted to be “on the right side of history.”
Sean, a 65-year-old CdM resident, waved a sign demanding “Arrest the Rest!”
As if his demand was heard, shortly thereafter, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that he had upgraded the homicide charge from third to second degree murder for Officer Derek Chauvin, who had pinned Floyd to the ground and knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The three other officers on scene were charged with aiding and abetting murder.
“We are here for justice, peace and quality for all,” explained protestor Madison Hooper, 21, a lifestyle photographer living in Newport. Her first protest, she added that this protest “is a coming to light for young people to serve.”
Her friend, Devon Patterson, 22, of Costa Mesa, was there to “protest injustice in the country. It’s a positive approach,” he opined.
Bobby Barzi, founder of Fodada clothing in Newport Beach, was at the demonstration with his young sons, and said it was important to bring them there “to observe and listen so we can have a better base to discuss and reference. To me, they (our children) are the key for sustainable and realistic progress and for that to happen we have to listen, learn, respect and most importantly talk.”
By 1:30 p.m., much of the crowd dispersed, with many walking down the street to a large lawn at the entrance to Fashion Island.
A separate demonstration at 2 p.m. at the base of the Newport Pier was attended by around 200 people with signs, with approximately that many watching the protest.
Hundreds more people lounged on the beach not far from the protest in defiance of the “Active Use Only” beach mandate.
The protestors began their orderly chants of “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Stop Police Brutality!
“When?” an organizer challenged. In unison, the protestors answered, “Now!”
One protestor was heard to yell, “Peace is Power!”
The promise of that power was heard in Newport Beach.
Once incident did cause concern, according to NBPD spokesperson Heather Rangel: “The only thing that we had was one incident where we actually had a male drive through the protestors [on the peninsula], swiping a few of then and then actually making a collision with a bicyclist. That person was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.”
Don Wallace, the Newport Beach resident who drove a Mini Cooper through the protest, made bail from NBPD jail, Rangel later wrote in an email.
Another 500 people protested Wednesday afternoon in solidarity with the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement at San Miguel Drive and Avocado Avenue.
Protestors displayed a 20-foot black banner emblazoned with “#EndWhiteSilence” from the San Miguel Pedestrian Bridge.
Heather Miller, 33, of Newport Beach said she and her friend Sara Johnson of Corona del Mar organized the protest to bring the community together to safely protest the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“I think an injustice for one is an injustice for all and what happened to George Floyd is simply unacceptable able,” Miller said.
She was pleased to share this important moment in history with her sons, ages 10, 9, and 7.
“I think this is a moment where they should be able to participate if they want to,” Miller said.
Miller was grateful that Newport Beach police reached out to her after hearing about her plans and shared guidance on how to keep the event safe. Three patrol cars and five police motorcycles were dispatched to Avocado Avenue during the protest. Although it was impossible for protestors to social distance on the pedestrian bridge, the vast majority of them wore face masks.
Using a portable loudspeaker, Miller started a chant by yelling “we remember!” The crowd responded with “George Floyd.”
Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) encouraged the crowd to continue protesting peacefully to bring about the meaningful change so others don’t have to endure racially-motivated violence.
“Make sure you go to the polls. Make sure you vote. And make sure you’re the change you want to see,” Rouda said.
Mayor Will O’Neill sent the NB Indy a statement about today’s activities that reads, “With five separate protests today largely focused on touchstone issues of race and policing, our Newport Beach Police Department expected peace but were ready just in case. By and large, the protests were peaceful and stayed on message. Our police officers were professional and respectful, which surely created better experiences and outcomes than we have seen in other communities around the country.”
According to the Twitter account OCProtests, another demonstration is scheduled for Saturday, June 6 at 2 p.m. The protest will begin at Newport Harbor High School followed by a march to the Back Bay.
In her weekly newsletter sent via email on June 5, City Manager Grace Leung noted that “The protests held in Newport Beach on Wednesday, June 3, were largely peaceful, as participants gathered and marched in five demonstrations throughout the day. Chief Jon Lewis and the Newport Beach Police Department, as well as our colleagues from other Orange County public safety agencies, did a tremendous job. They maintained order
peacefully and protected the First Amendment rights of the participants. The protest organizers and participants deserve credit too for demonstrating peacefully and respectfully.
Unfortunately, there were two separate incidents of concern during the mid-day protests near the Newport Pier area: A man was arrested for driving his car through a crowd of protesters (we are grateful no one was injured) and another man was arrested for brandishing a handgun at one of the demonstrators.
We are monitoring for additional planned protests this weekend and next week. Our Police Department will continue to monitor information and intelligence in collaboration with multiple law enforcement partners and are prepared to respond appropriately.”
(Daniel Langhorne and Christopher Trela contributed to this report)