Several organized protests against police violence sprung up across Orange County Saturday, with hundreds of ralliers appearing in Orange and Santa Ana with some getting arrested at similar protests in Fullerton.
The planned demonstrations in Orange County joined a national outcry over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, and video of a white officer named Derek Chauvin pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck while other officers looked on without intervening.
Local organizers who are participating in many of Saturday’s protests said they were motivated by years of controversy over police use of force against Black people and people of color.
Protests in Orange were largely peaceful Saturday, with hundreds of people carrying signs and wearing masks to abide by health guidelines around the novel Coronavirus pandemic, according to local organizers and eyewitnesses. The protest downtown started at around 1:00 p.m. at the Orange Plaza Square Park.
Some police officers lined up along a building, watching as protestors carried signs reading “White Silence is White Violence” and “Amerikkka has a larger tolerance for racism than wearing a mask.”
Orange Police Sgt. Phil McMullin said no arrests or citations were made as of the late afternoon, and that the crowd had been growing throughout the day.
By early evening, a Facebook livestream by Victor Valladeres — a former vice chair for the county Democratic Party — showed hundreds of protestors clustered around the Orange Circle chanting “Fuck white supremacy.”
Earlier in the day, protestors in Orange held their fists in the air and chanted “I can’t breathe,” referring to Floyd’s pleas with police during the video. The phrase was also repeated by Eric Garner, another Black man who died at the hands of New York Police officers in 2014.
More protests were held later in the day Saturday in Fullerton at 4:00 p.m. and planned for Santa Ana at 8:00 p.m. On Sunday, protests were also planned for Huntington Beach and the Santa Ana courthouse.
Two arrests were made in Fullerton later in the evening, said Fullerton police Sgt. Eric Bridges — one for vandalism and another for failure to disperse while crowds were blocking streets. A crowd of about 120 people marched from the bus depot area downtown to the police station, which they were in front of for around 15 minutes until they marched back to the bus area.
Police clad in helmets and crowd control equipment — accompanied by north Orange County S.W.A.T. unit officers — were on standby, Bridges said.
While protestors “did block a couple of streets” and police “did respond in reference to traffic control,” no arrests had been made, Bridges said.
Statements around planned protests had begun to trickle out from Santa Ana Police Chief and the Orange Police Dept.’s Twitter.
“OPD is present in the Plaza for a demonstration. We support the right to protest peacefully. We will not tolerate injury to any person or damage to our city. We recommend residents avoid the area. We have heard from many members of our community and appreciate your support,” read a Saturday tweet from the Orange Police Dept. during the protest.
Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin called Floyd’s death “tragic and deeply concerning” he discouraged damage to property and violence.
— SantaAnaPD (@SantaAnaPD) May 30, 2020
The national debate had been localizing in Orange County for much of Thursday and Friday, with officials like Orange County’s top cop, Sheriff Don Barnes, denouncing the Minneapolis police officer who killed Floyd and the others in the video.
Barnes strongly condemned the killing in a May 28 memo saying “the death of George Floyd was wrong,” and that “equally troubling” was the fact that “three officers stood by while their partner acted in a manner that contradicts his sworn commitment to protect and serve.” He said what occurred in the video “goes beyond the scope of any tactic we are trained to use.”
But his department also stirred controversy for its use of a Thin Blue Line flag during a peace officers’ memorial occasion on Thursday, which happens on the last Thursday of May every year but coincided with the national controversy around Floyd’s death.
The Thin Blue Line flag was originally dedicated to police officers but has recently become popularized within Blue Lives Matter, a pro-law enforcement countermovement to Black Lives Matter, which seeks an end to police violence and systemic racism toward Black people in America.
Sheriff spokeswoman Carrie Braun said the flag was raised as part of the annual ceremony that the department participates in, and that the flag was “completely unrelated” to the events in Minnesota and wasn’t meant as a political statement in support of Blue Lives Matter.
Critics and local activist groups on social media quickly criticized the department’s use of the flag as “tone deaf.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.