This story was updated repeatedly throughout the day Wednesday.
Many Orange County residents took to the streets for the fifth day in a row to protest the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, and police violence against Black people in the U.S.
Protesters were peaceful throughout the day Wednesday.
The demonstrations started with Anaheim at 10 a.m. Others in Rancho Santa Margarita, La Habra, Newport Beach, Garden Grove, Los Alamitos, Laguna Niguel, Irvine and San Juan Capistrano followed through the late afternoon.
Cities that saw the largest demonstrations like Newport Beach and Garden Grove — which coordinated the conclusion of the protest with organizers — officials reported no arrests among protesters.
Roughly 3,000 people, mostly young people of color, marched near the historic Main St. area, down Garden Grove boulevard and did a loop down Brookhurst Street to Chapman Avenue, heading to Euclid avenue and back to the starting point.
Protesters originally gathered in the triangle on Euclid Street and Acacia Parkway. The demonstrators were peaceful throughout the afternoon.
At around 5:15 p.m. — despite the city’s 6 p.m. curfew not taking effect for another 45 minutes — police from a helicopter overhead declared an unlawful assembly and ordered the crowd to disperse, after some protesters remained in traffic areas.
“You could be subject to arrest or other police action,” blared the helicopter’s loudspeaker down at the crowd of young people. “Less than lethal force.”
In Newport Beach, a car drove through a crowd of peaceful protesters on west Balboa Blvd and 14th Street in the late afternoon.
No protesters were seriously injured, said Newport Beach Police spokeswoman Heather Rangel, though a bicyclist was hit. The driver was arrested on assault with a deadly weapon and is in custody.
Earlier this morning, road access to Anaheim City Hall had been increasingly blocked off. Around 300 to 400 somber people were sitting in the civic plaza — with more people trickling in by the minute — and City Hall had been cordoned off and was still boarded up with plywood.
In south county cities like Rancho Santa Margarita and San Juan Capistrano, crowd sizes at the demonstrations were slightly smaller.
The series of protests are happening as businesses begin reopening after the pandemic began, but many in protest areas have been closed down and boarded up by property owners as protests move in.
Responding to some fears that the protests this week will lead to a rise in COVID-19 case numbers, University of California, Irvine epidemiologist Andrew Noymer said he doesn’t expect a big virus spike since the protests are outside during sunny, warm weather and many protesters are wearing masks.
“I don’t think it will cause a significant increase in cases, it’s because it’s outdoors and people are masking for the most part, from what I can tell. And it’s mostly young people,” Noymer said. “Hopefully people who have a fever and cough aren’t going.”
The virus has now killed 158 people out of 6,678, according to the County’s updated numbers. There were 279 people hospitalized, including 120 in intensive care units. Just over 2,800 people have recovered and nearly 141,000 tests have been done throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people.
He said restaurants may cause a spike in the virus count, unless they can do half capacity and use outdoor dining.
“There are restaurants open in the County so it’s going to be really hard to attribute things only to the protests,” Noymer said. “I’m really more worried about crowded indoor restaurants, than I am about the protests.”
For the past month, Noymer has said businesses should reopen in waves, like opening only restaurants first and wait a couple weeks to see if there’s a spike in cases.
“I’m not for staying locked down forever, I’m just for caution and I think we’re acting a little bit too quick,” he said.
And despite ongoing intense debates among county officials like the Board of Supervisors fighting over the effectiveness of masks, Noymer urged protestors and people going back into businesses and restaurants to use masks.
“People should absolutely mask, that’s clear,” Noymer said. “Mask, mask, mask, mask, mask.”
On Tuesday, supervisors pressed officials at the county Health Care Agency on a mask mandate in place for people out in public. Supervisors like Don Wagner and Michelle Steel called the orders “overreach” and pointed to surrounding counties like Riverside where such a mandate wasn’t in place.
Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau said the masks help prevent the virus from spreading.
“We don’t live in a bubble. People go from county to county — as we open up, people will travel,” Chau said. “Wearing a mask is to not protect yourself, it’s to protect other people, especially the vulnerable population.
“I can’t breathe,” has become the dominant chant during the protests, repeating some of Floyd’s last words he muttered as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin jammed his knee against Floyd’s neck while other officers looked on without intervening.
Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Anaheim saw two separate protests Monday, with the two demonstrations converging on city hall, which was boarded up with plywood, along with numerous downtown businesses. After police ordered a dispersal following a 6 p.m. curfew, 25 people were arrested. Most of the arrests were for failing to disperse.
Santa Ana saw protests Saturday and Sunday, with some minor disturbances.
On Tuesday, protests were also held in Yorba Linda.
The continued nationwide and local outcry has brought new scrutiny to the role of law enforcement in public safety and politics in OC, local county activists are increasingly calling for more police accountability in the form of official civilian oversight panels.
Anaheim was the first OC city to put such a commission in place, while others like Fullerton and Santa Ana have in the past dismissed the idea.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @photherecord.
Caitlin Bartusick is Voice of OC Deputy Digital Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.