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A rare progressive protest in the middle of conservative Yorba Linda

Yorba Linda protest
After marching from Yorba Linda’s Main Street, protesters gather around the fountain in the Yorba Linda Town Center to share stories about their experiences as people of color in their city.
(Ada Tseng)

Biola Macaulay, 26, said she teared up a little bit when she walked up to Tuesday’s Yorba Linda protest surrounding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which started on Main Street and ended around the fountain of the pristine Yorba Linda Town Center, which just opened last year.

The protest started at 4 p.m. with about 500 people lining the corner of Main Street and Imperial Highway, but a couple hundred protesters were still gathered around the fountain a couple hours later. It was a multigenerational and multicultural crowd. After moments of silence, chanting and taking the knee, the organizers allowed anyone who wanted to speak to take their turn at the microphone.

For the record:

1:36 PM, Jun. 06, 2020A previous version of the story stated Macaulay was in touch with Councilwoman Tara Campbell, but it was Mayor Beth Haney.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people showed up today,” said Macaulay, who is a lawyer. “I grew up in Yorba Linda, and I honestly did not think that this many people cared about black people or us dying. Which is really sad to say, but that has honestly been my experience growing up here.”

At that moment, a truck with two Trump banners circled the plaza to taunt the protesters, who threw up their middle fingers and screamed “Go the [expletive] home” and “Get out of your [expletive] car, you coward.”

“People like that is what I’ve grown up with,” said Macaulay, gesturing at the men driving by. “That’s why I didn’t expect to see this.”

A sign at the Yorba Linda protest for George Floyd on June 2 reads "Know Who They Were."
A sign at the Yorba Linda protest for George Floyd on June 2 reads “Know Who They Were.”
(Ada Tseng)

A 2018 Sacramento Bee study rated Yorba Linda as the most conservative large city in California, based on the number of voters registered with conservative parties. It’s the home of Richard Nixon and his presidential library. The population is about 60% white and 1.3% African American.

The day before, Caleigh Cobb, 21, who is white and was born and raised in Yorba Linda, heard there were six people protesting on Yorba Linda’s Main Street. Cobb, who just graduated from Arizona State University, thought, “We can do better than that.”

She and her friend, Malia Green, who is black and Latina and from Placentia, organized another protest together. They are graduates of El Dorado High School, so they spread the word through their friends and on social media.

She said she would have been happy with 50 protesters. She was floored by the turnout.

Yorba Linda protest
A sign at the Yorba Linda protest for George Floyd on June 2 reads “If ur not using ur privilege to be an ally, then WTF are u doing?!”
(Ada Tseng)

It wasn’t the typical place for a protest. The backdrop included stores like Club Pilates, Lash Lounge and Clean Juice. As one protester listed the names of the black men who have died from police brutality, a Michael Bublé song happened to play over the plaza’s speakers.

Business owners on Main Street kept watch in front of their stores in case there was any trouble. Several helicopters circled the area, and the police patrolled, but the O.C. Sheriff’s office confirmed on Wednesday that although there was verbal sparring with a few counterprotesters, there were no arrests or injuries reported.

“It’s a privilege for us to be able to have a peaceful protest here,” Cobb said.

She arrived early to try and assure business owners of their good intentions. She was in contact with the sheriff’s office and Mayor Beth Haney.

“I really just wanted to let people speak,” she said. “This is a very rich, majority-white community, and it’s easy to live in a bubble. I wanted to give a voice to people of color in the area to share their experiences and say, ‘This happened here. This isn’t something that happened somewhere else. This happened to me here.’”

Bobby Srivastav, of Yorba Linda, was moved by a black mother who spoke about how scared she is for her children.

He, like many in the crowd, was surprised to hear there would be a protest in Yorba Linda.

He saw the crowd while driving home from work and wanted to bring his son and niece.

Srivastav is the fourth-generation owner of Bobby’s English Tack, a provider of bridles and halters for equestrians that was started in 1880 by his great-grandfather in India. His great-grandfather was the official supplier for the horses for the British government when it held rule over India, he explained, and now the family business is based in Brea.

He came to the U.S. from India when he was 3 and moved to Brea when he was in fifth grade. He said he faced racism growing up in the area.

“It’s gotten a lot better,” he said, “but what happened to George Floyd is unbelievably sickening, and this needs to change … It’s what you teach your kids at the end of the day. If people are going to teach hate, the kids are going to learn hate until they figure it out for themselves or sometimes they don’t figure it out at all.

“And I think in this day and time, it’s more fear,” he continued. “People are more afraid, that’s why they hate because they can’t understand and have an open mind.”

Yorba Linda protest
Gisela and Arin Kelman, from Yorba Linda, brought their daughters to the Yorba Linda protest for George Floyd on June 2.
(Ada Tseng)

Gisela and Arin Kelman, from Yorba Linda, brought their young daughters, who sat on top of their shoulders, holding signs. They had made four of them: “Black Lives Matter,” “Silence is Violence,” “Police the police” and “Racism is the Real Pandemic.”

Gisela Kelman hoped for a peaceful protest.

“I went with my mother instinct and thought, we will go and see how it is, do what we need to do, support the cause, and if we don’t think it’s safe enough, then we will go back home,” she said.

She was happy to see that it was a safe space, with other children in attendance.

“They need to see it,” Gisela Kelman said, referring to her children. “Because they need to take it to school with them and they need to take it to the park with them.”

“It’s to set an example for them that everyone should be treated equally,” said Arin Kelman. “In the United States of America, we have the expression ‘peace and justice for all,’ and there isn’t justice for all … It’s important for them to realize that and for them to carry forward the message that everyone should be treated equally.”

Yorba Linda protest
College student Jay Kim-Taylor of the Masked Heroes Initiative handed out masks to any protesters who needed one. He and his friends have raised $1,355 to purchase masks that are donated to hospitals, and now he’s working to help people protest safely.
(Ada Tseng)

While others were protesting, Placentia resident Jay Kim-Turner walked around handing people masks.

He just finished his first year at UC Berkeley but was home early because of COVID-19. In April, he and seven of his friends, many of them from Valencia High School, started a GoFundMe called Masked Heroes Initiative, where they’ve raised $1,355 so far in order to buy masks to donate to local hospitals.

Since the protests started last weekend, he’s been bringing the masks to hand out at protests.

“Since George Floyd happened, social distancing has gone out the window,” he said. “While it’s everyone’s right to protest, and I think it’s necessary to demand justice, at the same time, we can’t forget that coronavirus still exists. We need to still stay focused, so I’m just trying to make sure I do my part to make sure everyone protests just a little bit safer.”

Kim-Turner’s adopted father is African American, and he’s had a family member that he feels got a severe jail sentence that did not fit the crime.

He said he was also surprised that there was a protest in Yorba Linda, but he thinks that “this is more than just politics. This is about decent humane treatment.”

Macaulay and her friends decided to leave when they saw the cars with Trump banners driving by. They didn’t want to risk being around just in case things got tense.

But before she left, she said, “Seeing this many people out here of all colors is really inspiring, there’s obviously a lot that needs to be done, but the fact that people are willing to show up, I think is really telling and very beautiful.”

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