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Protests trickle down to conservative south Orange County

After recently protesting in Washington D.C., Nicole Oveisi couldn’t find any local demonstrations when she came home to Laguna Niguel. She planned on making a sign in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and taking to the suburbs anyway.

“O.C. is kind of a bubble,” said Oveisi, an Iranian American student pursuing a graduate degree at Georgetown University. “I don’t want people in southern Orange County to think that this stuff doesn’t affect them. It does and that’s what we’re here to show. We all have to stand up for this.”

Her friend, who gave only her first name, Sydney, said she couldn’t let her go alone.

Since Monday, the two 26-year-olds have stood on the corner of Greenfield Drive and Crown Valley Parkway — a busy intersection bringing in Ralph’s grocery shoppers and long drive-thru lines at Chick-fil-A. Little by little, the sounds of supportive car horns drew out a handful of nearby residents to join them.

By Wednesday afternoon, the peaceful Laguna Niguel demonstration peaked at about 50 people, from toddlers to 74-year-olds.

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a black man who died in handcuffs after being suffocated under the knee of a white police officer, moved residents to protest. Demonstrations calling for an end to police brutality against black people started brewing in north Orange County over the weekend and trickled down to the county’s south suburbs — some of which rank as the state’s most conservative areas.

Oveisi posted a video on Twitter of a man in a white BMW yelling racist obscenities at them, while a Trump-supporting flag poked through the sunroof on Monday. Later, he was identified as a well-known resident, nicknamed Racist Randy by protesters.

“He was exposed for being a white supremacist and people are upset,” Sydney said. “Now, they’re coming down and supporting us and saying that they’ve seen the video everywhere.”

There was another driver in a Mercedes-Benz who threatened to beat protesters on Wednesday, but Sydney said people have been more reluctant to yell profanities since the group grew larger.

There were plenty of people who rolled their windows down to express their appreciation. Drivers wiped tears, blew kisses, honked horns and raised their fists in support.

Thirteen-year-old Aydan Nguyen held a sign that read, “Silence is complicity.” His parents said they brought him and his 15-year-old brother to the protest as a teaching moment.

“I wanted to show my kids the value of protesting peacefully and that we don’t live in such a great neighborhood,” said Aydan’s dad. “There are a lot of racist people here but they didn’t show themselves as much as now. They feel empowered.”

Meyah Riggins, 22, ended her shift at a nearby Starbucks to stop by the demonstration for the second day in a row. She hopes people who usually wouldn’t think twice about George Floyd see the demonstration and educate themselves about racial injustices.

Meyah Riggins holding a poster reading "Black Lives Matter" at a Laguna Niguel protest calling to end police violence.
Meyah Riggins holding a poster reading “Black Lives Matter” at a Laguna Niguel protest calling to end police violence.
(Vera Castaneda)

“I’ve been looking for smaller protests and just to add a little bit of color to the sidewalk and incite other people to make moves,” Riggins said.

Organizers plan on demonstrating at the same location throughout the week.

On the same day, another Laguna Niguel protest took place in Bear Brand Park with protesters demanding police reform.

Almost 6 miles south, hundreds took the streets of San Juan Capistrano to march. Activists gathered in Historic Town Center Park and took turns on the megaphone during the last segment of the protest.

Activist kneel in a moment of silence at the protest in San Juan Capistrano Historic Town Center Park.
(Vera Castaneda)

“If you really want to change your status, your situation, your world — Nov. 2 is right around the corner,” said a local elementary school teacher to the crowd. “If you want change, this is the beginning not the end. A vote is going to be more powerful than any bullet.”

One of the demonstrators, Dwight Williams Jr., encouraged the crowd to speak up.

“Understand what we are fighting for right now — we have a lot of people watching and this is not a time to be silent,” he said.

Dwight Williams Jr.
Dwight Williams Jr., a Pasadena City College student originally from New Orleans, speaks on the megaphone at the San Juan Capistrano protest Wednesday afternoon.
(Vera Castaneda)

Another speaker urged the crowd to “Bring the same energy you have here home. If your parents say some racist [comments], you have to call them out on it.”

The protest was organized by a small group of young residents. Keyby Lopez, 22, and his cousin Angeles Loya, 34, planned the protest on Tuesday.

“It was very last minute, and we are so happy with the turnout,” Lopez said. “It goes to show when [expletive] goes down we have each others’ back.”

Loya described San Juan as a gentrified area dealing with police brutality that goes unreported.

“It’s very conflicting because you have this small town in the middle of a bunch of rich cities,” Loya said. “You have so much gentrification, but then you have this little barrio and the only reason people are surviving is because they got 20 people to a house.”

Some businesses boarded up windows, and there was a heavy presence of law enforcement officers.

O.C. Sheriff’s office said Thursday morning that there were no arrests or injuries reported in both Laguna Niguel and San Juan Capistrano protests.

Before the crowd dispersed around 7 p.m., they played music and stragglers talked about what protests they planned on attending throughout the week.

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