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O.C. public defenders gather hundreds outside Sheriff’s headquarters to protest police brutality

Hundreds kneel near the O.C. Sheriff's headquarters to protest police brutality.
Hundreds attend the Santa Ana protest organized by the O.C. Public Defenders office on Monday.
(Photo by Ben Brazil)

Eight minutes and 46 seconds — it’s a lot longer than you would think it is.

Hundreds of protesters displayed that on Monday afternoon as they knelt in silence for that long outside the Orange County Sheriff’s headquarters to protest the death of George Floyd as Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

As they raised their fists, the silence was deafening.

The peaceful demonstration was organized by the Orange County Public Defenders office as part of a national move by public defenders’ departments to protest the unjust police killings of black people.

“Daily, we witness the injustice and inequality visited upon our clients by police officers, disproportionately those of color,” said Bobby Waltman, a deputy public defender. “Like the police, we have all sworn an oath to the Constitution. We view the militarization of police forces and the resulting excessive force particularly against marginalized communities as a clear and present danger to that oath.

“We stand united with the movement to fight oppression of the black community and all other marginalized communities by the weaponized arm of the state: the police.”

The protest began at the Old Orange County Courthouse on Santa Ana Boulevard. Hundreds gathered, chanted and listened to attorneys from the Public Defenders office speak.

“All of us have to do something,” attorney Darren Thompson said. “I am especially talking to our white brothers and sisters ... You may not have a racist bone in your body, and that’s good. But it’s not enough.”

Thompson’s fiery speech was met with cheering and shouts of support.

“Black people don’t have the luxury of standing on the sidelines,” he said.

Attorney Michele Bell, who is black, spoke of the struggles of raising her child to be aware of police brutality.

“I have to teach my son that one day when he is pulled over, make sure it’s in a well-lit area that’s well-populated,” Bell said.

Many protesters wore shirts that said “Public Defenders for Black Lives.” One child’s shirt read “Future Public Defender for Black Lives.”

After the speeches, protesters marched to the sheriff’s headquarters. The police presence throughout the event was minimal.

Deputy Alternate Defender Sylvia Pham, who led the protest, said the office should look to engage more with the community moving forward.

“These are issues that public defenders have been screaming about for a long time,” Waltman said.

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