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Huntington Beach businesses reopening in aftermath of Sunday protest

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Huntington Beach on Sunday afternoon to protest the death of George Floyd.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Businesses in downtown Huntington Beach were reopening Monday, escaping major damage after an initially peaceful protest Sunday afternoon was deemed an unlawful assembly by the Huntington Beach Police Department.

A group of hundreds assembled for a Black Lives Matter demonstration protesting the death of George Floyd, the black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a video showed a white police officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Counter-protesters also showed up to the scene at Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street. The protest was declared an unlawful assembly after protesters became violent, Huntington Beach Police Department spokeswoman Angie Bennett said, and officers observed protesters with pepper spray and weapons. In addition, they refused to leave the area and were blocking traffic on PCH.

Uriel Lara, 21, a Huntington Beach resident and one of two local organizers of the protest, said many of the counter-protesters were antagonistic and tried to escalate the situation, but he was happy that the protest was able to take place without any vandalism of property.

“We know of the destruction that’s been happening in the past couple of days in different cities,” he said. “We wanted to advertise the same message, but in a peaceful and civil manner.”

Business owners Tamer Yleizet, center, and Ray Hartnett, right, remove plywood panels on Monday that protected their storefronts from vandalism and looters during Sunday's protest in downtown Huntington Beach. Yleizet owns the Cold Stone Creamery and Hartnett the Irishman bar.
Business owners Tamer Yleizet, center, and Ray Hartnett, right, remove plywood panels on Monday that protected their storefronts from vandalism and looters during Sunday’s protest in downtown Huntington Beach. Yleizet owns the Cold Stone Creamery and Hartnett the Irishman bar.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Many of the businesses downtown boarded up Sunday morning in anticipation of the protest. No major rioting or looting was reported Sunday night, and most of the businesses on Main Street were open for business Monday.

Ray Hartnett, the owner of the Irishman bar, took the plywood down off his business on Monday morning before helping management at Cold Stone Creamery, next door on Olive Avenue, do the same.

"[Sunday] night I came back down at about 7:30,” Hartnett said. “There was some protesting at Main and Walnut ... It looked like maybe something would kick off, but when the curfew came at 8, things cleared. My friends were down here and they said everyone went home. It was like a ghost town, so the curfew worked, you know what I mean? There were rumors on social media ... but they were just rumors.”

Fears of anticipated civil unrest at Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza, following reports a protest was being planned there for Monday evening, delayed a June 1 reopening.

Susie Smith, owner of Makin’ Waves Salon on Main Street, said that she planned to reopen her business on Tuesday. She commended the local community for coming together. Her salon only reopened last week for the first time since mid-March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We have to protect our businesses,” she said. “We’re not just going to stay home and watch it on TV. We reached out with the help of our community. We had complete strangers show up and board up the entire Main Street [on Sunday] … We’re not going to tolerate being burned down to the ground here and looted.”

Smith said that Stacy Massey and her local nonprofit group Unity Impact were instrumental in gathering people to get businesses boarded up, adding that many of them stayed downtown late Sunday night to assist police if necessary.

A man protests the death of George Floyd on Sunday in Huntington Beach.
A man protests the death of George Floyd on Sunday in Huntington Beach.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy said in a statement that 20 people were arrested during and after the protests. Most of the arrests were for remaining at the scene of a riot, according to police logs. Police fired pepper balls at protesters who would not disperse.

Bennett said multiple weapons were found in downtown alleys to indicate planned violence, including cinder blocks, weights and rocks. A curfew was issued from 8 p.m. Sunday to 5:30 a.m. Monday for the areas of Yorktown Avenue to the Pacific Ocean, and Beach Boulevard to Goldenwest Street. The curfew no longer remains in place.

“I am proud of the professionalism displayed by our police,” Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta said in a statement. “They were calm and kept the crowds under control with no damage to our businesses. I am also proud of how the community responded in the morning hours to help downtown business owners protect their properties against possible damage … In the weeks and months ahead, I urge everyone in our community and nation to find strength in our differences. That is a critical element of our true American exceptionalism, that regardless of how vehemently we may disagree, we don’t resort to violence in our search for a more perfect union.”

Huntington Beach resident Kassondra Kunkle-Dixon, 18, wanted to voice her support for the cause. She rode a bicycle to the protest with her mother, Natalie, and her friend.

Kunkle-Dixon, a senior at Edison High School, carried a sign that read, “Black Lives Matter.”

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “Hearing everyone’s speeches and singing and chanting, it was completely peaceful in the beginning, for sure. I just felt like it was extremely important to go.”

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Huntington Beach on Sunday afternoon to protest the death of George Floyd.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Kunkle-Dixon said she was threatened by a counter-protester after crossing PCH to make sure her friend was all right.

“A guy looks at me and he said, ‘All lives matter, you stupid bitch,’” Kunkle-Dixon said. “My mom turned around and said, ‘Do not talk to my daughter like that.’ He had piece of plywood in his hand and he was like, ‘Do you want to get this board?’

“He said, ‘Go back to your home.’ And I was like, ‘This is my home’ … We went back to the other side [of PCH] because it was not safe over there.”

The 213 new cases were the fourth-highest single day total in Orange County during the coronavirus pandemic. No new deaths were reported Monday, leaving the death count at 147.

Huntington Beach resident Tacy Riehm, 46, lives about a mile from the pier and said she walked down to support the protest Sunday. She said it was largely peaceful, though she left after it was declared an unlawful assembly.

“I wanted to go and honor George Floyd, but I also wanted to protest racial injustice among my people in Huntington Beach,” Riehm said. “We have a really crappy reputation and history of white supremacy and stupid stuff.”

Riehm, who is white, said she has an adopted black son, Gregory, who is 7 years old and is from Haiti.

“He’s going to be finding out a lot of stuff that I wish he wouldn’t in the near future,” she said.

Plywood panels protected several storefronts during Sunday's protest in downtown Huntington Beach.
Plywood panels protected several storefronts during Sunday’s protest in downtown Huntington Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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