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Hundreds say his name: Newport Beach protests the death of George Floyd

A woman with three small children, one in a stroller and one peering over the top of a boogie board almost as long as he was tall, kept the kids close to her as she explained to them the meaning behind the protest chant ringing around them: “No justice, no peace!”

As demonstrators packed together at the base of Newport Pier, the woman could be overheard telling her kids, “Right now, there is no justice for many, many people.”

Hundreds of people converged at the pier Wednesday, peacefully and passionately speaking out about the death of unarmed black man George Floyd last week while in the custody of Minneapolis police. The worldwide civil unrest caused by Floyd’s death — by suffocation, as an officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes — largely did not slide into violence in Newport Beach, where four demonstrations were planned around the city Wednesday.

The afternoon protest at Newport Pier started with a handful of people silently holding up signs at the base of the pier. Their numbers quietly grew exponentially, and within half an hour, the crowd size approached at least 500. Many were young white people who exhorted other white people to use their privilege to dismantle systemic racism.

Demonstrators protesting George Floyd's death and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement participate peacefully.
Demonstrators protesting George Floyd’s death and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement participate in a peaceful demonstration near the Newport Pier on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Anna, 8, told a hushed crowd that she cried when she learned what happened to Floyd. “I was scared because I didn’t want this to happen,” she said. Her voice climbed. “It’s not what’s supposed to happen!”

After about an hour, the crowd headed past the Dory Fishing Fleet, the sunbathers on their folding chairs in the sand, Mutt Lynch’s bar and a souvenir shop with mermaid statues in the window. They walked down the boardwalk for several streets before turning back on Balboa Boulevard to 32nd Street, then returned, walking to the end of the peninsula before circling back yet again.

It was on this later leg, not far from Marina Park, when an aggressive driver in a white car allegedly grazed several marchers as he sped down Balboa Boulevard. This marred an otherwise peaceful day of demonstrations in some of the city’s highest-profile locations.

Police quickly caught up to the car and arrested Don Wallace, a Newport Beach resident in his 50s, on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, according to a police spokeswoman. There were no injuries.

Newport Beach Police arrest a man who allegedly drove his car through a peaceful crowd during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Newport Beach Police Department officers arrest Don Wallace, a Newport Beach resident, who allegedly drove his car through a peaceful crowd during a Black Lives Matter protest on the Balboa Peninsula on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)
Newport Beach Police arrest a man who allegedly drove his car through a peaceful crowd during a Black Lives Matter protest.
A Newport Beach Police Department officer arrests Don Wallace, in his 50s, on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, according to a police spokeswoman.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Earlier in the day, hundreds of demonstrators packed the intersection at MacArthur Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway with the same message as the band at the pier. The crowd spilled out onto the street as some protesters lined up on the street’s median.

“You have to be twice as good or three times as good to be considered equal to your peers, and that’s a mental stigma that takes forever to overcome,” said Senai Andai, 29, of Costa Mesa.

“It’s not about the police. It’s about our system. Our nation has kneeled on the necks of people of color for a long time, not just George Floyd. I kept wondering what [my grandchildren are] gonna ask me when this is all over — ‘What did you do, granddaddy?’”

Chap Clark, 65, lead pastor at Newport Beach’s St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church

Roommate Clark Conforti, 29, said that they have talked about ways to effect the change they hope for. Conforti said the ballot box is one way to make that happen.

“Nothing is changing, and we have to show them that we’re not going to put up with it anymore,” Conforti said. “If our politicians aren’t going to do what they need to do, they need to be voted out and we need people to come in that are going to change this because we can’t just keep letting people die on our streets and act like it’s not a problem.”

One sign asked, “How many riots can it be until black lives matter?”

Another lent a sympathetic ear, saying, “I am listening. I am learning.”

Protesters take a knee on the curb as they hold a minute of silence in honor of George Floyd during a BLM protest.
Demonstrators take a knee on the curb as they hold a minute of silence in honor of the late George Floyd during a Black Lives Matter protest at MacArthur Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Riots that have seen vandalism and looting have resulted in curfews across the country, and it led to some opting to board up windows to their restaurants and shops in Corona del Mar prior to the protest.

Jordan Otterbein, 61, the owner of the CdM Restaurant, said he understood why some made that decision, but he was not among those to do so. He stood in the doorway to his restaurant applauding protesters as they passed.

The LAPD has been collecting evidence throughout the protests, mostly in the form of video, that could be used to identify people and bring charges.

“A lot of my friends were calling and asking if I was going to board up the restaurant, and I decided to put my faith in humanity today and put racial injustice ahead of broken windows or wine glasses,” Otterbein said. “This is my family. I have a black son-in-law, and so this means a lot to us. I’m really proud of what happened today.”

Marcia Brown and other protesters march from the Fashion Island entrance during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Marcia Brown and other protesters march from the Fashion Island entrance during a Black Lives Matter protest, which began at MacArthur Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

At one point, the crowd moved west to Newport Center Drive, where the demonstrators congregated on the lawn and collectively took a knee for a moment of silence.

Daemon Kane, 24, of Newport Beach was among the most vocal at the protest. He noted the youthful nature of the crowd and said he felt his generation could make a difference against racism.

“You can see the turnout of all the young people, and most of these people look like they’re under 40 years old,” he said. “You could see on social media that there was going to be a pretty big turnout, and I commend everybody for taking part and doing what they think is right.”

Further charges were brought forth Wednesday in the case against Derek Chauvin, the fired officer who fatally put a knee to the neck of Floyd for nearly nine minutes, and three officers who were at the scene.

“They just stood by and did nothing,” Amanda Davies, 35, of Costa Mesa said about the three officers who watched Floyd die. “I can see how people who were videotaping it didn’t go near the guy because there was one cop with a guy on the ground saying, ‘I can’t breathe,’ and three other cops basically protecting him, [Chauvin], versus protecting the civilians who they are sworn to protect.”

A boarded window at a business shows artwork done by an artist in support of the Black Lives Matter protest.
A boarded window at a business shows artwork in support of the Black Lives Matter protest in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Kim Whiteside, 45, of Long Beach was surprised to see the turnout in Newport Beach in support of the black community.

“Oh my God, just being in Newport, I have so many mixed feelings about my white counterparts, but today, I feel so much different,” Whiteside said. “For me, to be totally honest, I’m taking off the lenses. I’m taking off my blinders to my people.”

Matt Stokke, 33, of Newport Beach said the number of people that came out to protest exceeded his expectations.

“In a place like Newport Beach that has a certain stereotype of more of the conservative-leaning, I think it’s important to demonstrate that people here also support this,” Stokke said. “Whether you’re conservative [or] liberal, I think it’s just really important to show that solidarity.”

An hours-long standoff between protesters and police took place Monday night at South Coast Plaza, with demonstrators asking police to “take a knee.”

Back on the sand by the pier, Mason Andrade, 5, held up his left fist as marchers passed on the boardwalk.

His mother, Alejandra Aldrete, brought him to the beach from their Fontana home for a day of play. She didn’t know there would be a protest, but she used it to show her son more than the television news images he’s seen of rioters and looters, which have frightened him.

The boy has a basic understanding of what happened to Floyd. He knows that the man had the same skin color as some of his friends at preschool who he innocently calls his “brown friends.”

Seeing people his parents’ age peacefully protesting would hopefully give him a more comforting perspective, said Aldrete, 28.

“These are people like mommy,” she said softly.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is reviewing the conduct of a deputy working at a Costa Mesa protest Tuesday seen wearing a badge supporting the far-right militia organization, the Three Percenters.

Chap Clark, 65, walked the route in flip-flops. When the group reached 32nd Street, he peeled off into a grocery store to buy 36 bottles of water, which he handed out to the people around him.

“It’s not about the police. It’s about our system,” said Clark, the lead pastor at Newport’s St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. “Our nation has kneeled on the necks of people of color for a long time, not just George Floyd.”

Clark has three little granddaughters even younger than Anna and Mason. “I kept wondering what they’re gonna ask me when this is all over — ‘What did you do, granddaddy?’”

Protesters walk along Balboa Boulevard during Wednesday's peaceful protest over the killing of George Floyd.
Protesters walk along Balboa Boulevard during Wednesday’s peaceful protest over the killing of George Floyd.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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