| Photo by Claudia Meléndez Salinas
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Protests around the Monterey Bay region over the killing of George Floyd started in earnest Saturday morning with a gathering of about 350 people at Window on the Bay Park in Monterey.
By “earnest,” we mean that the protest was Monterey chill. Folks were angry. They chanted. They listened to speeches and held signs. But the gathering in Monterey was more somber than the violent outbreaks in larger cities across the country in recent days.
It’s hard to generate a head of steam at a protest that starts at 9 a.m.
Also, uncertainty about the global pandemic kept things cool. The Monterey protest was organized by Monterey City Councilman Tyller Williamson and Seaside Councilman Jon Wizard, who were careful to advise would-be demonstrators to practice social distancing. And concern about the spread of COVID-19 did apparently keep the crowd to a dull roar. Councilman Alan Haffa, usually front and center at events such as these, opted to stay home. In a Facebook post he said that he decided to avoid the protest due to concerns about COVID-19.
Those who did show up were masked appropriately and doing their best to keep their distance.
Perhaps the most rousing speaker at the Monterey event was young Kenya Janae Burton, who read a piece of her poetry that was a rousing call for action as well as a denunciation of the racism that killed Floyd.
Monterey police were a presence, but in a helpful way. Officers distributed bottles of cold water to demonstrators and, later, provided appropriate traffic control when an unplanned march of about 100 protesters circled from Window on the Bay to the Middlebury Institute for International Studies campus and back.
Not coincidentally, on Friday Monterey’s police chief issued a statement of solidarity. “Our job as police officers is to protect and serve everyone, equally,” wrote Chief David J. Hober. “Our job as police officers is to help people, including those we arrest. Our job is also to intercede when we see something that is wrong. On behalf of the Monterey Police Department, I want all to know that we share in the outrage surrounding the actions of the police officers involved in this event and in the sorrow of Mr. Floyd’s death.”
Hober is one of several Central Coast police chiefs to issue statements about the Floyd death. On Saturday afternoon, Chief Andy Mills was pictured in the Santa Cruz Sentinel taking a knee with dozens of other demonstrators. And Watsonville Police Chief David Honda posted a statement — published in both English and Spanish — saying that silence “is the same as condoning the actions” that killed Floyd. “What we saw was disturbing and unacceptable and has hurt our country,” Honda said. “This is not indicative of who we are in law enforcement. Here in Santa Cruz County, we train to the highest standard and demand that our officers be better.”
Meanwhile, video from a protest in Seaside on Saturday afternoon indicates that a couple of hundred demonstrators stopped traffic at the corner of Fremont Boulevard and Broadway.
Floyd died after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes while he pleaded for his life earlier this week in Minneapolis, Minn. The officer, Derek Chauvin, is facing third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges after a videotape of the incident emerged. Three other officers were on the scene and watched passively as Floyd died.
The relatively quiet demonstrations on the Central Coast contrast with the damage reported at more violent protests in San Jose, Los Angeles and Oakland, where a security officer was killed in a shooting during protests outside the Federal Building. Violence has also been reported in Minneapolis, Atlanta and Portland, and there are increasing reports of protests being infiltrated by white nationalists.
Other demonstrations have been scheduled throughout the region this weekend, including a protest starting at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Clock Tower in Santa Cruz.
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