By David N. Young and Charles M. Kelly
More than 300 protesters brought a brief hush to Mayberry by the Sea Saturday afternoon, Aug. 29, as they stood silently in formation at PCH, preparing to march down Main Street.
“The SBPD did not make any arrests as a result of Saturday’s protest,” wrote Sgt. Nick Nicholas, public information officer for Seal Beach Police, in an email.
“We have received no reports of injuries,” he wrote.
The city’s anxiety and dread, prompted in part by a lack of information, was at its highest level as citizens and visitors nervously watched as the protesters slowly began their three-block march.
Several storefronts along Main Street had been boarded up as shopkeepers were uncertain what to expect.
“Most of my Old Town residents were merely curious as to what the outcome was, as they didn’t choose to go to Main Street,” wrote District One Councilman Joe Kalmick in an Aug. 31 email. The event occurred in his district.
“I did hear from a couple of Main Street businesses who chose to close and cover their store’s windows with plywood. They were worried about what might have happened, the loss of business, and the expense of preparing to protect their storefronts. There was some anger about the ongoing weekly protests that they feel is hurting their very livelihoods at the worst possible time,” Kalmick wrote.
On Saturday, carrying signs that read “A duty to challenge corruption,” “Stop Protecting Police Brutality” and similar slogans, demonstrators chanted “Confederacy 2.0, Trump/Pence have to go” and “no justice, no peace” as they moved down the street at their own pace.
Justin Frazier, a key organizer, said the march was pre-planned by a coalition of 22 organizations, one of which included the Seal Beach BLM organization. Frazier insisted marchers were prepared to defend themselves from altercations, but protesters were all informed before the rally “not to feed into the hate.”
Frazier, 25, a former Marine Corps Colonel, said he was on a combat tour in 2016 when his uncle Greg was killed by police in Florida. He has been protesting against police brutality ever since.
Frazier said he is not anti-police but does believe officers should face investigations when their brutality demands it. Also, said Frazier, policing should include much more social work.
Frazier denounces violence during protests, having more than once being singled out for breaking up potentially violent conflicts in marches he’s led. “If we get violent, everything we’re here for won’t matter,” Frazier often tells the marchers in his chants.
There were skirmishes in each of the three blocks, and he said protesters had guns pulled on them, but there were no major incidents.
The first skirmish broke out when two men apparently attempted to stop the marchers from proceeding onto Main Street, reportedly telling them “you’re not coming into my town,” using more colorful language, he said.
Another occurred as protesters blocked Electric Avenue and a visible supporter of President Trump got into a shouting match, and some chest bumping, with the protesters.
Many marchers among the ranks included local citizens, some of whom simply walked from their neighborhoods to the staging area near the Chase parking lot.
The Caravan4Justice coalition was requested to come to Seal Beach by the local BLM group, said Frazier, because approximately 300-400 black citizens live among a population of 25,000. “We here to show them we do have a presence and black lives do matter here,” said Frazier. “We’re going to paint the town black today.”
Using knowledge gleaned from local BLM organizations, the marchers paused at some businesses to write “We love you” in red on their doors. Frazier said local marchers had provided organizers with info in advance on local businesses that are favorable to the cause.
“I don’t think Seal Beach is inherently racist,” said Frazier. “I just think they have a racist undertones.” According to Frazier, racism takes many forms, some more subtle than others.
“It’s not always about what they say and do, it’s the eyes you get when you walk into places,” he said. “People don’t realize,” said Frazier, that racism can take the form of a look when you walk into the front door. “I’ve experienced that as a black man,” he said.
The march down Main Street began about 3:30 p.m. and despite only traveling three small blocks, the chaos went on for more than two hours. At one point the demonstration stopped at Main and Central while a pick-up truck carrying a piano and a piano player attempted to merge with Main Street traffic.
With an unidentified man holding a rifle in a nearby yard, according to organizers, the marchers gathered in a circle in the Chase Bank parking lot to conclude their pre-march meeting.
Frazier again stressed the goal of nonviolence while other speakers noted they were marching many at the fringe of society who would not otherwise have any voice at all.
During the meeting, the coalition went through an organizational checklist that defied the chaotic march they were about to demonstrate.
The group designated one organizational volunteer with a mission to help them get out of jail should trouble occur. It did not.
The marchers were also told how to respond to aggression and violence, even rehearsing responses to potential questions. Legal observers wearing green hats were also part of the demonstration.
Some in the group gave updates on newly minted Orange County Board of Supervisors budget and other local governments.
While the marchers are passionate about the cause on weekends, many are professionals with day jobs like everyone else. In fact, they are actively working to affect the budget process of local governments as they seek to give voice to the homeless, those in the LGBTQ community, and others.
A spokesman from Caravan4Justice, the overall sponsor of the march, thanked the volunteers for being there and said as much as marchers planned to occupy physical space for today, their ultimate goal was to affect budgetary policy for those seemingly forgotten in the process.
During Saturday’s march, there were a few confrontations between demonstrators and counter-protesters at different points along Main. For example, a Sun staffer taking photos observed a commotion without seeing who started what. When he moved in, the staffer observed a young man (20s to 30s) with what appeared to be an angry expression on his face, surrounded by the BLM protesters. One protester held a sign in the young man’s face. Someone blew bubbles in his direction. After a few moments, the young man turned away.
The Caravan4Justice/BLM group was met by counter-demonstrators in the vicinity of Main and Ocean. One demonstrator confronted a Sun staffer, objecting to the fact that the (rescheduled) Fish Fry got more space on the front page than the protest. The demonstrator was distracted by a pedestrian who said someone was going to hurt him.
A young woman standing in the back of a vehicle urged the demonstrators to let the counter-demonstrators “do their thing.” At least one fight reportedly broke out in at the intersection of Main and Ocean. Around 5:29 p.m., Seal Beach Police received a report of a large gasoline can being left near Coldstone around 5:29 p.m. Police removed the gasoline can.
Around that time, a voice on a loudspeaker said “clear the area” and police officers marched toward Main and Ocean, followed by a SWAT van with flashing lights.
Videos sent to the Sun show police officers marching in the other direction on Main Street, near Main and Electric.
In the end, police said while there were exchanges, some heated, there were no injuries or arrests during the march.