George Floyd’s murder at the hands (or more accurately, knees) of Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police department have sent waves of anger rippling throughout the country. From the White House to Orange County, protests have popped up, some peaceful, others resulting in looting and riots.
Santa Ana and its neighbor Orange both hosted protests on May 30, however while Orange remained peaceful and respectful for over six hours. Santa Ana escalated within minutes of the 8 p.m. starting time. So what went right and wrong respectively?
Some key things to keep in mind
Two protests converged in the Orange Circle in the early afternoon sun. Protesters gathered in the small grassy park in the center of the roundabout and marched around the inner lane, surrounded by antique shops and small restaurants. One of the two was organized by Villa Park High School senior. Flyers for both events emphasized that it stay peaceful and in Memory of Mr. Floyd. Almost every car honked in support of while trying to squeeze into the small traffic circle.
Though there were at least 16 officers present on both the ground and rooftops, they remained out of the way. They stood as a group under a little green awning, away in the corner. Dressed in their regular uniforms, they easily chatted amongst themselves, and didn’t respond or try to assert their dominance over the situation. When the crowd of protesters began to encircle them and chant, rather than escalating the situation they simply left.
As mentioned above, Orange is largely middle-class white folk. They don’t riot, they ask for the manager. While many people of color were present, there was also a good portion who, while angry about injustice, trust the cops on their own behalf. Similarly, the cops mostly trust the residents. Many protesters in Orange have never experienced any form of police bias firsthand, and never will. Most of Orange will never know what it’s like to fall through the cracks.
As the sunlight faded away. people began to gather at the dingy corner of Bristol and McFadden. Cars filtered into the parking lot of a run down strip mall, music blaring from windows and the smell of weed in the air. Unlike the flyers for Orange that had “Peaceful” in big red letters surrounding a picture of Mr. Floyd, those for the 8 p.m. gathering in Santa Ana said “FUCK THE POLICE.” An alternate version went further and encouraged attendees to bring fireworks and bottles to throw at the cops, and bats to smash windows. The same group responsible for assembling this time are also credited with organizing an anti-Trump protest-turned-riot in 2016 at the same intersection. Very few of those present were white. While at least half of those there were there for Mr. Floyd or Black Lives Matter, there were a lot who weren’t.
Within minutes of the start time, someone had hurled a can at a civilian car trying to get through the intersection, cracking a window. While several present attempted to hold whoever had done it accountable, there were just too many to keep up with,
The group moved down the street shortly before returning to find the intersection now occupied by Santa Ana PD directing traffic and telling them where to stand.
Officers immediately issuing commands at an event where they are the guests of honor in the worst way didn’t bode well for the rest of the evening and things quickly escalated. Within 15 minutes of the cops’ arrival, the fireworks started. As SAPD tried to stand tall, the first mortars launched off right in front of officers. Soon it was almost like a mini-battlefield and sparks shot in, and from, every direction; the concussion of some of which could be felt from yards away.
Already in body armor from the start, orders were heard over the radio to “mask up whenever able to do so safely.” Tear canisters were readied as their every barking order to the crowd was met with some variation of “screw you pigs!” The Sheriffs, ever the gasoline on the fire, rolled in further angering the crowd. Where OPD had backed down, SAPD chose to double down.
As the night wore on it, the police department declared it a full on riot. Again. Looters and vandals defaced and destroyed multiple businesses, including Target, Smart and Final, Food 4 Less, and even SAC’s Digital Media Center.
While looting and rioting should never be condoned, even one of the most notable pacifists, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged their sometimes necessity, saying “riots are the language of the unheard.” One of the main items looted from Food 4 Less? Baby formula. We also seem to think pretty highly of a certain “tea party” thrown by our founding fathers.
That in a time of opportunity like a riot, the prized item was food for people’s children should speak volumes.
Where the protest in Orange was on behalf of friends and family for many in attendance, in Santa Ana it was personal. Even those who were geared towards destruction, while some just like to watch the world burn, most were pushed there because their government failed them.
Santa Ana is an amazing community full of wonderful, giving, talented individuals of all backgrounds. This riot is not who this community is. Rather than focus on the destruction caused by the looters, instead we need to focus on the inequalities that make so many feel unheard and desperate. Instead of punishing those who have nothing to lose, we need to look at who took it from them in the first place.