By Shawn Raymundo
As many in San Clemente celebrated the Fourth of July on Saturday, dozens advocating for racial equality marched for miles in the latest Black Lives Matter rally held locally in the weeks following the police-involved death of George Floyd on Memorial Day.
Separately at the North Beach parking lot, where the BLM rally began, a separate group of more than a dozen President Trump supporters had also gathered to lead a “USA Parade” to the San Clemente Pier.
The BLM demonstrators continued calls to defund police departments, end police brutality and systemic racism, as well as advocate justice for the Black Americans who have died at the hands of law enforcement.
July 4 was chosen deliberately for the local protest “to make the statement that America is not representing what it should be representing,” said 19-year-old Alexa Murray, one of the organizers. She added that the group wanted to show support for the nation’s people of color who “deserve the freedom the most” yet “haven’t really gotten the freedom that they deserve.”
Starting from North Beach, the BLM protest traveled down El Camino Real to State Beach before heading back north along the Beach Trail.
“We’re here to create awareness,” Murray said, before explaining that the group’s other purpose is “to get more people registered to vote and gather here in solidarity to show the world that there are a lot of people that support the Black communities.”
“We’re here to bring those Black communities up, to bring more integration, push out the hate, push out the racism,” she added. “We want to educate the people.”
Floyd’s death in late May while in Minneapolis police custody has sparked nationwide protests that have been largely peaceful and meant to bring awareness to systematic racism.
While the protest here on Saturday remained peaceful, some marchers along the Beach Trail were caught up in a tussle with one beachgoer who, as demonstrators described, was being aggressive and lobbing obscenities.
Baylee Keeney, 22, of San Clemente said the individual cursed at the protesters and told them to “go home,” even going as far as to pull people’s face masks off, including her own.
“The people kept marching and the people with the microphones had stopped to keep people moving, and he started smacking people’s signs out of people’s hands,” Keeney recalled. “I walked up to him and told him, ‘you can’t touch people.’ He said, ‘I can do whatever I want,’ then he ripped the facemask out of my face.”
Others like fellow San Clemente resident Dylan Hollrigel, 21, recounted similar details, noting that the individual had also gotten in “my face and started screaming an inch way from me and was being aggressive.”
A police report of the incident, which had been partially caught on video and shared on social media, was filed with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, spokesperson Carrie Braun confirmed with the San Clemente Times.
“Two protesters were holding megaphones while walking on the beach trail, and a male suspect grabbed one megaphone (which was attached to one of the victim’s wrist) and pushed another megaphone, which struck the other victim in the face,” Braun said in an email.
“Two additional protesters reported being grabbed by the same suspect,” she added, while noting that “there were no visible injuries to anyone, they continued the march and reported the incident at the conclusion of the march.”
In the video that was posted as an Instagram story, the individual, who OCSD had not yet identified, can be seen ripping away one demonstrator’s megaphone and tossing it to the ground. That action prompted some of the protesters to rush to the fellow demonstrator’s aide, leading to the scuffle.
“There were definitely a lot more counter-protesters at this (rally) than I’ve seen at previous demonstrations,” said Murray, who helped organize a rally in San Clemente last month. “It was mostly along the beach, a lot of people just shouting ‘All Lives Matter’ … But yeah, definitely a really big crowd of anti-protesters.”
It’s not clear whether the USA Parade that started at North Beach was meant to counter the BLM march. The poster for the parade, which encouraged participants to bring American, Trump and military flags, billed itself as a “protest against the theft of our freedom and destruction of our country.”
The bottom right corner of the poster also included an altered version of the symbol for the Punisher, a comic-book anti-hero from Marvel Comics who is known for his violent behavior.
The altered Punisher symbol, which is traditionally that of a white skull against a black background, was colored in with the American flag, and had hair that appeared to represent President Trump’s hair.
As of this posting, SC Times has been unable to identify the organizer of the USA Parade.
Acting Mayor Laura Ferguson marched in the parade, noting that participants sang patriotic songs while waving the American flag in celebration of the Fourth of July.
“Mark Twain defined patriotism as ‘supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it,’” Ferguson wrote to SC Times. “I agree! We need to come together despite our differences and not lose sight of how blessed we are to live in America.”
Asked whether she agreed with the poster’s sentiment regarding the “theft of our freedom and destruction of our country,” Ferguson said “No, but I would agree with the sentiment had we not started opening up our economy.”
“If we don’t open society, everyone will be bankrupt and our economy destroyed,” she continued. “As for freedom, I feel this sentiment and I believe in personal responsibility. Everyone is entitled to their views and to go out or stay home—use common sense and be cautious—not government control. I always go on the side of liberty.”
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.