.Thousands in Santa Cruz and Watsonville Protest George Floyd Killing

Thousands took to the streets in Watsonville and Santa Cruz over the weekend to protest police killings following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in Minneapolis May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Marches and rallies unfolded in downtown Santa Cruz and Watsonville, with numerous streets closed to traffic by police Sunday. The move has been paralleled in some places around the country where cars have been torched, storefront windows have been smashed, businesses have been looted and several people have died in escalating violence, as protests of the police killings of Black people are being met at times by aggressive police tactics. The local protests maintained a peaceful tone.

While about 500 people rallied in the plaza and surrounding streets of Watsonville, listening to speeches and toting homemade signs, around 4,000 people noisily marched through the streets of downtown Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Police Department officers raced ahead of splinter groups Sunday to close off sections of Ocean, Water, Laurel, Center and Cedar streets. Crowds waved signs bearing messages such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice,” and “If You Have the Luxury to Breathe, You’d Better Shout!”

“It’s been happening so long, this culture of prejudice against people that are Black or brown. Something is not right and it has to change,” says Zandra Amato of Watsonville, who was at the demonstration there. “Like the lady walking her dog in New York, calling the police on a Black man: She knew exactly how to use the police against him because it’s in the system. She knew the response she’d get. That woman knows just how the system will work against people of color like myself. This has gone on for far too long—that’s why I’m out here today.”

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On Saturday, at a smaller protest in Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills took part in uniform and at one point symbolically “took a knee” in a show of unity with protesters. Some law officials around the country have joined marchers or waved their own signs with messages of understanding.

Protests have emerged in more than 140 cities coast to coast, and the National Guard has been deployed in at least 21 states as of today. Dozens of journalists have been injured, including one who was permanently blinded in her left eye by a flying projectile in Minneapolis.

George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes after detaining him for alleged forgery. Floyd can be heard on video saying he couldn’t breathe during the arrest. The four officers at the incident were fired. The county prosecutor has charged the kneeling officer, Derek Chauvin, with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But that move hardly cooled the nerves of thousands of people who have responded in a powerful backlash in America, Canada, London and Berlin. 

Curfews have been imposed in numerous cities, including an 8pm curfew in San Francisco.

Protests are expected to continue around the country, including locally.

“This is not the end. There will be more. This will not go away until we convict [the Minneapolis Police officers],” says Isaac Chavarria, who helped organize the Santa Cruz event. “Rage, sorrow, respect and anger—this is why we are here today. There is no me without we.”

Santa Cruz Mayor Justin Cummings and Police Chief Andy Mills are hosting a community forum on Wednesday, June 3 about policing, and inviting public comment. The presentation will cover how the Santa Cruz Police Department has been working to “reduce bias” and “increase diversity in the department,” as well as implementing de-escalation tactics, according to a city press release.

Cummings will also discuss a proposed policy that would “limit the use of certain technologies in law enforcement that have proven to be biased against people of color.”

The forum is scheduled for 6-8pm on Wednesday, June 3. It can be accessed by visiting zoom.us or by calling 669-900-9128, 346-248-7799, or 312-626-6799. The Webinar ID is 964 6211 9560. Questions or comments can be submitted ahead of time to ne**@ci*************.com (opens in a new tab)">ne**@ci*************.com.


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Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.
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