Watsonville protesters
Hundreds gathered in Watsonville Sunday in a peaceful protest of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis May 25. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—Thousands took to the streets in Watsonville and Santa Cruz over the weekend in bold protest of the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died in Minneapolis May 25 when a 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—a move paralleled around the country where a police station, banks, stores and patrol cars have been torched, storefront windows have been smashed out, businesses have been looted and several people have died in escalating violence. 

Riots around the White House in the nation’s Capital even forced President Donald Trump into an underground bunker for a brief spell, according to the New York Times and Associated Press

“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,” said 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.”

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.

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

“This is not the end; there will be more; this will not go away until we convict (the Minneapolis Police officers),” said 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.”

Protests and riots have erupted in 140 cities coast to coast, and the National Guard has been deployed in 21 states. Forty journalists have been injured, including one woman who has been permanently blinded by a flying projectile in Minneapolis. A CNN reporter was briefly handcuffed in Minneapolis while covering the events, but later released with an apology from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

In Oakland, the FBI has identified the federal officer who was shot and killed Friday night as Dave Patrick Underwood, 53. He was shot by an unknown assailant from a passing van alongside another officer, who was critically injured by the gunfire. Officials investigating the shooting have not determined if it is related to the protests.

After one Target store was ransacked and looted, the giant store chain has cut some of its business hours. Hundreds of stores around the U.S. have boarded up their storefronts.

The local protests, however, maintained a peaceful tone. On Saturday, at a smaller protest, Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills took part in uniform and at one point symbolically “took a knee” in an apparent show of unity with protesters. Indeed, some law officials around the country have even joined marchers or waved their own signs with messages of understanding.

Floyd died after a Minneapolis Police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes after detaining him for alleged forgery. 

Floyd, who died in the hospital shortly afterwards, can be heard on a video tape 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. 

In Minneapolis, demonstrators looted a Target store and stormed and took over a police department before setting it ablaze. In L.A. rioters surrounded two CHP patrol cars and caved in windows after shutting down a freeway. Curfew have been imposed in numerous cities, including an 8 p.m. curfew in San Francisco.

Some city leaders around the country say they are bracing for more demonstrations.

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Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. More recently Good Times & Press Banner. 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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