Huntington Beach police ‘understand’ frustration, but ask locals adhere to social distancing order

Local News

Huntington Beach officials urged locals to follow the statewide stay-at-home order after a protest against the rule Friday drew more than 200 people.

People pushing for the reopening of California businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic rally on Main Street in Huntington Beach on April 17, 2020. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
People pushing for the reopening of California businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic rally on Main Street in Huntington Beach on April 17, 2020. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

The Huntington Beach police and fire departments on Saturday shared a video message from Mayor Lyn Semeta, who announced that the city will move forward with plans to shut down Huntington Harbour beaches as well as all metered parking on the Pacific Coast Highway.

“Please watch the video, continue to practice social distancing, and let’s get through this together as One HB!” the police and fire departments said in social media posts.

According to the Police Department, a crowd of protesters at Main Street and Walnut Avenue near the beach began small but grew to more than 200 people by 1:30 p.m. Friday.

“While the department worked to get enough resources there to manage the protest effectively, the people at the location began violating some of our local ordinances regarding public assembly including walking in the middle of the street and carrying signs with large sticks that could be used as weapons,” the agency said in a Facebook post.

“Once we had sufficient officers in place, they utilized great restraint in dealing with circumstances that could have escalated into significant police action,” the statement continued. “We were able to contact the organizers of the protest and disperse the majority of the crowd peacefully without incident or without any arrests.”

Huntington Beach police said they don’t condone Friday’s protest nor will they disregard similar gatherings in the future, but they “do understand people’s emotions are high and many are frustrated with the current [state] Executive Order.”

The agency asked people to be patient, noting that “if we keep spreading the disease, the more likely we will have to continue this order for a longer period of time.”

Chief Robert Handy has also expressed disappointment with Friday’s gathering and said that officers are caught between allowing free speech and maintaining public safety.

Huntington Beach is just one of many cities across the U.S. that have seen protesters rally against stay-at-home orders and the closure of businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many, including some of the protesters in Huntington Beach, congregated without masks and held signs showing support for President Donald Trump.

In a series of tweets on Friday morning, Trump urged supporters to “LIBERATE” Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia—three states led by Democratic governors—in an apparent push for the lifting of restrictions.

Asked about whether or not he was worried about the gatherings later Friday, the president said: “No, these are people expressing their views. I see where they are, I see the way they’re working. They seem to be very responsible to me. But you know, they’ve been treated a little bit rough.”

On Saturday, Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters that the president’s language doesn’t surprise him.

“When you practice your free speech… just do so safely,” Newsom said, adding that the virus “knows no political ideology.”

According to a database by the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, the U.S. has reported more than 31,000 deaths in the COVID-19 pandemic as of Saturday.

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