It was Long Beach’s turn on Tuesday night to join the nationwide protests of what many have called the murder of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck for almost nine minutes on Memorial Day.
Hundreds of protesters shouted “We want justice!” and “I can’t breathe!” as they gathered on the boardwalk at Riverside Boulevard, joined by city officials and state lawmakers.
The demonstration along the boardwalk was organized by Long Beach resident Jeb Bellsey, a community leader. Bellsey said that some people have underestimated the power of the movement opposing racism and police brutality.
“I want you guys to be the change you want to see,” he told the crowd. “Actions speak louder than words.”
City Council President John Bendo and other council members joined the crowd and marched after a council meeting, which was pushed up by two hours, at which some had expressed their support for the City’s protest.
“Whatever color this is doesn’t matter,” Bendo said, pointing at his hand, “We all need to be treated the same, with respect and dignity. So let’s go out there and teach people that.”
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat, also marched, and pledged unity. “I believe Long Beach could be an example of peace, unity, of how to move forward together in the future,” Kaminsky said. “I see young people here. I see old people. I see people who want change. I see people who know that it has to happen.”
Ed Ryan, who was named the city’s acting city police commissioner last week, also took part in the demonstration, and estimated that the crowd numbered 700 or more. There were no arrests.
“It was very peaceful,” Ryan said. “There was a very good feeling about it. It was good to see people in Long Beach coming together.” At one point, he joined the protesters in symbolically taking a knee.
However, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Wednesday during her daily briefing that there were about 2,000 demonstrators at the boardwalk march.
Many of the participants, including MLK Center Chairman James Hodge, marched from City Hall to the boardwalk. Moments before they began marching at the boardwalk, demonstrators kneeled for nine minutes, the length of time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee pressed into Floyd’s neck.
“All lives can’t matter until black lives matter,” Hodge said. “We’re in a pandemic with black lives being killed by police officers.”
Hodge planned another protest for Thursday at 4 p.m., after the Herald went to press, at the MLK Center, at 615 Riverside Blvd.
As he stood with the crowd on the boardwalk, Long Beach native Byron Mitchell, 39, said he had been assaulted at age 13 by a Long Beach police officer and that a bystander had intervened and stopped the assault. He later told his father, Mitchell said, but his father chose not to take action because “he didn’t want them to keep harassing us.”
“When I was younger, I didn’t understand why — [his father] was my hero, and that kind of hurt me,” Mitchell said. “As I got older, I understood why. It really hurt me for a long time.”
Long Beach resident Fabio Munoz, whose parents are from the Dominican Republic, said he took part in the protest to spread a message. “I’m here to support, because I feel like one day that could happen to me,” Munoz said of Chauvin’s death. “Not all cops are the same, but you never know when it can happen, and it needs to stop.”
Munoz said he was amazed to see people from all different races put their differences aside for the cause. He said he wanted to spread awareness to end discrimination. “We’re all here for the same cause,” he said. “Everybody wants to be safe. Everybody wants to be successful. Why can't we do it together?”