Peaceful Anti-Police Brutality Vigil in Huntington Beach Pisses Off A Bunch of HBers

The California and American flag were at half-mast last night at the Huntington Beach Pier in the wake of Thursday’s Dallas police massacre. Nevertheless, Anaheim-based Law Enforcement Accountability Network (L.E.A.N) carried on with a previously planned “Why Are You Killing Us?” anti-police brutality “Healing Vigil.” About 200 people gathered to mourn victims of police violence and the police officers killed in Dallas, and while the vigil was a peaceful event, tension was still in the air thanks to a bunch of boorish HBers.

On Facebook, dozens of residents took insult with not just the date of the event (too soon!), but with the very idea of having it in Surf City, which they insisted has no problem with bad police. Those folks have obviously forgotten that the Huntington Beach Police Department is one of the most notoriously brutish in Orange County (and that’s saying something!), with Weekly managing editor Nick Schou putting it best: “For far too long, Huntington Beach cops have had a well-deserved reputation for being arrogant, unfriendly pricks—testosterone-addled jocks with guns who shoot people.”

Among the dead at the bullets of HB police? Three of OC’s most notorious killer-cop cases: 77-year-old World War II veteran Ted Franks (shot to death in 1996 after being mistaken for a burglar in the factory he lived in); 18-year-old Antonio Saldivar (shot to death in the city’s Oak View barrio by Officer Mark Wersching, who said Saldivar pointed a rifle at him after a chase; a civil jury found that a big ol’ lie and awarded Saldivar’s family $2.1 million, yet HBPD promoted Wersching to detective); and Ashley Macdonald, a suicidal 18-year-old girl shot 15 times by Surf City’s finest a decade ago this summer. And while apologists might cry that all that is ancient history under a previous administration, the city has never bothered to honor the victims at any point ever.

But we digress. Leading the complaints against the L.E.A.N. vigil was Huntington Beach author Chris Epting, who still writes a column for felonious ex-HB mayor Dave Garofalo’s newspaper. On the Facebook group Huntington Beach CommUNITY Voice (not to be confused with FB’s other big HB group, Huntington Beach Community Forum), Epting bizarrely wondered if the Weekly organized the event, claiming he had a “source suggesting [the vigil happened] because of the OC Weekly’s orchestration” (bruh, we can barely organize Pizza Tuesdays at our office). He and others showed up to the Friday night vigil for…no one’s really sure, but Epting found the glory he was ostensibly looking for.
As the vigil started, organizers passed out chalk and asked the public to write down the names of victims of police violence and police officers lost this week on the ground. Volunteers started writing down names such as Sandra Bland, Kelly Thomas, and Eric Garner (but not the names of Frank, Saldivar, and MacDonald—shame on folks for not knowing their local history)

A prayer circle soon started. After a few minutes, Epting interrupted the solemnity with a loud, “Why is the killer’s name there?”

Seems someone wrote down the name of Micah Xavier Johnson, the Army veteran who’d served in Afghanistan and shot 12 people in Dallas, killing five police officers. Epting rightfully had a fit, but not one, or two, but three people tried to calm him down, with news cameras and Facebook Live broadcasters swarming around him. Eventually, a volunteer erased Johnson’s name.

“That’s why we are erasing it, because I don’t agree with that,” said Rev. Everett Bell an associate minister at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church and one of the organizers of the event. 

“I was simply following a list and I did not think of the name I was writing,” said a woman who took accountability for the blunder. She then clarified to Epting that she came to the vigil as an individual and was not part of L.E.A.N.

Epting would have none of it. After refusing the apologies of the woman (funny, because Epting insists the world forgive Garofalo’s felonies), Epting then barked at Rev. Bell, “Why are you in Huntington Beach?” 

“I’m in Huntington Beach because people live in Huntington Beach,” the good rev responded. “I’m in Huntington Beach because there are concerns in Huntington Beach. I’m in Huntington Beach because I live in Orange County. I’m in Huntington Beach because that’s where we are tonight.”

Epting then left in a huff, refusing to respond when the Weekly asked for his name (later on, he boasted online that he refused our request for an interview. Um, no). On CommUNITY Voice, Epting went on to brag that people gave him and his sons high-fives for his actions, and that they “deflated” the vigil.

Far from it. After the distraction, people were invited to say the names of those affected by police violence. The names of the murdered Dallas officers were announced, along with victims of police violence.  Theresa Smith spoke about her son, Caesar Cruz, who was shot and killed by Anaheim Police in 2009 Smith addressed Huntington Beach residents who felt uncomfortable with the vigil taking place in their town. “We chose Huntington Beach because it’s a beautiful place,” she said. “We are not here to be violent; we are only here to honor those who have lost their lives.”

“Five police officers shot my son two years ago,” Smith added. “I wrote each one of them a letter forgiving them for taking my son because there is too much hatred.” 

While the vigil continued, people openly snickered while they walked by. But those gathered ignored the haters and proceeded to walk down the Huntington Beach Pier with a sign at the front of the march that read, “Stop killing us. Stop the bloodshed. Police Accountability now!” 

After reaching the end of the pier, the public was encouraged to share their thoughts and throw red sand into the sea as a ritual of healing. Rev. Kent Doss of Tapestry Unitarian Universalist Church in Mission Viejo (who had also tried to unsuccessfully calm down Epting) then read a poem, and other clergy members were available for prayer and comfort to anyone who needed it. 

The crowd returned to the beginning of the pier to light candles for the deceased.  Many continued to write chalk messages on the ground in remembrance of those who’ve passed away due to police violence. A man wrote down “Blue lives matter.” 

Aside from Caesar Cruz, local OC victims of police violence who were remembered last night included Kelly Thomas and OC’s latest possible victim of brutality at the hands of law enforcement, Fermin Vincent Valenzuela, III. Besides Epting and the haters, there were no major incidents, no anger: just an attempt to bring comfort to people affected by police violence, and to bring some sense to the madness in Dallas.

“All lives matter,” Rev. Bell said, “when we can say together that black and brown lives matter too.”

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