Protesters gather along Sims Way in Port Townsend on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Like other demonstrations across the country, including in Clallam County, participants decried the death of black men including George Floyd of Minneapolis. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Protesters gather along Sims Way in Port Townsend on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Like other demonstrations across the country, including in Clallam County, participants decried the death of black men including George Floyd of Minneapolis. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Protesting racism: Port Townsend, Port Angeles rally

More than 175 people turn out on North Olympic Peninsula

“Racism ‘infects’ America.” “Black Lives Matter.” “George Floyd should still be alive.” “I can’t breathe.”

Such were the signs, some wet with rain, on the road toward downtown Port Townsend at midday and at the corner of Golf Course Road and First Street in Port Angeles later that afternoon.

More than 175 people turned out on the North Olympic Peninsula to peacefully protest the killing of black men at the hands of some police officers across the country, the protests being supported by local police.

“I wanted to spend my day off doing something, fighting back,” said Sean Vinson, who helped hold up a large “I can’t breathe” banner on the corner of Sims Way and Haines Place.

Juli Valentine, left, and her daughter Beth Valentine silently hold signs in Port Townsend on Saturday, May 30, 2020. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Juli Valentine, left, and her daughter Beth Valentine silently hold signs in Port Townsend on Saturday, May 30, 2020. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Those were among the last words of George Floyd, the African American man who died after police apprehended him in Minneapolis last Monday. Also spoken by Eric Garner, a black New York City resident who died in a confrontation with police July 17, 2014, the phrase has become a rallying point for activists across the country.

Some 125 people gathered, wearing masks and lining both sides of Sims Way near Safeway in Port Townsend, from 11 a.m. until past 1 p.m.

In Port Angeles, about 50 people braved a cold wind at 3 p.m. at the corner of Golf Course Road and First Street to hold signs saying “I can’t breathe” and “BLM.” Other signs evoked Philando Castile, another Minnesota black man who was killed by police in 2016.

Dozens of cars drove by honking their horns in support with at least one driver rolling down his window and holding up a fist in support.

Brianna Kelly-Hedden helped put together the Port Angeles protest because people wanted to go to Seattle to join protests there but couldn’t because of the COVID-19 situation.

“Something has to be said. We have to speak up,” she said.

She said she talked to the Port Angeles Police Department before the event and got its support beforehand.

“The police department supports us. They’re backing us up,” she said.

Protesters with “Black Lives Matter” signs begin to arrive to the intersection of First Street and Golf Course Road in Port Angeles at about 3 p.m. Saturday, May 30, 2020, after a white officer in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, a black man, on Monday, sparking protests and riots across the United States. (Jesse Major/for the Peninsula Daily News)

Protesters with “Black Lives Matter” signs begin to arrive to the intersection of First Street and Golf Course Road in Port Angeles at about 3 p.m. Saturday, May 30, 2020, after a white officer in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, a black man, on Monday, sparking protests and riots across the United States. (Jesse Major/for the Peninsula Daily News)

Kelley-Hedden said the support from drivers was overwhelmingly positive, though she said a couple of drivers made obscene gestures earlier in the day.

“I just wanted to help,” said 12-year-old Alexis Showers. “For the most part, people are being pretty cool.”

The scene was similar in Port Townsend as the mostly white group — with a few people of color — stood in the moist chill as passing motorists honked and waved.

“We’re standing peacefully in demonstration,” Vinson proclaimed through a megaphone. He then announced there would be a silent vigil downtown Saturday afternoon.

Social media and word of mouth brought the crowd to the street, Vinson said.

Juli Valentine, who stood with her 19-year-old African American daughter, Beth Valentine, about a block away across Sims Way, added that a group of young people had begun spreading the word Friday afternoon.

Juli, who is white, said she is “sick and tired of the disregard for human lives” that has persisted in this country.

“It matters,” Beth said, “being vocal.”

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached at [email protected].

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