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After initial cancellation, rally against racism and police brutality draws hundreds to Napa

Less than a day after organizers of an anti-racism protest in Napa canceled the event due to apparent fears of outside agitators, hundreds of demonstrators assembled Sunday to demand change after the death of a black man at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Beating drums, shouting slogans and holding placards proclaiming BLACK LIVES MATTER and I STAND AGAINST RACISM, protesters marched from the Napa County Courthouse to Veterans Memorial Park in the latest of a nationwide string of rallies demanding justice for George Floyd.

As of 4 p.m., the protest by the multiracial, largely face-covered throng was loud and boisterous but peaceful, with demonstrators keeping to the sidewalks first on Third Street and then on Main Street. A stream of drivers inching past Veterans park produced a cacophony of horn honks in support, and more sign-holding supporters took up positions on the opposite side of Main Street and at the corner of the Riverfront complex.

“Say his name!” “George Floyd!” early arrivals chanted in call-and-response fashion shortly before 3 p.m. outside the courthouse, invoking the 46-year-old African American man who died May 25 during an arrest by Minneapolis police during which an officer was captured on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.

“I personally have been targeted, pulled over to the side (driving), questioned randomly – mostly by St. Helena police where I grew up,” said Gabriela Fernandez, whose protective face covering bore the words I CAN’T BREATHE – Floyd’s plea in the minutes before his death. “I’m tired as a Latina of witnessing the injustice that happens to us – decades and decades of people saying we’re making progress, and we aren’t (expletive) making progress. No one’s going to fight the system if it’s not us; you can’t trust the police if the police are the ones shooting people left and right.”

Shortly after 5:30 p.m., Napa Police posted a photo of Chief Robert Plummer, on one knee, speaking with demonstrators who had left the sidewalk and massed on the roadway at Main and Third streets. The picture was accompanied with the caption “We are with you. #GeorgeFloyd #NapaStrong.”

In a text message afterward, Plummer, an African American, said he asked protesters to leave the roadway and return to the sidewalk, and that demonstrators complied after he agreed to kneel with them.

Later Sunday, demonstrators planned a candlelight vigil that was to begin at 6 p.m. and move from the courthouse to City Hall and the police station on Second Street, according to Fernandez.

The protest took a somewhat different shape from the event originally announced on Facebook by Women’s March Napa Valley, which called on supporters to gather from 3 to 6 p.m. outside the Napa city hall and police station.

In an email Saturday evening, organizer Irit Weir said Women’s March Napa Valley canceled that after Plummer advised that “groups from out of town” planned to come to Napa during the demonstration. On Sunday morning, Plummer confirmed the organized rally was off and that Napa Police had received reports of outside groups possibly planning to enter the city for the event.

One protester declared her experiences with racial intolerance too severe not to protest Sunday, whatever the risk of disruptions.

“They canceled the protest out of fear, but as a person of color, a person dealing with racism in Napa where I grew up, everybody needs to understand we can no longer live in fear,” said Lupe Marin Chavez. “We’re here out of anger – we’re here out of sadness. I am 27 years old and I am so tired of seeing all this going on in 2020,” she said.

In the event of an unofficial protest, “we’ll make sure the protesters have their opportunity to express their First Amendment rights as long as they are peaceful and do no harm,” said Plummer, who added Napa Police planned to send a larger number of uniformed officers in the city center on Sunday.

Floyd’s death – and the explosive aftermath after only one of the four police officers fired over the incident was charged with murder – has sparked a wave of often violent protests in numerous U.S. cities. In Minneapolis, they have been marked by widespread looting and fires that led Minnesota to call up thousands of National Guard members to bolster an overwhelmed police force.

State officials including Gov. Tim Walz have suggested that as many as 80 percent of those arrested on suspicion of looting, vandalism and riot-related offenses during the unrest are from out of state. However, a study of county jail logs indicates most of the arrested live in Minnesota, though some suspects reside as far away as Florida and Alaska, according to the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

Saturday night, law enforcement agencies in Napa and St. Helena issued statements condemning racial bias and brutality.

“There is nothing more central to the principles of Napa law enforcement than the dignity of human life and the refusal to allow brutality and inequity besmirch our efforts to serve our beautiful and diverse community,” read a statement jointly issued by Plummer, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson and District Attorney Allison Haley. “... We have the profound duty and responsibility to dismantle generations of inequity and continue to build systems of justice that represent a better way forward.”

Addressing a panel from his My Brother's Keeper movement in the wake of George Floyd's death, former U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday said that voting and protests can "make people in power uncomfortable."

You can reach Howard Yune at 707-256-2214 or

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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