LAGUNA BEACH (CBSLA.com) — Authorities declared protests in Laguna Beach unlawful assemblies Sunday evening, prompting tense crowds to disperse after hours of demonstration on the issue of immigration.
KCAL9/CBS2’s Crystal Cruz reports three people were arrested and a 12-year-old boy says he was pepper-sprayed.
The America First! rally was scheduled to get underway at 6:30 p.m., spurring law enforcement to place barriers alongside downtown Laguna Beach to keep people safe from the flow of traffic.
Approximately 100 officers were dispatched in cars, on foot and horseback in preparation for hundreds of demonstrators and counter-protesters.
Police said officers would be protecting everyone’s right to free speech. However, authorities said there would be “zero tolerance” of violence.
Around 8:30 p.m. a fight broke out. Approximately an hour later, an armored vehicle pulled up to the corner of PCH and Broadway, declaring an unlawful assembly.
Officers on horse and on foot surrounded counter-protesters on both sides of PCH and guided everyone south. KCAL9/CBS2’s Jeff Nguyen reported there was very little resistance from the crowd.
Stepped-up security Sunday came amid the recent clash in Charlottesville, Virginia during a white nationalist rally in which 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a counter-protester, was killed.
Johnny Benitez, an organizer for the Laguna Beach rally who admitted to being an immigrant himself, posted a clip on YouTube prior to the demonstration in which he said Heyer was responsible for her own death.
“So, who’s responsible for that girl dying in Charlottesville? I’ll tell you who I think is responsible. One, she is responsible for being there,” he said.
Benitez also added he opposes “immigration from anywhere in the world.”
While crowds gathered en masse Sunday, a number of businesses in the downtown area were closed. Some said they would be simply ignoring the demonstrations.
“We’re going to be in the canyon at the homeless shelter feeding the homeless,” said Peter Walzer, a Laguna Beach resident, before the protests got underway. “We’re going to ignore these people.”