In advance of a protest planned in Huntington Beach this weekend, City Attorney Michael Gates posted on his Facebook page Thursday, June 4, a prayer seeking “protection for our citizens, businesses and our Huntington Beach police officers.”
But what caught the attention of many was the accompanying image: A religious image of St. Michael with his foot on the head of Satan. At first glance, Satan appears to be a man with dark skin – while St. Michael, who clutches the scales of justice, is white.
After the image attracted negative commentary, Gates replaced it with a more serene picture of St. Michael holding the hand of a child.
“I realized that people perceived it differently than I did,” Gates said of his original image. “Michael is my namesake and the symbol of protection. But that was not how it was being perceived.
“As a lifelong Catholic, that is a very familiar image to me.”
WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTO CONTENT
Throughout the country and world, protests have erupted over the videotaped death of George Floyd on May 25. The unarmed black man died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for more than eight minutes.
A protest sparked by the incident that was held on Main Street on Sunday, May 31, was met by counter-protesters – some of them caught on video taunting the demonstrators with obscene gestures and suggesting they came from Compton.
After fistfights broke out, the city declared it an unlawful assembly. Police fired pepper balls at demonstrators who would not disperse, ultimately arresting about 20 people.
Huntington Beach has a history of attracting white nationalist activities. Several organizations deemed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups” – including the Rise Above Movement, an alt-right street-fighting gang – are active in the city.
Two more protests are planned this weekend, one Saturday, June 6, at the pier and one Sunday, June 7, at Civic Center.
Asked if he was concerned his Facebook post might encourage counter-protesters to participate, Gates said he hopes they stay away: “I think everyone should feel free to have their own protest without others interfering.”
Last weekend, in fear of the looting and vandalism that has raged in some cities, businesses along Main Street boarded up their windows. Such concerns remain an issue.
The prayer does not include Floyd or address the reasons behind the nationwide protests. “That’s not what it was about,” Gates said, adding the city has received “intelligence that that there are rioters coming to Huntington Beach to do damage” this weekend.
“That’s why I posted about St. Michael,” he said.
But some residents wondered how Gates landed on the particular image he selected.
“It was very insensitive, given all that is happening,” said Spencer Hagaman, a student at Yale University. “In the land of unlimited Internet photos, that was the absolute worst choice he could have made.”
Source: Orange County Register