Pacific Beach 'Day of Liberty' protest in San Diego

Protesters with signs such as “COVID is a LIE” and “PB IS OPEN” gathered Sunday near a lifeguard station in Pacific Beach to protest state and county stay-home orders and beach closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least 200 people rallied with U.S. flags and protest signs next to the PB Shore Club at 4343 Ocean Blvd., most not following social distancing orders or wearing facial coverings.

Two police motorcycle officers circled the area with dozens of officers patrolling on foot, mostly keeping roadways clear.

The protest, dubbed “A Day of Liberty San Diego Freedom Rally,” was organized by Naomi Soria, who organized last week’s downtown San Diego rally. (A group chanted: “We are Naomi.”)

Hundreds of people in Pacific Beach called for an end to stay-at-home orders. Photo by Chris Stone

It was not immediately known whether anyone was cited for violating the stay-at-home order or congregating on a closed beach.

The protest began at 1 p.m. and people started to leave the area near the lifeguard tower after about half an hour, gathering at the corner of Mission Boulevard and Grand Avenue.

The Rev. Shane Harris, whose call for citations led to a move to charge April 18 rally organizer Soria, reacted to a sign he saw Sunday in Pacific Beach likening stay-at-home orders to slavery.

“I’m sorry but slavery is a far reach for social distancing,” tweeted Harris, leader of the People’s Alliance for Justice. “Don’t compare your protests for a beach opening up to our fight for basic human dignity.”

Also Sunday, the group Showing Up for Racial Justice San Diego issued a statement critical of the protests.

“Make no mistake — the bulk of these people are members of extremist groups that are taking advantage of this moment to advance their political agenda,” said Blair Overstreet, a leader of the group — part of a national network “that educates and mobilizes white people in the collective fight for racial and economic justice.”

“These same organizations and participants have been the drivers behind anti-LGBTQ+, anti-Muslim, and anti-vaxx protests, both locally and statewide,” Overstreet said. “These very small, local protests have been encouraged and amplified by organizers that then bring people in from all over the state, traveling to each of these rallies, and bringing vulnerable people into their cause.”

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(The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Andrew Dyer noted “anti-vaxxers” at the PB protest — a reference to people opposed to mandatory childhood vaccinations, including Soria.

Overstreet said the protesters would have the state return to a “status quo” that has resulted in African Americans, “6% of California’s population, numbering 12% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.”

She called it a “status quo of white supremacy, with willful disdain for the thousands of black, brown, indigenous, Asian Pacific islander, and poor/working class lives that will be lost.”

Protest organizer Naomi Soria tweeted this photo of herself before Pacific Beach protest.

Soria didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Shawn McMillan, a one-time candidate for San Diego Superior Court judge, told Times of San Diego he was a co-host of Sunday’s protest.

Responding to the Overstreet statement, he defended Soria, saying in a 330-word Facebook message she’s not “some crazy white extremist.”

He called her a 27-year-old young lady whose husband is out of work in a “desperate economic situation because of the government’s panic driven (unconstitutional) policies.”

He also said he saw old, young, black, Asian and Hispanic protesters — “all races were well-represented. … I can’t tell you whether the LGBTQ community was there or not. But as a member of the press, I think it would be incumbent upon you to find out.”

McMillan said he doesn’t want to get sick and in March accepted the idea that with a month or so quarantine, “we should be all right. But now we are past that. We were told that the virus was so deadly it would kill millions, then hundreds of thousands, then tens of thousands.”

“The fact of the matter is, without knowing the denominator in the ‘fatality rate’ equation, they can’t actually predict how many will die,” he said. “At what point do we (voters) say, ‘Enough is enough?’”

On Saturday, Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell and the Pacific Beach Town Council issued a statement against the protest.

“I am deeply disappointed that a tiny number of individuals from inside and outside San Diego are putting themselves and others at risk with these actions,” said Campbell, a retired physician. That’s why the Pacific Beach Town Council and I stand firmly against this planned protest.”

The District 2 councilwoman said her office had received an “outpouring of calls” concerned about the planned protest.

“While no one is arguing against anyone’s freedom of speech, holding a rally during a pandemic goes against our public health orders and common sense,” Campbell said. “There are many other forms of civic engagement available that don’t put San Diegans in danger.”

The Coast News Group on Sunday night reported that the Encinitas City Council voted 3-2 to reopen Moonlight State Beach starting at 8 a.m. Monday.

At that beach Saturday, three people were arrested and cited by sheriff’s deputies during a protest. The three were cited for violating the stay-at-home order and congregating on a closed beach.

The Carlsbad City Council on Saturday voted to keep its beach, parks and trails closed for now. The council will hold a special meeting May 1 to review plans for a phased reopening.

The six miles of Carlsbad’s coastline controlled by California State Parks also remain closed. City officials said they want to coordinate the opening of all beaches in Carlsbad at the same time.

Officials in the beach cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach say they will not reopen beaches on Monday.

The County of San Diego Health Department announced Friday it would lift the restrictions on going into the ocean starting Monday, but left it up to cities and state parks whether to open the beaches.

San Diego beaches are set to open Monday morning for surfers, swimmers, kayakers and paddleboarders in the ocean and runners and walkers on the sand. The Phase 1 plan restricts group gatherings, parking and lying down to soak up the sun.

Updated at 11:35 p.m. April 26, 2020

— City News Service contributed to this report.