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Thousands of people storm California beaches to protest closures

California, Michigan tighten lockdowns
California, Michigan tighten lockdowns 03:38

Thousands of protesters have flocked to Huntington Beach to protest coronavirus lockdowns in the days following a mandatory closure of Orange County beaches. Angered by the forced closures, the protesters ignored social distancing guidelines and demanded the beaches be reopened. 

Crowds took to the streets Friday — many without face masks — backing up traffic for at least a mile along Pacific Coast Highway, The Associated Press reports. "Freedom is essential," "Surfing is not a crime" and "Newsom is a kook" read some of their signs, which also called for the reopening of all businesses. 

Protest To Reopen California Businesses, Beaches, And Parks Held In Huntington Beach
Protestors gather in a demonstration in Huntington Beach, California on May 1, 2020. Apu Gomes / Getty Images

Last weekend, California made national news as an estimated 80,000 people gathered on Newport Beach and Huntington Beach during a heatwave. Orange County was the only county in the area where beaches remained open, as counties north and south had previously shut down public spaces.

"This virus doesn't take the weekends off," Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday. "This virus doesn't go home because it's a beautiful sunny day around our coasts."

Protest To Reopen California Businesses, Beaches, And Parks Held In Huntington Beach
Protestors gather in a demonstration on May 01, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California. Apu Gomes / Getty Images

On Thursday, Newsom announced the decision to close Orange County beaches. He again stressed that the "vast majority" of Californians have followed the stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines, but said "specific issues" on some beaches "have raised alarm bells."

Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point city councils attempted to challenge the closures but were refused by a judge on Friday. 

"Huntington Beach has never been one to just roll over and take these mandates from the governor," said Huntington Beach city attorney Michael Gates. "We're going to be fighting the order on a constitutional basis. We're fighting for the city. We're fighting for our decision-makers locally who have done a good job managing this crisis. We're also fighting for the citizens of Huntington Beach."

"I'm here because I want our salon open," protestor Tami Avants told CBS Los Angeles. "I think everybody is essential."

"The lockdown needs to stop," said Cypress resident Robin Itzler. "We need to open up the economy. You can't have a country of everybody hiding at home."

Protest To Reopen California Businesses, Beaches, And Parks Held In Huntington Beach
Protestors gather in a demonstration on May 01, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California.  Apu Gomes / Getty Images

"We are surf city," Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta said. "We are a beautiful coastal town. Our beaches are so important to us."

Protestors also gathered at the state Capitol in Sacramento to demand to go back to work, waving signs that said "Defend Freedom" and chanting "U-S-A," AP reports. A small plane displayed a banner with an image of Newsom's face and the phrase, "End his tyranny."

Newsom said Thursday that the closures are "not an indictment of people that want to go the beach," but rather an expression of his sincere desire to keep residents safe. As of Saturday morning, California confirmed over 50,000 coronavirus cases, over 24,000 of which are in Los Angeles County, according to its health department. The state's total death toll is 2,073. 

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