The approach to President Donald Trump’s so-called Winter White House in Florida was lined Monday afternoon with about 400 protesters, including doctors and pastors, students and attorneys, almost all of Haitian descent and all there to send a message: They want an apology and more.
The group gathered in the spirit of a federal holiday recognizing the nation’s most recognized activist, Martin Luther King Jr. and on a day on which the president himself was likely to see them as he zipped by in his motorcade just after 4 p.m.
Those who stood at West Palm Beach approach on the Intracoastal Waterway to the Mar-a-Lago estate said they were driven to protest by President Trump’s reported lamentations last week, including a vulgarity that included references to African countries and Haiti. They also were protesting Trump’s assertion that the United States should instead bring in more people from countries such as Norway.
“We help America to fight. Some of us work two or three jobs to make a living,” said Charlemagne Metayer, a Lake Park zoning board member who came to the U.S. in 1985, became a citizen and is father to four all natives of Palm Beach County. “We are hard-working people. We deserve an apology from the President.”
Byrnes N. Guillaume, an attorney and one of the protest organizers, said the expectations don’t end with an apology.
“We want an immigration policy to be unbiased -- one that does not favor people from Norway over Haiti. And we want people who are of like minds to vote,” Guillaume said.
The protesters carried signs declaring Haiti is not a “shithole’”and “Let’s make America Great Again, NOT All white again.” Phoebe Crane, a 70-year-old white woman visiting from Indiana, waved a hot pink sign announcing: “Proud Grandparent of a Haitian!”
The crowd was swathed in bright reds and blues of the Haitian national flag. At times, protesters broke out in song from that not-too distant land. In between, they called and answered: “What do we want?” “Apology.”
The protest was a first for 27-year-old Sheena Marceline, a nursing student from West Palm Beach.
“I’m Haitian born, but I’m an American citizen,” said Marceline, who arrived in Florida when she was 7. Her father, she said, fled after his politically active brother was assassinated in the 1990s. “We are good people. We had to leave the country because of our political beliefs. We are not bad people.
“I never really cared for Trump or (Hillary) Clinton. But he’s just been very disrespectful.”
The crowd began gathering shortly after 10 a.m. and before noon, young and old marched east, crossing the bridge, gathering briefly for chants on the far side and then returning.
Each way, the protesters walking two-or three-deep filed by a corner that has been home to a loyal camp of Trump supporters — about a dozen strong Monday. The protesters moved past with little friction, though a woman with a bullhorn challenged them as they passed:
“Are all of you here illegally?” Cindy Levegetto of West Palm Beach called. “Because I do not see an American flag. You had 16 years to become American citizens.”
When the protesters returned to their sidewalk perch across from Trump’s supporters, chants broke out on both sides: “No apology” met with “No racists.”