the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa entrance. Workers later put fencing atop the concrete barriers.
Photos by Joe Skipper/The Coastal Star
of Plaza del Mar to help control potential protesters.
By Ron Hayes
A day before Chinese President Xi Jinping would arrive at the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa to talk international trade with President Donald Trump, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw held a news conference at the county’s Emergency Operations Center to tell residents what to expect.
Hundreds of demonstrators, both protesters and greeters, might come to the area, the sheriff said.
“We are not going to tolerate any civil disobedience, throwing of objects or any other type of disorderly conduct whatsoever,” he promised. “At the first sign of that, it will be dealt with.”
Bradshaw said he was planning for the summit as if it were an approaching hurricane.
Deputies would work 12-hour shifts. Vacations would be canceled.
The National Hurricane Center does not give Atlantic storms names beginning with the letter X, but on Wednesday, April 5, Hurricane Xi’s arrival in Manalapan was only a day away.
Wednesday, April 5, 10:30 a.m.
Meanwhile, over at Plaza del Mar, the patriotic porta-potties wait, ready to serve.
Red doors, white roofs, blue sides, they stand behind 3-foot-high concrete barricades across from the hotel.
The barricades line South Ocean Boulevard from the Lantana beach parking lot south to the plaza’s last driveway and west along East Ocean Avenue to the main entrance.
Supporters have draped the barricades directly in front of the hotel with American flags, Chinese flags and long yellow banners to WELCOME President Xi, but they won’t stay long.
While sheriff’s cruisers guard the hotel and parking lot, red, white and blue lights flashing, workmen are topping the barricades with lengths of 8-foot wire fencing. As the fencing goes up, the flags and banners come down.
Inside the plaza, a few local protesters have already arrived.
Uncertain just how much chaos Hurricane Xi might bring, the plaza’s management has canceled the regular Friday gathering of the four days-per-week Farmer/Artisan Market, and some of the concessionaires are disgruntled.
“It’s already ruining our business,” says Elizabeth Poole, of Love, Liz Custom Jewelry. So far today, she’s sold only a mermaid necklace, a sea glass necklace and a starfish necklace, Poole says. “The flow’s not what it normally is. We don’t have the street traffic.”
Behind her table of fresh vegetables across the way, Deborah Kahn agrees.
“They probably took $250 or $300 out of my pocket because of this spectacle,” she says. “Have the meeting in Washington. All you’re doing is bringing problems to West Palm Beach.”
Inside the Ice Cream Club, Joan Knott — a scooper with 17 years’ experience — is waiting for the commemorative green tea ice cream to arrive. From her spot behind the counter, she can look out at the satellite TV trucks and a line of gleaming black SUVs with darkly tinted windows, parked just west of the porta-potties.
On the patio, a gentleman in a black suit with darkly tinted sunglasses and a lapel mic stands in the shade, licking a cone.
Thursday, April 6, noon
The president of China and the green tea ice cream arrive in Manalapan on the same day, but not at the same time.
Shortly before noon, Clay Damon, the Ice Cream Club’s marketing manager, delivers a 3-gallon tub of green tea, specially prepared for the president’s visit.
“We have 150 flavors,” Damon says proudly. “Our Mexican hot chocolate does extremely well in Miami, so if the Mexican president ever comes to Manalapan, we’ll have that here, too.”
President Xi’s plane was still out over the Atlantic, flying in from Finland, but those hundreds of protesters and greeters that Sheriff Bradshaw expected have been here since early morning, eyeing each other across East Ocean Avenue.
The greeters, in bright red T-shirts, occupy the south side of the avenue, in front of the plaza. They hold both Chinese and American flags, large and small, while a man with a bullhorn blasts the Chinese national anthem.
The protesters, in bright yellow T-shirts, own the north side of the street. They hold signs that say things like, “Forced Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners Is Not Tolerated.”
Red shirts and yellow shirts, they fill both sides of Ocean Avenue, but the greeters clearly outnumber the protesters. If 500 people are lining the barricades, nearly 300 are here to greet President Xi, not confront him. For every yellow T-shirt in sight, there are two or three red.
The greeters are clearly organized. In addition to red shirts, they carry matching lunch bags, and a tall pallet of bottled water stands beside check-in tables at the west end of the plaza.
Are they being paid to support President Xi?
“No,” says Bill, a greeter holding a large American flag. He’s from Miami, but won’t give his last name. “Well, maybe if we are missing work to be here they will compensate us for our pay.”
The two sides tolerate each other peacefully, if only by ignoring each other.
And they are not all Asian.
Roger Silverio, 71, in a red T-shirt, drove up from Miami. He’s Cuban, but two of his sons and one grandson are married to Chinese women.
“I know many, many, many Chinese, and I love them because they’re very good to me,” he explains. “I support President Trump and I think he’s trying to make America strong and live in peace. We need peace.”
Almost directly across from Silverio, a woman named Dzifa Amoa had come all the way from Gainesville, Ga., to stand with the protesters.
“Technically, I’m African-American,” she says, “but Falun Gong cuts down all barriers.”
Founded in 1992, Falun Gong, or “Dharma Wheel Practice,” is a spiritual discipline that combines meditation and exercise under three basic tenets, of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.
By 1999, the movement had become so popular the Chinese Communist government set out to eradicate it through propaganda, imprisonment and torture, the protesters said.
In 2006, an investigation led by Canadian MP David Kilgour reported that the source of 41,500 Chinese organ transplants in the previous five years could not be determined and concluded that there had been “large-scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners.”
As the greeters and protesters hold their flags and banners, a young man wearing a yarmulke and roller blades skates among the Chinese throng with a box of matzo cradled in his arm.
“Excuse me, are you Jewish?” he asks, swooping past the satellite trucks. “Are you Jewish?”
Mendel Stolik, 15, is the son of Rabbi Leibel Stolik, whose Congregation Chabad meets in the plaza. He is offering complimentary matzo for Passover week — or trying to.
“Mostly I’m giving it to journalists and passersby,” he says before he rolls away, undiscouraged.
At 12:30 p.m. exactly, sheriff’s deputies in riot fatigues and plastic face masks begin lining up along the barricades, spaced about 10 feet apart and facing both the greeters and protesters.
The deputies are silent as the protesters chant, “Free Tibet! Free Tibet!” and interfere, firmly but politely, only if anyone seems about to cross the barrier.
For the next two hours they wait, without a lot to say to each other.
Finally, at 2:20 p.m., the motorcade carrying President Xi Jinping crosses the Lantana bridge and passes between those lines of red shirts, yellow shirts and sheriff’s deputies.
Cheers of welcome and cries of outrage fill the air. Flags are waved and fists shaken as deputies on growling motorcycles escort two gleaming black limousines with heavily tinted windows.
President Xi could see the greeters and protesters, if he wanted, but they could not see in to see if he was seeing them. And if he did, it wasn’t for long. The limousines sweep by at about 30 miles an hour, turn right onto South Ocean Boulevard and disappear up the hotel’s circular driveway.
Red shirts or yellow shirts, they had waited for hours. And he was gone in seconds.
Friday, April 7
Yousra Hakkani left Boynton Beach for her job at the Ice Cream Club about 9:30 a.m.
President Xi left the Eau Palm Beach for his summit meeting with President Trump at 10:32 a.m.
He got to work before she did.
“I was coming up South Dixie Highway from Gateway Boulevard when a sheriff’s roadblock turned me around,” Hakkani says. “So I turned into a neighborhood and got lost, then I came back down south to the Boynton Beach bridge and came up A1A and was stopped again by the Manalapan police for about 35 or 40 minutes.”
When Hakkani finally reached Plaza Del Mar, the red and yellow T-shirts were still there, but not nearly as many, and yesterday’s sense of anticipation was gone.
Both greeters and protesters were hanging out now, eating ice cream.
Ryan Xu, 25, a protester, ordered a milkshake.
Vanilla, not green tea.
“I flew in from Los Angeles on Wednesday,” he said. “Oh, yes, I paid my own way. Of course.”
He seemed a little offended that anyone might think otherwise.
In China, all he knew about Falun Gong was what the government told him. But after coming to the U.S. in 2011, he investigated.
“The government said they are evil, but I found a completely different story,” he said. “The Communist Party always spreads bad rumors. In China, you are not allowed to have your own mind.”
In 2016, Kilgour and his colleagues published an update to their 2006 study. The 789-page report estimated that perhaps as many as 1.5 million Chinese had died as a result of illicit organ harvesting.
“If I go back, I will be killed,” Xu said.
And so he had paid his own way from California, to stand for hours in the hot sun, behind a barricade in Manalapan, pointing a sign at a car that was gone in a flash.
Was it worth the trip?
He seemed a little offended that anyone would ask.
“It’s not about the results,” he said. “It’s about wanting people to know what’s going on in China.”
Saturday, April 8
The red, white and blue porta-potties are gone this morning.
The fencing is piled on a tractor-trailer blocking the northbound lane of A1A while workers in orange safety vests collect the steel poles that held it.
The Secret Service is gone, the satellite TV trucks are gone, and the Farmer/Artisan Market is open again, doing a lazy, Saturday morning business.
At the Ice Cream Club, the 3-gallon tub of green tea sold out at $4.25 a scoop, $6 a double, and chocolate almond has taken its place.
Ryan Xu flew home to L.A., and President Trump played golf.
Hosting the Chinese president had been “a great honor,” Trump tweeted. “Goodwill and friendship were formed,” but “only time will tell on trade.”
In the end, Hurricane Xi wasn’t much more than a Cat 1 storm, if that.
Five protesters were arrested Thursday for trying to jump in front of the motorcade, Sheriff Bradshaw reported.
Everyone else was pretty orderly.
On April 30, Congress agreed to a proposed budget that includes $61 million to reimburse local law enforcement agencies for expenses incurred while protecting Trump in New York and Florida.
Bradshaw estimated the cost to taxpayers of Hurricane Xi had been about $280,000 in overtime pay.