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Armed men on roofs during local protest spark debate

Posted at 10:52 PM, Jun 08, 2020

Armed business owners in Arroyo Grande sparked a fiery debate this weekend.

The owners say they were just trying to keep the peace during last week's protest in the Five Cities area, but many people didn't see it that way.

Dozens of people have taken to Facebook and Yelp to share their concern over the display on the roofs of The Pit Martial Arts and Fitness and Grand Barbers; some writing messages like: "Shame on you for attempted intimidation..." and "You will forever be known as a right-wing racist organization."

For The Pit owner, John Hackleman, he says the decision to put armed men on the roof came after rumors started circulating about Friday's protest in Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach.

"What I heard from a lot of people was that it was going to be a friendly protest disguised with a lot of people that are going to bused in from out of town, like L.A., Fresno, valley area," Hackleman explained. "I heard there was a very good chance it was going to violent."

Hackleman says he never intended for the decision to be a statement on Black Lives Matter or against the protest.

"It didn't get in the picture at all. [The plan was], we're going to defend ourselves, our community, our gym -- that's all we want to do," Hackleman said.

From the roof of The Pit, Hackleman says he was able to walkie-talkie men on other roofs watching out for their street. The protest route however, never actually came all the way down East Grand Avenue, according to city officials.

"We realize now that might have been intimidating for some people; we never wanted that to happen, and I am sorry it did intimidate good people," Hackleman said.

For some in the community, the apology is not enough and some are still left wondering if it’s legal.

City leaders say the business owners' actions fall under second amendment rights.

"While that behavior may be legal, it may not be right for Arroyo Grande," said Caren Ray Russom, Mayor of Arroyo Grande. "So I hope that's the lesson that comes from this: what's legal isn't always right for the situation."

Mayor Ray Russom says she's disappointed it took away from the main message of the protest.

"What I hope comes out of this moving forward is a continued refocus on the issue of the time -- which is social justice issues and the issues that have been brought forward with the Black Lives Matter movement," she explained.

City leaders say people are encouraged to call in and discuss this issue Tuesday night during their City Council meeting.

The meeting is held virtually and starts at 6 p.m.

We reached out to Grand Barbers -- the other storefront that had armed men on the roof -- for a comment, but calls were not returned.