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Demonstrators line downtown SLO streets during fourth protest of the week

Posted at 6:27 PM, Jul 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-26 02:39:18-04

Saturday marked the fourth day of protests this week in San Luis Obispo.

Demonstrators met in front of the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse on Monterey Street, then proceeded through downtown San Luis Obispo, holding signs outside of stores and restaurants.

The theme was "A Silent Sit-In for Black Lives."

One participant shared his passion for the movement.

"This race isn't a sprint, it's rather a marathon that's going to go on for hundreds of thousands of millions of miles," said Michael Giuffre.

Protesters said their goal was to promote peace.

The demonstration followed two other days of silent protests following the arrest Tuesday night of protest organizer Tianna Arata.

San Luis Obispo police said the 20-year-old was responsible for leading a protest march on Tuesday that, at one point, blocked Highway 101. Police claimed several acts of vandalism had occurred at the hands of protesters during the march.

On Friday, the NAACP San Luis Obispo County Branch released a letter to the community expressing concern over Arata's arrest and encouraging the community to work together for a common goal of equal justice. (Read the full text of the letter below.)

"The parties divide and conquer us. The principles, once we got principle-based politics, then we got good policy," said Stephen Vines, President of NAACP San Luis Obispo County Branch.

Creating a more welcoming community and enacting change that supports racial and social justice are objectives Vines has been working toward for much of his life.

"We want to go door-to-door to every door in the county and begin to build a relationship, so we can have people that have principle base, you know, voting records, not party base," Vines said.

At the protest Saturday, participants also called for unity and expressed their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

"For me, the energy that the people give off in the Black Lives Matter movement is the most compassionate, loving, strong energy I have ever came across," Guiffre said.

The demonstration wrapped up at around 4:30 p.m. after participants heard from several speakers and musicians. It was organized by Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) youth.

Full letter from NAACP San Luis Obispo County Branch:

We, the membership and leadership of NAACP, San Luis Obispo County Branch, have watched the events of the last few days in our community unfold on screens, newspapers and televisions across the county, and we feel we cannot sit idly by without contributing a perspective that seeks justice. The events that included the arrest of Tianna Arata Tuesday, as well as the subsequent releases of information and very public reactions of the community, have left us with deep concerns. There are many movements for racial justice unfolding in our community, each with its own tactics and strategies, and each with its own specific goals in ind. As we all work toward a common vision of future equality, we do our best to respect the freedom and actions of fellow organizations. Ms. Arata spoke at our September rally, but is not a member. We have not been affiliated with the organizers nor participants of theses actions we are discussing. We do questions some of the actions, both on the part of the police and the demonstrators, and recognize that there remains much unknown and unclear at this time.

From viewing the videos posted on July 22, additional videos and accounts shared by individuals who were present, and listening to perspectives from different leaders within the community, we've come to recognize some commonalities, and in those commonalities we recognize hope and opportunity to learn together. It's difficult and uncomfortable to recognize commonality in those we may not agree with, but it is part of the process. There is a lot of wrong going on, so when something happens rights, it's worth recognizing. It does appear that many of the officers behaved calmly and professionally. A few appeared to be overly excited and tending toward excessive in their responses to the taunting and obscenities from the demonstrators. Perhaps the same could be said of the demonstrators, especially after provocation that includes threats or acts of physical harm. A demonstration can be a very charged event, which stirs strong emotions-adrenaline and fear among them-that may lead any person engaged, impacted or otherwise involved to react, potentially without being our best selves. But change requires that we move beyond our comfort zone and closer to our best selves, even when that means recognizing good in in those we don't agree with, and things that we ourselves are not doing well. We have witnessed Ms. Arata's effective leadership, and were surprised by the actions that occurred Tuesday, and so we are left with questions:

It could be inferred from the timing and actions of the police that the move to arrest Ms. Arata, late in the day with many less demonstrators around, was calculated and executed according to a preconceived plan. The SLO PD has confirmed as much with statements it has released, providing this tactic as justified. Is this an attempt to control the demonstrators by intimidating the leadership? Are the serious charges against her justified? Did she resist? Also, at a demonstration in the past, the police blocked demonstrators from entry to the freeway; why was it not done this time? Why was a vehicle on 101 which drove into crowds after being stopped previously not pursued by law enforcement for endangering protestors and inciting protective retaliation to the vehicular assault? And why are myriad calls for future violence against protestors not being addressed in any way by community leaders?

We do not know whether this demonstration was partially or wholly in response to the recent speech by Sheriff Ian Parkinson at a Tea Party meeting, but, if it was, we can understand demonstrators' concern. To say that there is no racism in our county is, at best, naïve. In light of the worldwide response to the killing of George Floyd, and rising awareness of the realities of racism in our society, he appears to be insensitive and out-of-touch, to say the least. We are supporters of law and order, but law and order without justice and equal application for all is not the America we wish to bring forth.

Regardless of what is to be learned in the days to come, what the actions of Tuesday incited in the community is not acceptable, and it reinforces the need for these very demonstrations.

The calls for future reactive violence against protestors, including movement leaders, are deeply troubling. That feeling is intensified by dismissal of concerns from those charged with protecting all who live, work, visit and pass through our community. In an effort toward achieving equal justice and freedom we ask our leadership-council members, mayors, supervisors, law enforcement leadership, et al.-to take immediate action: denouncing calls for violence against protestors and organizers and instituting programs and equally applied policies that support safety for those legally exercising first amendment rights. Additionally, we would like to see Sheriff Parkinson provide a public apology to all those who experience racism in our community, because his denial of its existence is unacceptable.

This is an opportunity to come together and denounce hate speech and acts of violence to create a more welcoming community as well as enact systemic changes that support racial and social justice. There are reporting and tracking mechanisms in place for some threats of aggression (i.e. against cyclists), but not all-not for threats against or violations of individuals' civil rights. Those are only available at the state and federal levels, and enforcement is difficult, at best, to achieve, with justice an even more distant aspiration. We propose enacting a fully transparent local civil rights violation complaint tracking system where those who experience threats or acts of aggression can file a report, those reports can be aggregated and investigated, public oversight is possible, and the data gathered can be used to better understand the racism and discrimination present in our community so that the community can develop tools and programs to eradicate it. If this capability is already present at the local level, there needs to be increased transparency of the data, and policies put forth to encourage reporting and ensure accuracy of recording, with regularly published reports available to the public.

The mission of the NAACP is to secure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.
NAACP San Luis Obispo County Branch