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San Luis Obispo police defend actions during Monday's protests, no curfew announced

Posted at 1:11 PM, Jun 02, 2020

San Luis Obispo leaders held a press conference on Tuesday to discuss the protests over the last several days.

No curfew was announced.

"We support peaceful protest in San Luis Obispo," SLO PD Chief Deanna Cantrell said during the press conference. "We take very seriously everyone's First Amendment Rights."

Cantrell highlighted the number of peaceful protests seen in the city in the past and praised them, including Sunday's peaceful protest in Mitchell Park. "All the thanks goes to the organizers of that event who worked incredibly hard to keep it peaceful and they allowed just a little bit of help from the police department to keep them safe so they could express themselves that was really meaningful for them."

But she also condemned the behavior that unraveled Monday night in downtown that led to tear gas being fired by officers and damage to businesses.

"No police chief, no police officer, no community wants to see what happened [Monday] happen."

Cantrell outlined the timeline of events from Sunday. Police became aware of the first protest in the afternoon. She said it was difficult to reach any organizer of the event. But other city leaders were able to reach out and "mentor."

An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people initially attended. "We had many many warnings on social media about looting. Many posts that the protest was not going to be peaceful." She pointed to a post of an individual who said it was time for a "violent and aggressive demonstration."

"So it was a very different event we were dealing with [Monday]," Cantrell said. She said police blocked Walnut Street to allow officers to respond to other calls for service.

Law enforcement had limited resources from CHP, Cantrell said, and struggled to contain protesters from gaining access to Highway 101.

Officers were able to move protesters back into downtown on Marsh Street. Following that movement, officers suited up with more gear and gas masks as protesters formed a line and began to push toward the blockade formed by officers.

"All of our resources in the city were dealing with this," Cantrell said. "So our ability to provide public safety for the rest of the city was severely diminished."

One protester collapsed in the line, the chief said. Cantrell said it was the department's goal to allow the protest but to protect them and the citizens of the city, but just did not want the protest on the highway or in front of the police department. Law enforcement attempted to negotiate with the leaders of the march, who was not identified, but Cantrell said little came from it.

"Have your day, say your peace, we're ready to hear," Cantrell said. "And we largely do not disagree with you."

The dispersal order was given at 7:14 p.m. "We did not start to move that crowd until 8:09 p.m." Protesters pushed through the line, landing on both sides of Walnut. Pepper balls were deployed on the ground in front of people. Bottles, rocks, fireworks, and other things began to be thrown toward police, Cantrell said.

Pepper spray was then deployed. "It was the safest way after many hours of negotiating," she said. No lethal rounds were fired, Cantrell said.

Officers stayed on duty throughout the night, responding to damaged businesses and looting. Police arrested four people, all of whom are from San Luis Obispo County.

Another march was slated for Tuesday afternoon, but police did not have confirmation.

"We ask you to please use this time to protest peacefully." Cantrell said open protest along streets isn't permitted, but allows it "to a point." Monday's response to use force tactics by police to clear protesters after it stretched from the afternoon into the evening was a "combination of a number of factors" considered by police.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon read a statement after the police chief.

"We know it is up to us to do the work to educate ourselves to create a community that is welcoming, equitable, and kind," Harmon said.

She said she will be "advocating for funding to go directly for policy and efforts to better serve community's of color and create more equity in San Luis Obispo." That includes requesting at City Council $100,000 to be set aside and be designated for "meaningful efforts to create a city in which tear gas will never be used."

"I want our city budget to reflect our commitment to anti-racism work."

Dr. Leola Dublin Macmillan spoke after Mayor Harmon. Macmillan serves on the board of Just Communities Central Coast, is on the steering committee of RACE Matters SLO County, and is a member of the SLO Police Department’s Police And Community Together (PACT) community group.

"Beloved communities live without fear, they thrive, they flourish, they're just, they're equitable, they're inclusive," Macmillan said. "We can have that in San Luis Obispo, we absolutely can. We have the resources here."

She called on everyone to put differences aside and focus on the opportunity to make SLO a national model. "They're are amazing people in this town. I encourage everyone to continue to advocate for black and brown liberation, continue to fight for justice, to continue to fight to dismantle structural inequality but make sure our actions are effective."