San Luis Obispo police defended its recent arrest of prominent Black youth organizer Tianna Arata
, which occurred after a July 21 Black Lives Matter protest that included a march on Highway 101 and two altercations with vehicles.
Officers arrested Arata on five charges—participation in a riot, unlawful assembly, conspiracy, unlawful imprisonment, and resisting arrest—once the protest ended and a majority of the demonstrators dispersed.
SLO Police Capt. Jeff Smith told New Times
the department decided to arrest Arata after the protest because they wanted the safest scenario for the protestors and law enforcement.
“It could incite a riot, which we don’t want to be involved in. It’s not going to be good for us and it’s not going to be good for those involved,” Smith said.
SCREENSHOT FROM INSTAGRAM
NO JUSTICE NO PEACE A July 21 protest led to an organizer’s arrest following two incidents with vehicles and protestors.
In several videos on social media, once Arata is being walked away in handcuffs toward a patrol vehicle, the handful of remaining protestors run toward her, asking the officers why they’ve arrested her and where they’re taking her.
“Imagine doing that with 300 people,” Smith said.
In the videos, Arata can be heard repeatedly saying, “I’m not resisting.” Smith said she resisted arrest when the officers first approached her at her vehicle.
On the night of Arata’s arrest, the SLO Police Department released a press release at 11 p.m. that said the decision to arrest Arata was made in coordination with the District Attorney’s Office, based on Arata’s actions and the actions of the organized group.
The department said it asked for the same three things it’s asked of all protests since June: stay off the highway, don’t commit acts of violence, and don’t commit acts of vandalism.
All three requests were broken, Smith said, during the protest. The department wasn’t made aware of the event; it learned of the July 21 protest via social media. Smith said Police Chief Deanna Cantrell reached out to the organizer of the protest, but Arata shared little information. At the time, Smith said the department was told there weren’t plans for a march.
“Now we realize that many of these events are planned kind of last minute and short term. We’ve tried to respect the right to protest. We know this is a very important time in history and we want to give them the opportunity to protest,” he said.
If the protest wanted assistance from law enforcement, Smith said, the organizers should have gone through the city permitting process and legally obtained a permit for the event.
Several protests have occurred in the city of SLO since the beginning of June, and Smith estimates a majority did not fill out a permit application.
On July 24, the department released a video
on its Facebook and Instagram accounts that showed protestors running down Chorro Street and stopping a car that was in the process of making a right turn on Chorro and Pacific streets. As the car slowly continues to turn, the drone footage focuses on Arata hitting the car with a flagpole.
“They were running after vehicles and forcing them to stop. It wasn’t just the vehicles that were approaching the protest, many vehicles were actually trying to turn in the opposite direction and avoid the protests. Tiana was leading the charge and telling people to block vehicles and really false imprisoning,” Smith said.
The California Highway Patrol is currently investigating the other vehicle incident, which occurred on Highway 101. According to SLO police’s understanding, a car was trying to go around the protestors and the protestors tried to force the door open; one individual broke the rear window with a skateboard.
Protest peacekeepers Henney Kenney and Laura Foxx told New Times
that the car was trying to bypass the line of cars waiting to get on the highway, and when the peacekeepers tried to stop the driver, he hit a protester.
But Smith, again, accused Arata of false imprisonment.
“There’s even video we’ve listened to that Tiana is encouraging people to ‘don’t let these people leave’ and ‘who cares if they have someplace to go, people are dying’. So she’s encouraging and advocating for the detention of some of these individuals,” Smith said.
Cori Ramsay participated in the July 21 protest and said the organizers made it very clear to keep the event peaceful.
“The people who are leading it consistently and constantly are telling us not to touch anybody’s cars, not to interact with anybody that yells at us, to rise above, this is peaceful, and we’re marching but we are not to engage in any violent behavior,” Ramsay said. ∆