On Feb. 23, a portion of an email I wrote to then San Luis Obispo Police Department Chief Deanna Cantrell was quoted in The Tribune. This was part of a story regarding the community's reaction to the arrest of Tianna Arata and Elias Bautista following a protest on July 21, 2020. While the quote is accurate, it does not tell the whole story. The quote has led to some social media posts that have given an inaccurate portrayal of me and of my leadership of the San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church, which I serve. It is important to me to put this quote into context so as to more clearly reflect my beliefs, values, and teachings.
I participated in one of the peaceful protests in which Tianna Arata was one of the leaders. I marched through downtown San Luis Obispo with many others who followed the directions of Tianna Arata in what was being chanted, and in pausing to kneel in silence for eight minutes and 42 seconds, marking the time it took for George Floyd to be killed at the hands of police. It was a powerful and emotional experience. It was also a time of witnessing the strong leadership skills of Tianna Arata in the movement for racial equality, of Black Lives Matter, and an end to police brutality.
I have never advocated that Tianna Arata should go to jail or prison for her actions on July 21. I do not believe sentencing her to jail would serve any useful purpose. I do, however, believe she should be held accountable for her actions along with anyone else who broke the law while engaging in the protest. I believe a just resolution to the charges against Tianna Arata could be worked out through a process of restorative justice. The means for doing so are already in place in our community.
Civil disobedience and protests have a long and important history in our country, a history without which we would never have made any progress at all in the quest for civil rights, and the still unrealized dream that persons of color be treated with the same respect and opportunities that we who are of a privileged class take for granted. The history of civil disobedience and protests in our country is filled with activists and leaders who have been willing to get into "good trouble." They have done so by speaking truth to power and engaging in acts of protest and civil disobedience when necessary. Many have done so willing to accept the consequences of their actions.
I am committed to the holy work of dismantling racism and of repairing the historic and ongoing damage caused to persons of color in which the church has all too often been complicit. The United Methodist Church, along with many other faith communities, is doing the hard work of pressing on toward the goal where racism is an ugly part of our collective history and no longer an acceptable part of our current reality. I am committed to this work in my own life, in the church I am blessed to pastor, and in the community in which I live. This essential work is frequently addressed in our worship services and in my messages, all of which are available online. I admit I have my own blind spots on the journey to be anti-racist and am committed to growing and learning along the way.
I have not had the opportunity to meet Tianna Arata. I would welcome the opportunity to do so and to have a dialogue about the important work that needs to be done by all of us. Δ
Rick Uhls is a pastor at San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church. Send a response for publication to.