At 11 p.m. on July 21, a crowd of about 50 huddled together in front of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office, waiting for Tianna Arata to be transported to the jail from the San Luis Obispo Police Department.
Arata, a prominent Black youth protest organizer in San Luis Obispo, was arrested hours earlier after a scheduled protest ended. She was charged with participation in a riot, unlawful assembly, conspiracy, unlawful imprisonment, and resisting arrest after the protest concluded.
The group was also waiting for news on Elias Bautista, a member of the Santa Maria Youth Abolitionist group who was arrested and whose bail was set at $50,000. The group actively fundraised for Bautista's bail.
A press release from the San Luis Obispo Police Department didn't disclose Bautista's identity, however, it stated that during the arrest of Arata, "a San Luis Obispo Police Officer was assaulted by an individual, who was subsequently arrested."
The assaulted officer, the statement reads, suffered minor injuries.
Arata was released around 1 a.m. on July 22, and Bautista was released around 3 a.m.
Early on July 20, the press release states, the city of San Luis Obispo became aware of a planned peaceful protest that was slated for 4 p.m. the next day.
Police Chief Deanna Cantrell contacted protest organizer Arata prior to the event and was assured the event at Mitchell Park would be peaceful.
Protest participant Cori Ramsay said the protest included a march, speakers, chants, dancing, poetry, and music—it was peaceful. Ramsay described the protest of about 300 people as a celebration of Black, brown, trans, and queer people.
The protest began at Mitchell Park and made its way to Highway 101 through the Olive Street southbound on-ramp around 6:30 p.m. Ramsay said there were two police officers on motorcycles near the entrance who she believed were there to support the protesters.
She said there weren't police officers directing traffic or guiding the protest up until that point. Instead, volunteers called peacekeepers wore bright fluorescent vests and stopped traffic for the protesters.
The protest occupied both the south and northbound lanes of the highway, and law enforcement blocked all lanes in both directions for nearly an hour, according to the SLO Police Department. The press release stated that law enforcement presence was limited based on the expectations of a peaceful protest.
While on the highway, Ramsay said a dark gray BMW was trying to weave its way through cars and protesters while yelling profanities.
New Times spoke with protest participants Ramsay and Kara Leonard and peacekeepers Hannah Kenney and Laura Foxx, who all said the car moved forward and hit the brakes several times before hitting the gas and running over a protester without stopping.
At the highway entrance, Foxx said the gray sedan had chosen to bypass a line of stopped cars by taking the right shoulder. Peacekeepers attempted to tell the driver of the vehicle to stop, she said.
"That's when the gray sedan gets to me, and some of the other protesters were sideswiped by the car, while another was struck by the front of the vehicle and caused this person to land on the hood of the car," Kenney said. "The car continued accelerating at the protesters, and the protester was able to jump off the hood."
Kenney moved the other protesters out of the way to avoid further injuries.
The car continued down the highway and stopped to talk with a police officer for about 30 minutes.
According to the department's press release, "protesters damaged the hood of a passenger vehicle and smashed the rear window where a 4-year-old child was in the back seat and had shattered glass on him."
Kenney said she did not see the window being smashed, but it was already broken when the driver hit the protesters.
Around 7 p.m., county District Attorney Dan Dow posted a photo and video of a peacekeeper blocking traffic on a highway onramp stating: "Public Safety Alert, happening now: This is unlawful and incredibly dangerous. It must stop. Highway 101 and Santa Rosa entrance."
Comments on the post ranged from people's concern for protesters on the highway to saying that the protesters should be run over.
"She has no authority to direct traffic away from the on-ramp ... trust me I would have gone past and gotten into the freeway ... if they became a speed bump, well too bad," Facebook user Butch Erler commented.
"Dan, how much trouble will someone be in if their car runs over one in the middle of Highway 101?" Facebook user Alana Reynolds asked on the post.
New Times reached out to the SLO County District Attorney's Office for comment but did not receive a response before press time.
According to the SLO Police Department's press release, the protesters left the highway around 7:10 p.m., made their way back to Mitchell Park, and dispersed around 8 p.m.
Kenney and Foxx said a majority of the protesters had already dispersed when San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach police officers arrived and arrested Arata.
"The officers unloaded her and used excessive force to take her away from her car. Within minutes, police forces from other cities were on the scene with batons and rifles," Kenney said.
In a video shared on social media, Arata is heard saying, multiple times, that she is not resisting arrest.
"As you saw in the videos, the officers were not responsive on where they were taking the organizer, and it was very unclear, and everyone was very upset because it felt like an ambush," Kenney said.
R.A.C.E. Matters SLO released a statement saying Tuesday night's events were troubling.
"While violence is not condoned, the tactics used by law enforcement to arrest protesters after the protest ended is reason for grave concern. On the national stage, dissenters exercising their First Amendment rights have been steadily grabbed off the streets by unwelcome federal personnel. These tactics have sought to intimidate those resisting injustice in the name of restoring 'law and order' to 'out-of-control' communities. Is this the next step for SLO County?" the statement reads. "We must not shut down protests, nor lose sight of the reasons why our citizens, many of them young adults, are taking to the streets. They are calling attention to the systematic racism here in our county and raising their voices for freedom, equality, and inclusion. It is precisely because they care about this community that they're willing to put themselves on the line." Δ