Blocking traffic in the city core throughout the day, protesters marched through the streets of Paso Robles on June 2, decrying police brutality and racism.
Shouting chants like, "Say his name! George Floyd!" "We don't trust you. We can't trust you," and, "No justice, no peace. No racist police," a few hundred people, mostly local young adults, walked while holding signs.
At times, the group stopped in the street to rest, hydrate, share stories through a bullhorn, and kneel in silence for the eight minutes and 46 seconds that Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck, causing his death.
- Photo By Peter Johnson
- BLACK LIVES MATTER Protesters kneel with police on June 2 in Paso Robles as local business owner Oddette Augustus leads the group in a prayer. The moment marked the end of a six-hour protest against police brutality.
Black protesters at the event shared stories of experiencing racial discrimination in San Luis Obispo County, with one man, Shamar, telling New Times about a recent instance of being profiled at a Paso Robles gas station.
"Someone called the cops on us because there was a a black guy parked in front of a gas station. Shit like that I have to deal with every day," he said.
Tall and muscular, Shamar added that every encounter he has with a police officer is terrifying.
"He pulls you over and you don't know if you're going to die today or not. That's my life," he said.
As the protesters marched, a Highway Patrol helicopter circled overhead, and nearby drivers honked in support or yelled profanity out their windows.
Ashleigh Pitts, 23, explained that the protest felt cathartic to have during a tumultuous time.
"I really appreciate it. There's this release," the SLO High School grad said as she marched. "I've felt a lot of uncertainty, fear, and rage, especially recently."
Early in the day, a woman who said she owned a local business angrily chided the protesters and warned that citizens would fight back if any property damage occurred.
"I think what they're doing is bullshit," she said. "If one window gets broken ... we're not putting up wth it. Ain't going to fly here."
Monitoring social media throughout the day, local police were concerned about tensions escalating. An online rumor surfaced that "two buses from Fresno" were possibly coming to Paso to start a riot. Simultaneously, chatter among local residents on the Facebook page Protect Paso had law enforcement concerned about a confrontation with the protesters, police said.
But while officers from across SLO County stood guard, many outfitted in riot gear, the marchers remained peaceful. Some verbal altercations transpired between marchers and passing cars or bystanders who voiced their disapproval.
"Get the fuck out of my town!" one man yelled at the passing protesters from his front lawn.
"Fuck you scumbags!" a man shouted from a truck with his middle finger up.
"All lives matter!" another driver yelled.
Teva Todd, a local resident and protester, said the clashes didn't surprise him given the town's conservative lean.
"Paso's more of a hick town," he said. "I expected more [conflict], honestly."
Around 5 p.m., the remaining protesters huddled outside the Downtown City Park on the corner of Pine and 12th streets. Tensions heightened as demonstrators faced off with the riot police.
Paso Police Chief Ty Lewis, who shadowed the protest throughout the day, stepped in and asked the protesters to go home. Lewis spoke directly with Shamar.
"Everybody's hot," Lewis said. "We're all in the same storm."
"Yeah, well mine's bullets," Shamar replied.
"I get it, man," the chief said. "I've been doing this for 26 years. I've seen a lot of shit in my time."
After that, Oddette Augustus, owner of Miss Oddette's Creole Kitchen restaurant, led the crowd in a prayer on one knee, and the protest dispersed.
Shamar told New Times that he thought Lewis was a good man and that he appreciated "being able to actually speak to them and them actually not harming us."
"We're not after good people," he said. "We're just after bullshit organizations who support killing black people for no damn reason." Δ