Thousands March Down State Street in Protest

By Jun Starkey   |   June 4, 2020
Thousands of people gathered at the Courthouse lawn to listen to Black Lives Matters activists on May 31, 2020

Nearly 3,000 protestors marched through downtown Santa Barbara to face the Police Department Sunday, culminating in a blowout between protestors, police, and Mayor Cathy Murillo.

“We are going to occupy State Street,” said Krystle Farmer, one of the organizers of the event.

The protest was orchestrated by the Black Lives Matter SB group, headed by community organizers Simone Ruskamp and Farmer, and was part of a string of nationwide protests following the death last week of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Floyd died after being pinned to the ground by police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck despite Floyd repeating the phrase “I can’t breathe.”

“He is still breathing in us,” said Ruskamp.

 The event began at the Santa Barbara Courthouse, where thousands of attendees blanketed the lawn while listening to speakers, before spilling out of the Courthouse and onto Anacapa Street to begin marching.

Although the protest was peaceful, the event shined a spotlight on the tension between our local black community and Santa Barbara City Hall. The protesters made a list of demands, which included the City passing a resolution condemning police brutality and calling on city officials to declare racism a public health emergency.

Mayor Cathy Murillo approaches Simone Ruskamp and Krystle Farmer from the officers’ side of the barrier. “Why are you on the other side?” Farmer asked Murillo. “Where have you been?”

The procession was led by the Santa Barbara Danzantes, a collective of indigenous students and activists who offered four traditional danzas, or dances, while playing music and burning sage.

Many protesters chanted “I can’t breathe,” as they marched up State Street. People dining on the newly installed outdoor restaurant tables whipped out their cellphones, took pictures, and cheered protestors on.

As the group marched down Figueroa Street towards the police station, they were met with over 20 police officers, some with riot shields, standing behind a long barrier of yellow caution tape.

“Police Chief, where art thou?” Farmer asked. “Why are you meeting us geared up? We could’ve had conversations. Were you busy putting up barriers?”

Farmer and Ruskamp then questioned the officers’ loyalty to the community as protestors in the crowd began shouting at the officers to take a knee.

Throughout the entire encounter, the police did not interact with the demonstrators, only looking on silently as they stood their ground.

The organizers then called for any black protesters present at the march to lay motionless in front of the police for eight minutes, the same amount of time that Officer Chauvin kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.

The early volume and intensity of the march faded to complete silence as the protesters lay in the street in front of the police.

Farmer encouraged white and non-black people of color to take a knee in solidarity as well.

After the demonstration, Mayor Cathy Murillo emerged from the officers’ side of the street, and attempted to speak with Farmer and Ruskamp, but was quickly shut down.

“Why are you on the other side?” Farmer asked Murillo. “Where have you been?”

Ruskamp and Farmer expressed their disappointment at Murillo for not reaching out sooner, and for waiting until the demonstration was in process to begin a conversation.

As the exchange became more heated, many of the protestors rallying behind Farmer and Ruskamp demanded Murillo stop arguing and began chanting that she “take a knee.”

Murillo retreated back behind the line of officers soon after.

An Instagram post with nearly 500 likes calling to vote Murillo out of office has begun circulating following the incident.

Murillo did not acknowledge the interaction in her weekly State of the City address on Monday, but she did commend Police Chief Lori Luhnow for “her courageous leadership to ensure simultaneous dialogue and action to address race in policing.”

During the first few hours of the protest, multiple speakers shared their experiences with the Black Lives Matter movement and the many forms of discrimination people of color face.

“I’m sad that I’m not more sad because I’ve grown numb,” said Dominic King, a local marriage and family therapist who spoke at the event. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

King and other speakers urged white and non-black people of color demonstrators to commit to the movement and dedicate themselves to protecting black lives.

“It is great to have allies,” said King. “But what we really need are accomplices.”

As protests move into the second week following Floyd’s death, both protesters and police have reported injuries nationwide in this massive show of civil unrest.

Sunday’s march did not escalate into riots like many other protests across the country, concluding with the protesters peacefully dispersing after organizers notified the Santa Barbara Police of their demands.

“Remember what SB folks of color stand for,” said Farmer.


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