Protests Continue in Santa Barbara

By Jun Starkey   |   June 11, 2020
Protesters took to the streets again over the weekend in downtown Santa Barbara

Thousands marched through Santa Barbara once more Sunday, as local high school students united to orchestrate a rally and march against police brutality, as well as present their demands to the Santa Barbara Unified School District and Police Department.

“The fuse had been lit years ago,” said Shawn Banks, an assistant boys basketball coach at San Marcos High School.

Sunday was the second installment in back-to-back protests over the weekend, though it drew a younger, and much larger crowd than the previous rally on Saturday.

“The world saw it. The world is tired,” said Banks. “Everybody wants change, especially people of color.”

Since the death of George Floyd, a man who died in May after a Minneapolis Police Officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes, protests have continued to rage in most major cities in the country, prompting the activation of the National Guard in at least 23 states.

Some of these protests turned violent, resulting in altercations between protestors and police, though recently the protests have returned to more peaceful demonstrations.

Over the weekend members of the SBPD escorted marchers down State Street, a stark contrast to last Sunday’s Black Lives Matter SB protest, when police stood with riot shields behind caution tape.

This Sunday’s rally began at the base of Stearns Wharf, where students and attendees shared stories of discrimination from the police and in their everyday lives.

Even on the world-famous American Riviera, the birthplace of the environmental movement and home to frequent marches for women, science and social justice, the weekend’s rallies seemed to represent a higher level of activism, a sense of purpose and passion that even this historically engaged community has never seen.

The fight for black lives and against police brutality has, for the moment, supplanted the COVID-19 pandemic fears that transformed our lives just two months ago, firmly asserting that humanity’s biggest fight right now is about the use of violent force, and not just a virus.

Sunday’s protest was also significant because it was, for the first time since schools closed in mid-March, an opportunity for quarantined students to see their friends outside of Zoom, Facetime, and Instagram Live.

The march symbolized not just a protest against police brutality and systemic racism, but also a reunion and healing gathering for so many of our young people who face discrimination every day.

One youth organizer, Lucas Flores Piña, spoke about subconscious acts of racism, and how dehumanizing they are for people of color.

“I am a human being, and the subconscious acts make me feel like less than a man,” Flores Piña said.

He described people following him through stores, and locking their car doors or crossing the street when they see him walking by.

“I am not a monster.”

After converging in front of the Santa Barbara Unified School District Office, San Marcos student Shakir Ahmad, who also drafted the demands, presented them to high school principals Kip Glazer of San Marcos, Elise Simmons of Santa Barbara, Lauren Berlin of Alta Vista and La Cuesta, Bill Woodard of Dos Pueblos, and Frann Wageneck, an SBUSD assistant superintendent.

The demands included creating ethnic studies classes with culturally relevant curriculums, defunding any programs the district has with the Santa Barbara Police and Sheriff’s Department, condemning the school-to-prison pipeline, and declaring racism a public health emergency.

Wageneck said the demands would be delivered to the school district Sunday night.

“I can’t make any promises,” she said. “All I can say is, watch our actions.”

The march eventually moved to the Santa Barbara Police Department, where protestors, Police Chief Lori Luhnow, and all but four police officers in attendance took a knee.

Ahmad presented the demands for the school district once again, and included demands presented at last Sunday’s Black Lives Matter protests, such as transparency and accountability from the police department, protection and preservation of black landmarks, and institutional support for an annual Juneteenth celebration.

“They have heard our demands, now we have to hope that change will be made,” Ahmad said.

Lunhow responded with a similar statement to the one she gave at the protest the day before.

“I want you to see the solidarity our sworn officers have shown,” Lunhow said.

Lunhow also reiterated that she had updated the use of force policy Saturday morning, and the carotid restraint was no longer allowed to be used.

The size and intensity of Sunday’s march stood in stark contrast to the protest of the previous day, which drew a smaller crowd and did not condemn police.

“There are cops who believe that black lives matter,” said co-organizer Kyle Brown. “We want to do nothing to scorn those cops today.”

The Black Lives Matter SB group was not present at Saturday’s march, and police mingled with the crowd.

“I wasn’t aware that there was a BLM presence in Santa Barbara,” Brown told the Montecito Journal. “I wasn’t aware of the things that happened last week.”

The march appealed to those who prefer a milder kind of activism, with the crowd chanting only “We want justice” as police escorted the marchers down State Street.

Police Chief Lori Luhnow was present, and gave a brief speech explaining the actions the police department is taking to hear the protesters’ demands, including the banning of the carotid restraint.

“This is an opportunity to express peace and love and move forward together,” Luhnow told the Journal.

Mayor Cathy Murillo was also present in the crowd at Saturday’s demonstration, but did not speak.

After only three brief speeches, the crowd marched to Stearns Wharf, where the organizers instructed everyone to take a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the time it took for Floyd to die in police custody.

The event ended promptly after, with protesters being ushered back onto the sidewalks by police officers.

The City Council plans to move forward an anti-racism resolution at Tuesday’s meeting, as well as reviewing and taking action on Black Lives Matter SB’s demands.

“We’ll be voting to move them all forward,” said Murillo.


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