Hundreds marched along downtown Santa Barbara on Tuesday night, stopping traffic to peacefully protest in unison with nationwide demonstrations after the announcement that a Missouri Grand Jury would not indict police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.
Dozens of Santa Barbara police officers descended onto the scene and were assisted by officials from the Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, and the UCSB Police Department. A county helicopter hovered above the scene, and the police department’s Bearcat was standing by. There were no injuries, arrests, or citations.
“It’s not right. Very few officers are indicted and very few are convicted,” said one protestor. “I refuse to allow things to make sense when they don’t make sense,” said another, emphasizing that a tremendous effort has occurred in Ferguson in the past three months to embrace nonviolence. Tuesday night’s event was a collaborative effort supported in part by UCSB student groups and disseminated through the Facebook page “Justice for Mike Brown, Santa Barbara.”
What started as a gathering of a few dozen who held candles at the Courthouse Sunken Garden at about 6 p.m. quickly turned into an estimated 500 people who marched down State Street, chanting and hoisting signs above their heads for hours. Police officers on motorcycles cleared the streets for the protesters for much of the march, but stopped the group once they approached the freeway.
The group — made up of students, professors, activists, and onlookers who joined in — headed toward the freeway on Carrillo Street. According to police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood, a few protesters had indicated they intended to get on the highway, which proved to be the only tense moment in the three-hour event.
About 30 feet from the highway on-ramp, demonstrators went face-to-face with a dozen or so officers who stood behind riot shields, stopping the crowd. Marchers yelled “hands up, don’t shoot!” and then held a moment of silence in the middle of the crowded street.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m fired up and can’t take it anymore,” said one protester. Though the demonstration remained peaceful, there were similar sentiments of frustration. “I’m here tonight because I’m angry,” one demonstrator said. “I’m tired of being told to be nonviolent, when people are being violent against people who look like me.”
From there, the crowd traveled to a large lot located next to Starbucks on Carrillo Street, where they briefly joined hands in a massive circle. Next, protesters continued to State Street and traveled south. As passersby pulled out their cell phones to document the scene, demonstrators yelled, “As you are out shopping, our bodies are dropping.” The crowd turned around at Gutierrez Street and made its way north until the marchers stopped again at Carrillo Street, where they sat down in the intersection for a few minutes.
The crowd had dwindled to about 250 people by about 9 p.m., when the they were stopped again by officers a short distance from the Santa Barbara Police Department. There was some verbal tension between protesters and officers at this point as protesters asked for every person of color who had ever been mistreated by law enforcement in Santa Barbara to make noise; many people cheered. Officers demonstrated a disciplined response throughout the evening.
Closing remarks by several protesters encouraged participants to continue the movement. “It’s not civil disobedience that’s the problem,” one speaker said. “It’s the civil obedience that’s the problem.”