Santa Barbara Takes a Knee Against Racial Injustice

Saturday’s Protesters Flood State Street to Condemn Police Brutality and Racism

March participants wield protest signs in support of Black Lives Matter. | Credit: Matthew V Anderson

From behind their masks, a crowd spanning four city blocks chanted “We want justice!” in unison as they marched down State Street. The protest, organized by Santa Barbara resident Kyle Brown, with the help of his colleagues Trent Marlow and Andres Ramirez, was in solidarity with victims of police brutality, the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the anti-racism movement. 

Mayor Cathy Murillo marched with Police Chief Lori Luhnow and Fire Chief Eric Nickel alongside protesters on State Street. Also in attendance was City Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez, an outspoken supporter of the protest from the start. The march is one of many to occur across the country calling for the nation to address systemic racial injustice in American society and law enforcement. 

The movement started at 1 p.m. in De la Guerra Plaza outside of City Hall, where Brown stood on a wooden stage to address the crowd. As he spoke, community members distributed bottles of water and disposable masks to ensure the safety of participants. Brown thanked those in attendance, spoke about the black experience in the United States, and politely asked protesters to remain peaceful and respect law enforcement officers as they marched towards Stearns Wharf.  

Brown then called Luhnow, who told the crowd that the Santa Barbara Police Department is committed to engaging in change. She also announced a revised Use of Force Policy banning carotid holds and a commitment to developing a citizen review process. “We are here to stand in solidarity with all of you in this nation against police brutality,” she said. 

Longtime activist and singer Ron Paris then performed his song “Bloodline,” a composition about the black experience in America, and encouraged the group to join him in singing and clapping.

As the mass of more than 1,000 protestors descended upon State Street, organizers led the group in a singular chant of “We want justice” and encouraged bystanders to join the group, ensuring those nearby understood all were welcome to walk. Police officers on bicycles blocked off intersecting roads to protect protesters from oncoming traffic and create an unobstructed path to Cabrillo Boulevard.

Upon arriving at Stearns Wharf, the group took to their knees for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that the neck of George Floyd was knelt upon. Brown commanded the crowd to be silent during this time. 

After the vigil, Brown called upon protestors to keep making change, inviting them to a protest on Sunday, June 7, and urging them to support black-owned businesses. The crowd dispersed at 2:15 p.m.

The protest remained entirely peaceful without any clear antagonistic group in attendance.  “We planned on avoiding looting and violence by, one, contacting local authorities,” said Ramirez. “We feel that gives local authorities enough time to strategize and mobilize, and it relieves a lot of pressure and stress on them, especially right now. We also designated individuals whose main task was to disperse the crowd and de-escalate any kind of violence or vandalism that may start occurring.”

Organizers also hoped that, by welcoming these community leaders to join them in condemning racial injustice, the city would send a clear message that Santa Barbara supports efforts to ameliorate and address racism, prejudice, and police brutality and demonstrate to other cities across America the ability to mobilize peacefully without looting, vandalism, and violence.

“It is important because it is predominantly white here,” said Brown. “If we want systemic racism to end, if we want police brutality to end, and if we want black lives to matter then we need white people in places like Santa Barbara to stand with us.”

Mayor Murillo’s presence at the march was solely participatory, as she opted not to speak to the crowd, instead issuing a video statement on Facebook that pledged her support of the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. She also explained in her video that the demands outlined by Black Lives Matter would be voted on this coming Tuesday by members of the City Council. “Our council is not just accepting the Black Lives Matter demands,” she said. “We are wholeheartedly embracing them. They are inspiring us, and we will implement them as soon as we can.”

Murillo’s statement falls in line with her previous comment released following criticism of her actions when confronted by Black Lives Matter protesters outside of the police station on Figueroa Street last Sunday.

Santa Barbara Fire Chief Eric Nickel pledged his support of the protest prior to attending and inviting his fellow firefighters to join. “While that is certainly my personal perspective, the official stance of the Santa Barbara Fire Department is we are supportive of an inclusive environment,” said Nickel. “We are having some very candid and difficult conversations right now, as is any family or organization. There’s a lot for all of us to learn. I used to think of myself just as an ally, but now I need to be an anti-racist. There’s a lot of work with that. It’s very personal for myself and a lot of other people in the department. It’s not been an easy couple of weeks.”

Simone Akila Ruskamp, one of the primary organizers of the Black Lives Matter protest of last weekend, refused to comment on the protest, nor was she in attendance. But protest organizers explained that their values aligned with those of Black Lives Matter and fully support the demands of the movement.

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