People are rallying behind a Black Lives Matter protester in California who faces multiple charges that could land her prison time. The police’s account of the incident has been described as criminalizing when compared to video and witness accounts.
According to Newsweek, Tianna Arata was arrested on July 21 by the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) after cops said a protest she organized became violent. The police department said its police chief, Deanna Cantrell, spoke with the 20-year-old before the rally and was assured the demonstration would be peaceful.
However, SLOPD said the protest got out of control when people marched onto a highway and, at one point, launched an assault on a passenger vehicle with a 4-year-old kid inside. It’s not clear what escalated the incident, but SLOPD said protesters, who had grown to 300 people, damaged the hood of the vehicle and smashed the rear window, resulting in glass shattering on the child in the back seat.
The SLOPD also said protesters targeted at least two other vehicles upon leaving the highway, with a few demonstrators chasing down and throwing objects at one car. Police said the protest resulted in “public safety risks for protesters and community members.”
Once demonstrators dispersed, Arata was arrested on suspicion of “Participation in a Riot…Unlawful Assembly…Conspiracy…Unlawful Imprisonment…and Resisting Arrest,” according to cops. Another protester was also taken into custody, according to police, for allegedly assaulting a cop during Arata’s arrest. The officer reportedly sustained minor injuries.
Video and witness accounts have differed from how police characterized the protest and arrest. According to The Tribune, cops described the driver of the vehicle during the protest as a victim. However, drone footage released by the department appears to show the vehicle stopping at an intersection before suddenly turning into a small group of protesters at the front of the march. The vehicle clearly hit them and briefly dragged one person on the hood before someone, possibly Arata, appeared to swing a flag. That’s when the vehicle sped off.
San Luis Obispo Police Capt. Jeff Smith told the Tribune that protesters taking to the highway did not allow vehicles to leave, resulting in false imprisonment of the motorists. Smith also said, due to California law, “Any use of force or violence, disturbing the public peace, or any threat to use force or violence, if accompanied by immediate power of execution, by two or more persons acting together, and without authority of law, is a riot.” He added that Arata was arrested as “the organizer and march leader of last night’s protest.”
According to Arata’s lawyer, Dustin Tardiff, Arata’s bail was first set at $75,000. H however, the jail eventually released her on her own recognizance without bail because of coronavirus precautions at the facility. Tardiff described Arata’s arrest as “outrageous.”
According to The Tribune, cops have asked District Attorney Dan Dow to file eight charges against Arata, including four felony counts of false imprisonment, one count of felony conspiracy and three misdemeanors. A tentative arraignment date has been scheduled for September.
A person identified as “Mel” on Twitter posted a video of Arata’s arrest and she accused the police officers involved of not reading her Miranda rights. The clip shows cops roughly taking Arata to the police car. Meanwhile, bystanders can be heard yelling “let her go,” while some even attempt to intervene before being shoved aside by police.
“There was no riot it was a beautiful peaceful protest filled with Black and Brown joy,” said Mel, who told Newsweek she was a witness to Arata’s arrest, which she described as “traumatizing.”
“The way the police waited till we were alone with a few friends and rushed and took my best friend in front of my eyes, in front of her mother,” Mel added. “They used excessive force, Tianna could barely keep up with the 6 grown men forcing her to the car.”
A Change.org petition was started for Arata demanding “the district attorney not pursue any charges against Tianna Arata. Our young black leaders deserve to be heard, seen, and supported.” The petition has already received over 100,000 signatures.
A GoFundMe was also started for Arata’s legal fees where an organizer for the page, Shalini Sasha Quattlebaum, wrote:
“During the protest, a car ambushed Tianna’s body, almost hitting her. She was terrified and used whatever was in her hands to hit the car and protect herself. Instead of finding the person who tried to hit her, the San Luis Obispo police department arrested Tianna for rioting, unlawful assembly, conspiracy, unlawful imprisonment, and resisting arrest. There are also videos that show that Tianna was not resisting arrest. The San Luis Obispo police department has targeted her, throwing her whatever charges they could possibly get away with.”
Quattlebaum added, “Our system has failed once again.”