Sunday, August 19 , 2018, 1:25 pm | Fair with Haze 75º

 
 
 
 

Local News

At Solidarity Rally, Community Members Vow to Combat Hate, Make Santa Barbara Safer

Event put on by the Pacific Pride Foundation was in response to battery and hate crimes committed against two friends on State Street

During a solidarity rally held Tuesday by the Pacific Pride Foundation, Saul Lerma and Richard Schiwietz talk about being harassed and assaulted by a stranger while they walked on State Street. Click to view larger
During a solidarity rally held Tuesday by the Pacific Pride Foundation, Saul Lerma and Richard Schiwietz talk about being harassed and assaulted by a stranger while they walked on State Street. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Richard Schiwietz told a crowd in downtown Santa Barbara’s De la Guerra Plaza Tuesday evening that throughout his childhood and early adult life, he had been bullied and harassed “for being different.”

Though he told friends, supporters and strangers alike at the Pacific Pride Foundation rally that he had decided a while ago to no longer remain silent in the face of homophobia, the final straw came two weeks ago when he and a friend were loudly harassed by a man on State Street — which culminated in Schiwietz being assaulted.

Schiwietz and a close friend, Saul Lerma, were walking arm in arm downtown the evening of Oct. 4 when a man began yelling homophobic names, profanity and threats at them, according to the two men and Santa Barbara police.

The suspect, 54-year-old John Harlan Savala of Santa Barbara, allegedly flipped off the two men, who are gay, and punched Schiwietz in the head, causing him a concussion and a black eye.

The two men followed Savala, who was later charged with battery and hate crimes after being arrested outside of Cost Plus World Market at 610 State St.

Tuesday’s gathering, which drew some 100 community members two weeks to the hour after the incident, was meant not only for solidarity, but to encourage attendees to step in when they see acts of violence, harassment or bullying in their community.

The event was announced on Oct. 11 on National Coming Out Day, after Schiwietz got in touch with the Pacific Pride Foundation.

“He made the decision that he wanted to go a little public with his experience, just because he knows — and we know — that a lot of different people in the LGBTQ community experience harassment and discrimination on State Street,” said Patrick Lyra Kearns, Pacific Pride Foundation’s LGBTQ+ outreach advocate.

The foundation is an advocacy and education group with offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria that works to build and make visible LGBT communities, and prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS along the Central Coast.

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, spoke during the solidarity rally Tuesday. Click to view larger
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, spoke during the solidarity rally Tuesday.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

With Lerma at his side, Schiwietz explained that random, explicit incidences of homophobia are not unique to him.

“Although we live in this most amazing and beautiful city, there are so many of us — very young people and older alike — who are called ‘different’ and still have to assemble the courage every single day to walk out our doors in Santa Barbara, to walk down our own State Street, and still have to be afraid of being shouted at or chased or even punched,” he said.

Speaking before Schiwietz was state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who said that society is “at a very, very difficult crossroads,” both locally and nationally, given the unprecedented hate and fear she said has taken over political dialogue.

“We must make it very clear that under absolutely no circumstances is (hate) acceptable,” she said.

As part of the event, attendees walked together to the corner of State and De la Guerra streets, where Schiwietz was assaulted, to pass out materials to passersby and hold a moment of silence.

“Let’s make our magnificent city a model for others, where as citizens and businesses alike we embrace all kinds of people from all over the world to feel safe and most welcome here with the knowledge that we look out for each other, and make it safe always for young people, especially for those labeled different, to feel watched over and protected,” Schiwietz said.

“And most of all, make it so that what happened to Saul and I happens less and less because we care about each other, and in so many respects, realize that we are all different,” he said.

Savala’s criminal case will be continued Thursday after Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Ladinig, who is prosecuting the case, motioned to amend the complaint charge from a misdemeanor to a felony.

On Monday, the Santa Barbara Police Department bomb squad responded to a report of a suspicious package at the Pacific Pride Foundation office on Haley Street. The parcel turned out to be books wrapped in brown paper, but concerns were heightened due to the recent hate crime incident, according to police. 

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

About 100 people gathered for a solidarity rally to encourage community members to step in when they see acts of violence, harassment or bullying. Click to view larger
About 100 people gathered for a solidarity rally to encourage community members to step in when they see acts of violence, harassment or bullying. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >