About 50 people attended a rally Wednesday evening at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse to call for action against white supremacy and to honor those who died in two recent mass shootings in the United States.
Similar gatherings were scheduled in communities across the country. The #ElPasoFirme event, which was anchored by Border Network for Human Rights, aimed to “remember and celebrate the lives lost, and recommit to confront the contemptible world view behind the violence committed,” according to organizers.
In downtown Santa Barbara, the crowd huddled near the courthouse arch on Anacapa Street.
People took turns discussing their fears, legislation to strengthen background checks, raising the age limit to purchase semiautomatic rifles, gun violence prevention and how some critics of President Donald Trump contend that his comments about immigrants have contributed to the violence.
Although there were no formal speeches, each attendee had the opportunity to speak. The group stood in a circle and listened to one another.
A federal criminal attorney, a licensed therapist, supporters of the Women’s March Santa Barbara, local parents and others were among those who spoke.
Santa Barbara resident Tamara Roberts organized the event, and she said it was her first time planning a protest. She said she couldn’t sit back and do nothing, adding, “I feel if I don’t do anything, I’m just as guilty as anyone else for not stopping this — we have lost our country.”
Roberts held a sign that read, “Stop the madness.”
“I decided I’m going to do something,” Roberts told Noozhawk. “I have been thinking for a long time that it’s going to take us going to the streets and marching and protesting, because nothing is happening.”
Roberts later told the crowd that she’s “afraid” of “white men,” adding, “White people get away with it because they are white.”
The mass shooting on Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, left 22 people dead. The suspect, identified as a 21-year-old man from Dallas, has been charged with capital murder. The gunman allegedly targeted Mexicans and the Hispanic community. Investigators believe that the shooter in Texas posted an online manifesto rallying against a perceived “invasion” of Hispanics coming into the United States.
Hours later, a 24-year-old man allegedly shot and killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio. Authorities are investigating a possible motive for the shooting, and the incident is under investigation. The FBI has said that investigators found evidence that the shooter explored “violent ideologies.”
Santa Barbara resident Laurie Fernandez said she has family members who shop every weekend at the Walmart in El Paso.
“I could not get a hold of them for hours — texting, calling and messaging,” Fernandez said. “This is not OK, and it needs to stop.”
Fernandez said she is scared to send her children to school in Santa Barbara after recent school shootings that resulted in an injury or death.
“My kids start school in two weeks, and I’m terrified to let them go to school,” Fernandez said. “Here, in Santa Barbara, I’m terrified to let my kids go to school.”
“You’re not the only one,” another resident responded.