About 3,000 people converged on the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on Sunday, marched down State Street and then to the Santa Barbara police station in a dynamic and powerful show of support for black lives and in protest of George Floyd’s death half a country away.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black Minnesota man, died in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The incident was captured on cellphone video, which showed the officer pinning the handcuffed Floyd to the street even as he said he could not breathe.
For the last three minutes of the video, Floyd was nonresponsive.
The officer, 44-year-old Derek Chauvin, and three other officers were fired the next day, and Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The incident brought revulsion and condemnation from across the country while prompting protests against racism and police brutality. Riots, looting and violent street battles between protesters and police have accompanied many of the demonstrations.
In Santa Barbara on Sunday, several people delivered riveting and passionate speeches from atop the steps of the courthouse before the crowd marched along East Anapamu Street to State Street, then turned on East Figueroa Street.
At the intersection of East Figueroa and Santa Barbara streets, dozens of people laid down on the pavement for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the length of time that Floyd was pinned to the ground — as the crowd watched in silence.
After they arose, the group peacefully crossed yellow police tape that stretched across the street leading to the police station, where about a dozen officers in riot gear stood guard.
Krystle Farmer, one of the organizers of the demonstration, spoke through a megaphone, asking police why they put up a barricade and why they were prepared for violence. Many in the crowd called on the officers to take a knee and kneel, but they did not.
In a dramatic scene, Mayor Cathy Murillo approached Farmer, and attempted to speak at the event.
“I asked you for a meeting with you to talk about everything that …,” Murillo said.
“You should have been on TV condeming police brutality and racism,” Farmer responded, adding that Murillo should have asked for a meeting sooner.
“There’s been corruption in this community. Where have you been? This is not new. This is not new.”
As Murillo began to speak, Farmer told her: “When a black woman is speaking, silence.”
Murillo then countered, “when the mayor is speaking,” prompting Farmer to interrupt.
“I don’t listen to you,” she said. “I don’t have to listen to you.”
At one point, some in the crowd demanded that Murillo kneel but she declined.
Murillo eventually backed down and walked up to City of Santa Barbara public information officer Anthony Wagner, who was standing nearby. The two then left.
The interaction punctuated a three-hour rally, protest and march, organized by Black Lives Matter and Juneteenth Santa Barbara.
Thousands of people surrounded the courthouse and filled the Sunken Garden to hear the array of speakers.
“We are here today as black women who love black people and who refused to be moved,” said Simone Ruskamp, one of the founders of Juneteenth Santa Barbara and a Black Lives Matter facilitator.
Farmer introduced speaker Chelsea Lancaster, who she said was a mentor who helped her find her voice.
“When you talk about an ally and someone that will show up for, she (expletive) did that,” Farmer said. “She saw my pain. She saw who I was. She saw my voice before I saw it. She saw my passion. And she brought it out of me.”
Lancaster made reference to Amy Cooper, a white finance industry executive in New York City who recently called 9-1-1 on a black birdwatcher in Central Park and reported that he was threatening her because he had asked her to leash her dog as required by park rules.
“We have a lot of ‘Amy Coopers’ in Santa Barbara,” she said. “I am here to talk about ‘Amy Cooper’ in Santa Barbara.”
Lancaster was referring to generic “Amy Coopers,” not any specific individual in Santa Barbara by the same name.
“Amy Cooper,” she said, is so nice and “she is the most enduring, flexible foot soldier of white supremacy in our communities.”
She said there are plenty of sharks in the world, but white supremacy is the ocean and “we are all swimming in it.”
“And too many of us are too complicit,” Lancaster added. “Too many of you all have been too (expletive) quiet for too long.”
She said activism is more than just a one-day event.
“I don’t care about what you are going to do today,” she said. “I want to know what you are going to do tomorrow. I want to know what you are going to do the next day.
“I want to know what you are going to do when you are at the school board meeting and ‘Amy Cooper’ shows up and says she is just really worried that ethnic studies is going to water down education for her child.”
Ana Rosa Rizo-Centino, board president of Casa de la Raza, told the crowd that brown and black people must stand united.
“We need to reaffirm that we are in the struggle together,” she said. “We cannot play into this whole strategy that capitalism has for us, fighting against black people for the crumbs the white people want to give to us.”
“Black is beautiful,” she shouted. “Brown is beautiful.”
Rizo-Centino also addressed law enforcement.
“No more people of color dying because of the police,” she said.
The organizers also issued a list of demands they want from the City of Santa Barbara, including the protection and preservation of black landmarks rather than monuments to white supremacy; a City Council resolution condeming police brutality and declaring racism a public health emergency; and transparency and accountability from the Police Department.
Police Chief Lori Luhnow issued a statement last week condeming Floyd’s death, but some of Sunday’s speakers said it was meaningless. They said she had never tried to engage with anyone in the black community.
After the protest, Wagner issued a statement from Murillo praising Luhnow’s statement.
“I applaud … her courageous leadership to ensure simultaneous dialogue and action to address race in policing,” she said. “I have seen firsthand how our police officers engage in compassionate policing.
“On a daily basis, they contribute to an authentic community relationship that solidifies the public’s trust. The agency provides enhanced technical training on important topics such as principled policing and implicit bias. Moreover, they engage local community members to participate in that training.”
Wagner also commented about Murillo’s appearance at the demonstration.
“Representatives of the organized group asked the mayor to come to that location to accept the demands,” he told Noozhawk. “The mayor responded accordingly.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.