Hundreds of community members and activists, some driving hours to attend, gathered in front of the San Luis Obispo County courthouse Tuesday, Aug. 25 at 10:00 a.m. with a shared goal: drop all charges against Tianna Arata.
On July 21, the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) arrested 20-year-old Arata after a protest that she had organized. She is now being charged with four felony counts of false imprisonment, one felony count of conspiracy and three misdemeanors for resisting or obstructing a peace officer, participating in a riot and unlawful assembly.
The Free Tianna Coalition, a group committed to advocating for Arata’s charges to be dropped, organized the press conference and rally to show solidarity with Arata.
Speakers at the press conference included Arata, her attorney, local and national activists, Arata’s mother and even actor Kendrick Sampson.
Curtis Briggs, one of Arata’s attorneys, began the press conference with a chant of “free Tianna,” with him yelling “free” and the crowd responding with “Tianna.”
Briggs’ speech had three demands: the dropping of charges against Arata, termination of Police Chief Deanna Cantrell and for San Luis Obispo citizens to keep an open mind about the case.
“Chief Cantrell’s blunder amplified demonstrations and protests,” Briggs said. “Chief Cantrell’s blunder jeopardized the peace and safety of this community.”
During a virtual press conference, Cantrell responded to Briggs’ request for her termination, saying it is “off-base,” and that she will not be stepping down.
Actor Kendrick Sampson also criticized Cantrell during his speech.
“SLO Police Chief, and those in this town that support these charges, you should be ashamed of yourself,” Sampson said. “You are on the wrong side of history. You’re on the side of the slave catcher. You are on the side that will lose.”
Cantrell said she stands by the recommended charges against Arata. She did not give specific reasons for Arata’s charges.
About 30 counter protestors stood on the corner of Osos Street and Monterey Street, chanting back at attendees with sayings such as “all lives matter.” Most were displaying their support for President Donald Trump with flags, hats and signs.
San Luis Obispo Women’s March Co-Founder Jen Ford acknowledged the counter protestors as a good sign during her speech.
“If you’re making change, you’re going to have opposition,” Jen Ford said. “I want to thank those protesters over there on the corner for showing that we’re making change.”
After the press conference, activists were seen talking to counter protestors who’s size had diminished by then. The exchange was peaceful.
It wasn’t until about an hour into the press conference that Arata finally spoke.
She began by sharing that she was initially an outsider when she moved to San Luis Obispo at 16-years-old. Arata said that while growing up as a constant outsider, she felt it was critical to be inclusive and to show love and hospitality to all people.
“My passion, my goal and my energy is directed towards enacting change,” Arata said. “I want to be able to provide the courage to let people flourish, to take down these systems that are failing every marginalized community.”
As Arata’s story has received national attention, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles Chapter Co-Founder Melina Abdullah came with protestors from the Los Angeles area as well.
“I want to be very clear that this struggle that we are engaged in, this struggle that Tianna is forging here in San Luis Obispo is not a theoretical struggle,” Abdullah said. “This is a struggle about real lives, about real people.”
Both Police Chief Cantrell and San Luis Obispo City Manager Derek Johnson said they were satisfied with the peaceful nature of the press conference and rally.
“I just want to just express today that the city of San Luis Obispo we fully support the principals of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Johnson said. “We share the objectives of ending systemic racism and we are working on continuing the support and improve our public safety in other city institutions, and we look forward to the day when we can have a community that San Luis Obispo can be recognized for our work for proving the sense of belonging for everyone.”
The “Embracing the Joy” rally followed the press conference with live music and more speakers, concluding the overall peaceful event.