Kate Inman is a political science sophomore and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
Tianna Arata, a prominent Black Lives Matter protest organizer in San Luis Obispo, has shaken up people all across the country for her vocal activism and powerful demonstrations.
The San Luis Obispo community has rallied around Arata and the Black Lives Matter movement, yet the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) and District Attorney’s Office have only fueled systemic racism through the arrest and charging of Arata.
Following a Black Lives Matter protest on July 21, Arata was arrested as the group of demonstrators were packing up to leave. The protest entered Highway 101 and stopped traffic in both directions at the Osos Street highway ramps. While the police were made aware of the protests, some protesters allegedly damaged a car on the freeway.
Rather than intervening to stop the protest, SLOPD waited until the protest had dissolved to arrest Arata. Claiming to prevent the inciting of a riot, the police department waited until Arata was outnumbered by the fifteen police cars that arrived on the scene to arrest her. Arata was arrested on charges of participation in a riot, unlawful assembly, conspiracy, unlawful imprisonment and resisting arrest.
The impending charges led to more days of protests — this time, calling for the charges against Arata to be dropped. Public outrage towards the announcement of the recommended charges garnered national attention for the injustice of Arata’s charges that would put her in prison for the next fifteen years.
In support of Arata, a Change.org petition went viral calling for District Attorney Dan Dow and the District Attorney’s office to drop the charges. More than 552,500 individuals signed the petition and residents of San Luis Obispo brought boxes of the petition’s signatures to the District Attorney’s Office on Sept. 2. While the petition itself is not legally binding, the attention and traction of Arata’s story is undeniably an instance of injustice that must be rectified.
In a powerful statement released by the NAACP, they wrote, “Through press releases, the SLO PD confirmed that the police timing and actions to arrest Ms. Arata, late in the day with fewer demonstrators around, was calculated and executed according to a preconceived plan.”
From Arata’s arrest to the filing of her charges, it is apparent that the SLOPD and the DA are blinded to the troubling effects of their actions.
To the dismay of many SLO residents and people across the country, the District Attorney officially filed charges against Arata on Sept. 2 with thirteen misdemeanors. In a statement by the District Attorney’s Office, Dow said that Arata “violated the law by depriving other individuals in our community of their right to enjoy liberty.”
The District Attorney’s office claims to not be swayed by political sentiment and public opinion in the filing of these charges. Sticking solely to the letter of law is respectable — to the degree that an arbitrator of the law’s actions should be impartial. However, the District Attorney’s Office is anything but apolitical.
While the District Attorney’s Office was considering what to officially charge Arata with, they faced immense public pressure. The spectrum of voices across the SLO community ranged from conservatives calling for life imprisonment to others believing she shouldn’t be charged at all as no other white protestors were arrested. Despite the rally cries from across the nation, Dow has made it blatantly obvious who he is siding with in light of the charges filed.
The District Attorney has failed to remain impartial in the charging of Arata. He is using this as another opportunity to hinder the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole in SLO County. The very nature of the abundance of charges Arata is facing is politically motivated to paint a violent picture and to portray false undertones in the movement.
Dow’s political sentiment has been characterized by his address in a local conservative Facebook group, his rejection of the Change.org petition and history of politically charged actions.
As the District Attorney, any comment and justification of the filing of charges should be made known publicly to all. However, Dow sought out a different platform to explain the reasoning behind the official charges. On a right-wing private Facebook group, Protect Paso, of self-proclaimed patriots, Dow defended himself and the charges by placing blame on the state government for preventing felony charges from being filed.
Justifying the misdemeanors would provide substantive jail time for Arata, the true intentions of Dow and the DA’s Office were prominent. Charging Arata encroaches on her freedom in retaliation for her leadership in fighting against the very injustices in which the DA stands for.
Dow’s words do not fall onto deaf ears and neither does the political sentiment attached to his defense. Scapegoating California’s state legislatures as too “lax on crime,” Dow passes the blame onto liberal legislatures for failing to charge Arata with the felony charges recommended. While The San Luis Obispo Tribune reached out to the district attorney for an opinion piece on his decision, Dow declined. It is hard to rectify his claim that his decline was “due to a lack of bandwidth and time to devote to it” in light of the lengthy statement published privately. As a public official, Dow failed to communicate with all San Luis Obispo residents and chose to only speak with his base.
When addressing Arata’s supporters and the “Free Tiana” movement, Dow took a different tone — one that proudly adheres to the letter of the law. Upon the arrival of printed petition signatures calling for Arata’s charges to be dropped, the District Attorney’s Office rejected the petition. In a written statement on their rejection of the petition, Dow explained that he would not forsake the liberty of San Luis Obispo residents by dropping Arata’s charges.
A spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office said it will not consider the petitions, but it will “follow the law without regard for political pressure or political sentiment,” according to The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Claiming to be apolitical, this argument puts forth the idea that SLO law enforcement are fully removed from public opinion.
Yet, it is hard to rectify the position the DA takes when at the same time Dow feels personally responsible to only the members of the “Protect Paso” Facebook group. These conflicting messages from our District Attorney further the idea that he is swayed by public opinion, as an elected official after all.
After rejecting the dozens of boxes filled with signatures to drop Arata’s charges, the DA’s office claimed to be impartial and unresponsive to public opinion. However, this claim is troubling as Dow goes on in his press releases. When explaining the DA’s actions, Dow states that he cannot forsake the liberty of SLO residents who were forced to endure the protest’s violation of noise ordinances and intrusion on their day to day lives.
Dow may preach that such petitions are unethical to hamper the right to protest racial injustices, but using an argument cemented in preserving liberty becomes unfounded and downright hypocritical.
Dow responded to the motorcyclist who drove through a group of Black Lives Matter protestors with less charges. David Medzyk, 59, was charged with one misdemeanor count, which would only carry a maximum penalty of six months in County Jail and a $1,000 fine.
The discrepancies in behavior ranging from the charging of Arata and Medzyk to the preferential treatment to Dow’s base, the District Attorney has failed to approach Arata’s case in a nonpartisan way.