Protesters in SLO ask DA to drop charges against Tianna Arata
–Some 800 peaceful demonstrators crowded several blocked-off streets in downtown San Luis Obispo on Tuesday morning.
The large “Free Tiana Coalition” protest focused on the proposed charges against 20-year-old activist Tianna Arata, who was arrested during a protest last month in San Luis Obispo.
The demonstration on the courthouse steps on Tuesday included dozens of colorful signs reading, “Free Tianna” and “Drop The Charges.” A sound system amplified the speeches across Monterey Street. A woman who identified herself as a leader of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles said at least one bus filled with supporters left Los Angeles at 3 a.m. to attend the demonstration.
Ten speakers spoke at the demonstration. Most urged San Luis Obispo District Attorney Dan Dow to drop charges against Arata. The first speaker was one of Arata’s attorney, Curtis Briggs. He gave three reasons for Tuesday’s demonstrations. First, to ask the district attorney to drop all charges against Arata. Second, to ask for the termination of San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell. Third, he’s asking people to be ready to serve as jurors if the case goes to trial.
Arata’s mother, Michelle Arata, also spoke. She said that the debate is a human rights issue, not political. “My daughter’s life is at stake here,” she said. “Don’t let them take her from me. We need her, and we need all of you.”
After her mom addressed the crowd, Tianna Arata herself spoke. She talked about attending ten different schools from kindergarten until she graduated from the Grizzly Academy. She said she always felt like an outsider. “It became critical to integrate every type of person, especially outcasts,” she said. “At 14, I attended my first protest, following the death of Michael Brown. I hope to be a role model to speak for those who don’t have a voice.”
MindBody founder Rick Stollmeyer also spoke and encouraged the crowds. He said protest represents the principles of freedom of speech, equality in speech, and diversity.
Arata’s July 21 arrest stems from when she allegedly led protesters onto Highway 101, and allegedly “putting in jeopardy the safety of protesters, motorists, and law enforcement and blocked all lanes in both directions for nearly an hour,” according to the city. While on the freeway, protesters reportedly damaged the hood of a passenger vehicle and smashed the rear window where a 4-year-old child was in the back seat.
After that protest, San Luis Obispo Police charged her with multiple offenses, including several felonies. Protester Elias Bautista, 23, was also arrested on charges related to that incident. During Arata’s arrest, the San Luis Obispo Police Department says one of its officers was allegedly assaulted by Bautista.
The district attorney has yet to decide which charges, if any, his department will pursue. Arata’s next court hearing is set for Sept. 3.
About a block away from the demonstration, a smaller counter-demonstration was held at the corner of Monterey and Osos. The counter-demonstration was held to show support for District Attorney Dow. Chris Arend of Paso Robles said, “I’m down here to support Dan Dow, law and order, and freedom of speech.” Many in that group carried American flags.
Both demonstrations Tuesday ended peacefully.