High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice
By Lauren Bray, edhat staff
Local high school students organized a rally and march against police brutality with thousands of attendees to deliver a set of demands to the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
The rally began Sunday at 12:30 p.m. near the entrance to Stearn's Wharf where thousands of people gathered in a circle to listen to speakers. The majority who spoke were teenagers of color from local high schools and colleges. They discussed their experiences of racism in and outside of the classroom, and their hope for a future of equality.
San Marcos High School student Shakir Ahmad helped organize the event and asked the crowd, "how many black brothers and sisters needed to be killed to bring us all together? Too many."
Local singer Miriam Dance sang several songs to the crowd including her recently released song "Rise Up! Tribe Up!" as well as "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the Black National Anthem.
The leaders of the local Black Lives Matter chapter, Krystle Farmer Sieghart and Simone Ruskamp, were also in attendance and voiced their support for the student-led event.
"Remember when you all leave here today, that they did this," Sieghart said pointing to the students. "They are begging us to do better and we are failing them over and over and over again."
Ruskamp spoke directly to the Santa Barbara Police officers in the crowd. "There are some police who have goodness in their hearts," she said referencing the good officers. "Right now would be a hell of a time to get those good cops to say something about their brethren," she said.
Several speakers reminded protestors that more needs to be done besides showing up for rallies and holding a sign. "Let your voice be heard so our kids can live in a better future. This is the time for change, we want justice," said Ahmad.
Demands for the School District
The students then led several thousand people on a march down State Street to the steps of the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) building at 720 Santa Barbara Street. Ahmad listed six demands for SBUSD that include:
- Adopt a resolution declaring racism a public health emergency and allocate resources to implement restorative justice practices to deal with hate crimes
- Allocate funds to rehabilitation and mental health services for at-risk youth as an alternative to probation and/or juvenile hall
- Implement equitable hiring practices and recruit culturally competent teaches or color to teach ethnic studies courses
- Publicly condemn the school to prison pipeline
- Ethnic Studies classes with culturally relevant curriculum
- Defund any contracts with Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office and Santa Barbara Police Department.
Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Frann Wageneck along with some high school principals met the protestors outside the building and accepted their demands. Wageneck announced she would deliver the demands to the Superintendent that evening and encouraged students to continue engaging with the school board.
On Friday, SBUSD announced their commitment to expanding cultural literacy and combating racism including implicit bias training, ethnic studies course graduation requirement, a plan for multilingual pathways, partnership with Just Communities, and will bring forth a board resolution in response to recent racial violence at their School Board meeting on Tuesday, June 9.
"We care deeply about our staff and families and are committed to being part of the solution in combating the small-mindedness and ignorance that stand at the center of racism," the announcement read.
Santa Barbara Police Department Chief Takes a Knee
Next, the students led demonstrators to the steps of the Santa Barbara Police Department at 215 E. Figueroa Street, hoping for a different outcome from the previous weekend's protest where officers blocked off the street with an armored vehicle and wore riot gear.
SBPD and its Chief Lori Luhnow were making efforts to correct this error by stationing officers at intersections for traffic control and positioning a few within the protest who were seen marching and participating in chants.
This time Chief Luhnow met the protest organizers at the steps of the department with several officers in their uniforms, minus the helmets, shields, and batons. Luhnow listened to the same demands from Black Lives Matter SB while she and some of the officers took a knee. The crowd continued to chant "take a knee," four volunteer police chaplains declined.
Mayor Cathy Murillo who was also criticized last weekend for not taking a knee and spoke over protest leaders who asked for her to listen was also seen marching with the crowd and taking a knee alongside demonstrators.
Chief Luhnow stated the department will develop a citizen review board and restorative practices as well as banning carotid restraints from police policy.
Ahead of the protest, the Santa Barbara Police Officer's Association released a statement on Friday acknowledging systemic biases must end and law enforcement officers are held to a higher standard and must hold one another accountable. The statement continued to explain that officers were recently in Los Angeles and encountered some violence, which is why they were wearing riot gear as a precaution, and they hope everyone discourages criminal behavior.
Critics were quick to point out the statement did not apologize for the threatening presence or for the officer's refusals to take a knee in solidarity. Additionally, it's unclear if a riot has ever taken place within city limits in Santa Barbara's history.
City Councils to Review Demands
On Friday, Mayor Murillo posted a video on her Twitter page stating, "I wholeheartedly agree with the Black Lives Matter demands in aftermath of the brutal murder of George Floyd. The Santa Barbara City Council will vote on Tuesday to move forward all of the BLM demands. We need change. We need justice. Let's create a better world!"
The Goleta City Council held a special virtual meeting and unanimously approved a resolution condemning police brutality and declaring racism a public health emergency on Monday. Sixty-eight people sent in public comments to the City Clerk’s office, two people called in and spoke, and 12 people opted to have their comments read into the record during the City Council meeting.
“Today’s meeting was an important first step in addressing our current law enforcement challenges, but this resolution is only a first step. Our Council remains committed to assuring that all residents receive fair and equitable treatment, that police receive the proper training and equipment, and that all Sheriff personnel are held accountable for their policies and practices,” said Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown joined the meeting to answer questions. “Our organization doesn’t always get things right, but we strive to treat people the right way. We operate transparently, hold ourselves accountable, and we continuously seek to improve," he said.
Additional rallies have been held throughout the county in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Over a thousand people joined another protest on Saturday at De La Guerra Plaza before marching down State Street. Mayor Cathy Murillo, Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow, and Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Eric Nickel were alongside protestors and joined demonstrators by taking a knee near the entrance to Stearn's Wharf.
Santa Barbara County Public Defenders held a protest at the courthouse on Monday calling for an equitable justice system. Several hundred people attended as public defenders stated white people receive better treatment in the criminal justice system than people of color.
The Public Defenders will bring their criminal justice overhaul demands to the Board of Supervisors meeting on Thursday morning.
[Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect the decision made by the Goleta City Council].