High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

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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.

Miriam Dance singing during the protest

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. 
Students gathered outside SBUSD building

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.

SBPD Chief Lori Luhnow seen kneeling during the protest

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.

Demonstrators taking a knee near the entrance of Stearn's Wharf on Saturday (Photo: Jorge Herrera)

[Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect the decision made by the Goleta City Council].

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sbdude Jun 10, 2020 10:15 AM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

The school district spends $$$$ on outside consultants. It's not only Just Communities. Innovate Ed, LincSpring, West Ed, and many others get their slice of the pie. Meanwhile, the district has been running a deficit for many years now. Complete lack of oversight by the board as district management staff create program after program after program with consultants in tow.

Huge budget cuts are coming, as the state has to swing the axe next year. If the cuts hurt kids and the consultants stay on, I say we fire the board and get some people in there that know how to run an organization.

bigone Jun 10, 2020 12:16 AM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

I wonder how many of these kids have ever walked through Watts, Compton, Harlem, Chicago, or Detroit at night? That might give them another perspective. I grew up in Baldwin Hills in the 60s before things changed. Reminds me of the song from the Abecedarians, a New Wave group from Long Beach in the 80s, with their song "Where Whitey Ain't Allowed."

Roger Jun 10, 2020 08:26 AM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

I walked through Gary, Indiana one night on a dare and cold hard cash I just got called "Crazy white boy" and a few other words It's that way in all neighborhoods in places like where I'm from though now my old hood is mixed that is the way it should be we all belong here or we would not be...

Think Jun 09, 2020 02:43 PM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

SBUSD and Fran Wageneck have already cut funding to special education, while non-profits like Just Communities are taking money away from the school budget. That’s wrong! Students with disabilities and ESL students need staff who work with them on a daily basis to improve their lives. San Marcos High School still hasn’t restored their full time Behavior Therapist position, that supports emotionally disturbed and ESL students. The “forced transfer” harassment technique to reduce staffing of special education paraeducators continues at SBUSD as well. Meanwhile, businesses and nonprofits like Just Communities take money away from schools. A true Non-profit raises its own money, it doesn’t take money away from the kids who need services no matter what their message is. Even if the messages are good, stop taking away funding from students in need, in the name of equity. That’s UNETHICAL. SBUSD has been playing games with the special education budget for decades. Fran needs to give the money back to the the disabled and ESL students who need services.

lovesbalot Jun 09, 2020 02:55 PM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

So true. No wonder over half the students can't read at grade level. Many can't read well enough to take the A-G and be able to go to a 4year college. Instead many drop out , have truancy issues and wind up going from the educational system to the juvenile justice system. We need to spend monies on reducing class sizes and being in compliance with special ed laws that demand appropriate intervention. Matsuoka's reign really hurt special ed. Now Jarrod Schwartz is going to steal what little LCAP money is left for more of his angry seminars , holding hands , crying and reliving trauma with Jarrod the rich white guy who will profit from your tears and pain instead of learning to read and think critically and go to a 4 year college.

lovesbalot Jun 09, 2020 02:40 PM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

If we want to end the school to prison pipeline the district must focus on literacy by doing early assessments in pre k and appropriate interventions and use an approach to reading that is explicit. The district currently uses balanced literacy which only works for some students . The district must get rid of balanced literacy program. Over half of our students are not reading at grade level and all those with learning differences are behind. The district must offer one on one interventions like the private schools do. Literacy is a human right. Also JC has been paid by district for over 10 years and the achievenment gap is stubbornly here. JC model with one well paid white guy at the top and a lot of latinex volunteers and staff that is paid modestly. JC also had no other competitive bids and just got the contract . I am glad Jarrod is finally acknowledging literacy is key to disrupting the school to prison pipeline. Follow the monies ... this is all about JC growing and taking more money from our schools.

a-1591731409 Jun 09, 2020 12:36 PM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

It would be nice if all of our HS seniors were required to spend three months interning with MLK and/or BLM groups is some of the cities that could really use their help. These groups in cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Detroit, etc. would readily welcome their young minds, hearts, and dedication. When I was around 20 years old I spent four months working in various small towns around Georgia....it was a real eye opener. Nothing like first-hand experience.....life-changing in my case.

SoapBox Jun 09, 2020 08:43 AM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

It's great to see this support throughout our community including our youth, elected and appointed leaders and our citizenry. To anyone outside of our lovely community who may happen upon this story: please know that the reporting speaks for itself. The subsequent comments and reactions you see above and below do not reflect the prevailing sentiments of our peaceful and welcoming town. They are the insistent grumblings of a small cadre bent on manipulating the tone of the overall commentary by silencing other more reasonable comments.

oops Jun 09, 2020 07:55 AM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

I can't believe SB Police Chief took a knee - how humiliating! She gains nothing back for it other than being submissive. SB Police have nothing to apologize for. I felt sorry for them having to protect the protesters while the protestors were chanting anti- police slogans at them and pointing in their direction. What a disgraceful event in our community

biguglystick Jun 10, 2020 06:47 PM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

OOPS, it was the RIGHT thing for the police to do, to take a knee. It's about time for POLICE REFORM. Total and complete police reform. They work for US. She gains the respect of the community for doing the right thing. No humiliation at all in that. It is the right of the people to police the police. Just because SB police haven't killed anyone lately in a chokehold doesn't mean there aren't oversights and a bunch of things they could improve upon in how they treat the community that pays their salary.

SoapBox Jun 09, 2020 09:51 AM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

Just to be clear. It was not a prayer (as if that makes it more palatable to anyone). It was a show of solidarity with BLM, continuing the gesture of kneeling during the national anthem in respect to the flag and the values and freedoms it represents, while recognizing that they are not available equally to all Americans. I applaud them.

haskelslocal Jun 09, 2020 07:52 AM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

Vote getting is a customer acquisition cost in the search for new business. Once a customer, people tend to stay. There are very few older votes that are both available and inexpensive. So in order to grow, you have to spend significant upfront dollars to capture new interest. Customers are typically new to the product. In the past, political groups would target the working class and offer things that resonate. (Pensions, work hours, child care, etc.) However, because this group has become so splintered, there are few demands that can be met that agree with the largest portions of that group. In many ways, there's not even a working class group anymore. So if you can't offer job related benefits, where do you go? Closer to the heart with Social Justice. Now it's been made personal. We all see ourselves as individuals, but we circulate with like minded others under the flag of a mutual cause. What's been recognized is the acquisition costs are much less when promising social justice then when searching for the scarce working class participant. Turns out, what they're offering is the obvious. 99.9% of the population wants good and happy people. So to stimulate action, political groups attach to emotional triggers that are super hot and easy to frustrate newcomers. You first must Wack the Hive and then, when they're not looking, offer that same hive back to them. Ever watch a commercial that first makes you sad and depressed, and then offers the solution? Same thing. So what we're seeing is a political party in it's attempt to corral a disenfranchised younger generation that was left out of the wealth transfer. As the politicians in city administration are collecting their $150k per year and have promised themselves matching pensions, the youth of today are being promised... Social Equity.

mp805 Jun 08, 2020 07:38 PM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

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!"........................................ Can't wait to hear the details on what this entails. Does anyone have the list of ALL the BLM demands?

a-1591673034 Jun 08, 2020 08:23 PM
High School Students Organize Rally Against Police Brutality and Racial Injustice

"The local Black Lives Matter chapter published their demands to their Facebook Page asking for the protection and preservation of Black landmarks, transparency and accountability from local law enforcement, recognition of the Juneteenth commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation, and that the City Council adopts a resolution condemning police brutality and declares racism a public health emergency" [from the edhat article linked above]

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