Petition Backing Charged California BLM Leader, Who Faces Years in Jail, Passes 50,000 Signatures

A petition demanding that charges that could see a 20-year-old Black Lives Matter organizer face years in prison not be pursued has garnered nearly 50,000 signatures.

Activist Tianna Arata was arrested on July 21 by the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) in California after police said a protest she organized turned violent.

In a statement released following Arata's arrest, the department said SLOPD Police Chief Deanna Cantrell had spoken with Arata ahead of the rally and had been assured that the protest would be peaceful.

However, SLOPD said the protest, which grew to a demonstration involving approximately 300 people, got out of hand when demonstrators marched onto a highway and, at one point, launched an assault on a passenger vehicle, despite a 4-year-old child being inside.

It is unclear what led up to the incident, but SLOPD said protesters damaged the hood of the vehicle and smashed the rear window, causing glass to shatter on the 4-year-old, who was sitting in the back seat.

According to police, protesters also targeted at least two other vehicles upon exiting the highway, with some demonstrators seen chasing down and throwing objects at one car.

The protest, police said, "resulted in significant public safety risks for protesters and community members."

"The City supports peaceful protests and the expression of free speech, but actions that put the safety of the public at risk cannot be tolerated and detract from the ability for voices to be heard at this important time," they said.

Once protesters dispersed from the demonstration, Arata, police said, was arrested on charges of "Participation in a Riot...Unlawful Assembly...Conspiracy...Unlawful Imprisonment...and Resisting Arrest."

Another demonstrator was also taken into custody, police said, after they assaulted an officer during Arata's arrest, with the officer suffering minor injuries.

While police have defended Arata's arrest, protesters have questioned why the BLM organizer was specifically targeted by authorities and held responsible for the actions of all demonstrators present that day.

Arata, they say, could now be facing up to 15 years in prison if charges against her are pursued for simply organizing what she had hoped would be a "peaceful protest."four felony counts of false imprisonment and one count of felony conspiracy, plus three misdemeanors."

According to local news outlet The Tribune, police have asked District Attorney Dan Dow to file eight charges against Arata, including four felony counts of false imprisonment, one count of felony conspiracy and three misdemeanors. A tentative arraignment date has been set for September.

Sharing video of Arata's arrest, in which several officers can be seen forcing the 20-year-old into a police vehicle as protesters call out that she is "not resisting" arrest and demand that officers "get off of her," one woman claiming to be the organizer's best friend accused police of having "kidnapped" Arata off the street and failing to read out her Miranda rights.

Newsweek has contacted Dow's office for comment.

In a series of tweets, the woman, identified only by her first name, Mel, wrote that her friend was being charged "for peacefully protesting alongside myself and our community."

"There was no riot it was a beautiful peaceful protest filled with Black and Brown joy," Mel, who Newsweek has contacted for comment, wrote.

Claiming to have been a witness to the arrest, which she said took place in front of Arata's mother, Mel said: "The way the police waited till we were alone with a few friends and rushed and took my best friend in front of my eyes, in front of her mother it...was traumatizing."

"They used excessive force Tianna could barely keep up with the 6 grown men forcing her to the car," she said.

Following the arrest, Mel wrote that she feels "traumatized" by the incident.

"Even hearing loud noises triggers me. Now imagine how she feels. Her life and future is on the line," she said of Arata. "She dreams big and has plans for her future. Do not let this small town take that away from her. Tianna is the sweetest, most passionate, and loving person I [know]."

As of Monday morning, more than 53,000 people had signed a petition on Change.org calling Arata's arrest and charges "unjust" and demanding that Dow drop the case.

"Our community should come together to support her and her family. Protect our young black lives movement leaders right to protest and demand that the district attorney not pursue any charges against Tianna Arata," the petition states. " Our young black leaders deserve to be heard, seen, and supported," it says.

The Tribune's editorial board also recently called on Dow's office to drop the case against Arata.

"Asking the District Attorney's Office to come down so hard on Tianna Arata smacks of vindictiveness and is only going to further divide our community," the editorial board wrote.

"If police wanted to teach a lesson to civil rights protesters who blocked Highway 101, they should consider it mission accomplished. They have already made a sufficient example of Arata...by arresting her in a public show of authority and accusing her of a variety of crimes," they wrote. "Now, they're just piling on, asking for four felony counts of false imprisonment and one count of felony conspiracy, plus three misdemeanors."

"Charging Arata with serious felonies for what is essentially an act of civil disobedience is absurd, especially in a progressive city that stresses tolerance, sensitivity and diversity," the editorial board said.

As the case plays out, a GoFundMe account has seen more than $30,900 raised to help Arata pay legal fees.

"Tianna has been set up by the justice system. Our system has failed once again," the GoFundMe page states. "These 5 charges can ruin her life!"

"Please help out so that we don't fail Tianna," it states. "She is still young and has a great future ahead of her. Don't let these police officers take away her future."

BLM
Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles supporters protest outside the Unified School District headquarters calling on the board of education to defund school police on June 23, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Protesters are calling for a case against a California BLM protest organizer to be dropped. Mario Tama/Getty