Tianna Arata, a Black Lives Matter organizer from San Luis Obispo, CA, is now facing four felony charges and possibly time behind bars, but outraged supporters say police have no basis for singling her out among the 300 other attendees.
Arata spearheaded a protest in SLO on July 21, which was completely peaceful except for a pro-police aggressor who intentionally drove their vehicle into the crowd of protesters. In one of the first interviews since her release, Arata and her attorney Curtis Briggs spoke to Billboard about her arrest and the support she received from celebrities like T.I. and Tiny, Trae tha Truth, Taraji P. Henson, and more.
“I’m out here advocating for people who don’t have the ability to protest, who are too busy trying to work two jobs and provide for their kids,” Arata said. Police charged her with vandalism, inciting a riot and felony criminal counts, claiming protesters attacked and damaged several vehicles. Still, witness accounts and cellphone footage prove that the activists were the targets of multiple vehicles attempting to drive through the crowd.
Arata’s attorney says police are trying to discredit the activist for speaking out against systemic racism in the small central California community. San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell reportedly asked the District Attorney to charge Arata with four felony counts of false imprisonment and felony conspiracy, and three misdemeanor accounts of resisting peace officers, starting a riot and unlawful assembly. The charges stem from two separate incidents during the three-hour march; the first was when protestors walked onto the 101 Freeway, stopping traffic. The second was when a car attempted to drive through a group of protestors that included Arata. Police say they obtained a 50-second video that shows Arata hitting the car with a flag as it accelerated and drove into her and others. Hundreds of thousands of people have spoken out in support of Arata and the severity of her charges.
“The police made a decision to arrest her and get her off the street because she was effective at what she was doing,” said Briggs. The lawyer accuses police of making up charges once Arata was already in custody. “Our investigation has already obtained witnesses to suggest that the police have been fabricating these charges, fabricating the vandalism and fabricating victims. This may be one of the few protests in the nation where the organizers were fully cooperative and communicative with the police chief in real-time. But because the police chief didn’t like the message and that [Arata] was protesting and demonstrating against local police, she decided to retaliate.”
Arata, born and raised in Portland, Oregon, started protesting in 2014 following the death of Michael Brown, at just 14-years-old. She says it was “culture shock” when her family moved her to SLO when she was 16. San Luis Obispo has a 2% Black population. Although Portland is also predominately white, it has a 6.3% Black population, with more than two-thirds of all Black residents of Oregon living in the city. The day before the protest, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson remarked that he had never seen any indication of systemic racism in SLO County. “That hit all of us incredibly hard,” Arata said. “That’s our local law enforcement who is supposed to be there to protect us and serve us, and he’s clearly showing blatant prejudice. He also said the only prejudice that he’s ever experienced is when he’s wearing a uniform. First off, I don’t believe that. And secondly, you get to take off your uniform; you have chosen to play that role.”
As far as all the support she’s received, “I just want to say I’m so grateful that hundreds of thousands of people have signed my petition,” Arata said. “I was struggling to even try and get 10,000 signatures a couple of days ago, and now a lot of musicians and Black figures in the media have been reaching out. Trae the Truth told me he was grateful for the work I was doing and being so adamant in letting me know, ‘We have your back. We’re fighting for you'”
Arata’s Change.org petition has almost 400,000 signatures demanding the DA drops all charges against her. District Attorney Dan Dow said his office is reviewing the police department’s recommendations for charges. Still, it’s “likely that additional investigation will be necessary before making a criminal filing decision” and that he’s “in communication with Ms. Arata’s defense counsel and will consider any evidence or information provided by her counsel in conjunction with the review.”