A 20-year-old Black Lives Matter protest organizer named Tianna Arata was arrested by San Louis Obispo police last month and is now facing eight charges — five of them felonies, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reports. The hashtag #FREETIANNA was trending early Monday morning (Aug. 10), as supporters insist that the district attorney drop the harsh charges against the young protester. A Change.org petition has also been launched to make those demands.
“Tianna’s arrest and charges were unjust,” the petition reads. “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. Our young black leaders deserve to be heard, seen, and supported.”
A press release from the San Louis Obispo Police Department states that the protest, which was organized by Arata, began at Mitchell Park and continued through the city’s downtown area. At one point, a group of protesters blocked Highway 101 and confrontations with drivers ensued.
“The protesters entered Highway 101, putting in jeopardy the safety of protesters, motorists, and law enforcement and blocked all lanes in both directions for nearly an hour,” the police department’s press release reads. The statement alleges that drivers were threatened by protesters during the demonstration.
“While on the freeway protesters damaged the hood of a passenger vehicle and smashed the rear window where a 4 year-old child was in the back seat and had glass shattered on him,” it reads.
“Protesters stopped and surrounded a vehicle at Monterey and California before moving toward downtown and returning to Mitchell Park. Some individuals were also observed chasing down and throwing objects at a vehicle,” it continues.
However, there are eye-witness accounts and video evidence of some drivers intentionally try to hit protesters with their cars. Police have not yet announced if any legal action will be taken against the motorists.
The police department’s statement adds that Arata had spoken with Police Chief Deanna Cantrell prior to the event to ensure that the protest would be peaceful. The Change.org petition notes that Arata has led several peaceful protests over the past few months.
Arata was arrested on the night of the protest and charged with participation in a riot, unlawful assembly, conspiracy, unlawful imprisonment and resisting arrest. On Aug. 6, the police department began looking into prosecutors charging her with five felonies and three misdemeanors. Arata’s very public arrest, which was circulated on Instagram, is nothing more than a political stunt designed to show a message to activists, a local criminal defense attorney told the Tribune.
“It seems like it’s primarily a political message,” Jeff Stein told the outlet. “As in, if you do this activity, there will be grief associated with it.”
See a video of Arata’s arrest below and sign the petition to have her charges dropped here.