A petition calling for charges against 20-year-old Black Lives Matter organizer Tianna Arata to be dropped has gained nearly 120,000 signatures. Arata organized a protest last month in California that was intended to be peaceful but took a violent turn. Authorities held the activist legally responsible for the unrest.
The San Luis Obispo Police Department arrested Arata on July 21 after the demonstration she organized grew violent. The police department said Arata had spoken to Chief Deanna Cantrell beforehand and promised the protest would be peaceful.
More than 300 people showed up to the protest, which began at Mitchell Park and continued through downtown San Luis Obispo. Later, demonstrators stormed California’s Highway 101 and attacked a passenger vehicle carrying a child.
“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,” read a press release from the police department.
After the violence subsided, Arata was arrested and charged with participation in a riot, unlawful assembly, conspiracy, unlawful imprisonment, and resisting arrest. Other demonstrators have questioned why Arata was held solely responsible for the actions of hundreds of protesters.
She faces up to 15 years of prison time for the charges.
On social media, a friend of Arata challenged the narrative that the demonstration was violent, saying the young activist was “peacefully protesting alongside myself and our community.”
“There was no riot it was a beautiful peaceful protest filled with Black and Brown joy,” she wrote on Twitter.
She called Arata’s arrest “traumatizing” and said six officers used excessive force to her into the squad car while she was not resisting.
The editorial board of San Luis Obispo’s The Tribune newspaper has also spoken out in support of Arata saying, “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 board said.
The hashtag #FREETIANA trended Monday morning alongside a Change.org petition that has gained nearly 120,000 signatures.