As the fall semester draws closer, most 20-year-olds are worrying about remote classes and staying at home with their families. But for activist Tianna Arata, her very freedom is at stake.
Arata is an activist and organizer in San Luis Obispo, Calif., a small college town on the Central Coast. In July, she organized a Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality. About 300 people attended, and the five-hour long protest stopped traffic on a nearby highway for almost an hour.
Though Arata and fellow organizers vowed to keep the demonstration peaceful, eyewitnesses report that motorists attempted to drive into the crowd of marchers, who then smashed the rear window of a vehicle, sending glass onto a child in the backseat.
At the end of the protest, Arata was dragged into a police car and forcibly arrested. Now, she faces several years in jail for vandalism she had no hand in and no knowledge of. Her only “crime” was organizing a peaceful protest.
The local police department has asked District Attorney Dan Dow to file eight charges against Arata—five felonies (four counts of false imprisonment, and one count of conspiracy) and three misdemeanors (resisting or obstructing a peace officer, inciting a riot and unlawful assembly).
If convicted, she could face several years in jail, although the maximum sentence won’t be set until the district attorney formally brings charges against her.
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Arata and another arrested protester, Elias Bautista, are scheduled to appear in court on September 3. But local activists aren’t waiting until then to seek justice for Arata.
On Monday, #freetianna started trending on Twitter after one of Arata’s friends posted the video of her arrest. A Change.org petition calling for the district attorney to dismiss the charges has been signed by almost 400,000 people, as of Thursday afternoon. And a GoFundMe has raised over $50,000 for her legal fees.
Coming just weeks after a Black teen was incarcerated for not completing her virtual schoolwork, Arata’s arrest is part of a troubling pattern. Young Black activists, especially Black women, are often erased from the history of social movements, and face harsher backlash than other organizers.
It is essential that we fight to protect the right to organize peaceful protests. And it’s not enough to just participate in a single Black Lives Matter march or post a black square on your Instagram. Now is the time for all of us to mobilize for lasting change, continue fighting for justice and stand up for the rights of the activists, like Arata, who are risking their freedom for the promise of a better future.
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