Pictured: Students at a Black Lives Matter protest in Westlake Village on May 30, 2020. Photo by Indivisible: Conejo, used with permission.
by Kimberly Rivers
Since Friday, May 29, residents of Oxnard, Ventura, Ojai, Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks have stood on street corners, walked, carried signs and used their voices to speak out against police violence as exhibited in the killing of George Floyd by a uniformed police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25.
A video shows the police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he is pinned on the ground pleading for his life repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” Several police officers stood silently nearby. The officer was arrested a few days after Floyd died. The delay led to an outcry that has erupted into a global movement of protests and actions, some turning violent and including looting, mostly in larger cities, which seem to be instigated by individuals from out of town or otherwise not part of the original protest.
Los Angeles County declared a curfew on Sunday, May 31 from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and a related alert was received by residents of Ventura County creating confusion. But as of press deadline no curfew had ever been ordered in Ventura County related to recent protests or civil unrest.
People gathered in Moorpark for a peaceful protest on Friday, May 29, at the corner of Los Angeles Avenue and Spring Street. A group gathered in Libbey Park in Ojai on Sunday, May 31, and marched to the Ojai Police Station, demanding that officers respond to the crowd. Some wanted the officers to “take a knee” or make a statement. Protestors kneeled in the street in front of the police station, with no response from officers.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department (VCSD) confirmed Tuesday morning that there have been no reports of looting or other violence connected to protests in Ventura County.
“There have been numerous online posts threatening to loot and/or riot in VC communities,” said Captain Eric Buschow, with media relations for the VCSD, responding via email to the VCReporter. “We are receiving reports from concerned residents about those threats in many cases, and our investigators are uncovering a lot of online threats as well.”
ONLINE UPDATE: After press deadline on Wednesday, June 3 a protest and march in downtown Oxnard moved from Plaza Park to the Third Street overpass and then to the Oxnard Police Station. Some protestors taunted officers who were watching the crowd from the stations secured parking lot. Following the community action and later that night a group gathered at Plaza Park with several vehicles driving on the grass. Oxnard Police monitored the situation but there were no reports of violence.
There have been at least two reports of incidents directed at protestors in Thousand Oaks.
The first involved a female driver of a car passing protestors. The driver rolled down her window and sprayed mace or pepper spray on the protestors. One person, Ava Riggio, 16, of Thousand Oaks, was directly in the line of the spray. Protestors captured a video of the incident, showing the car in the road, the protestors on the curb and the driver rolling down the window and spraying into the crowd a few feet away. A photograph of the license plate was also captured by the protestors.
Buschow said the department was aware of the pepper spray incident and had been “interviewing people” and “detectives are following up to determine who is responsible for that.”
California law allows any person over 18 who is not a felon to carry pepper spray and it can be used in self defense, in incidents when one’s life is in danger. It is, however, illegal to use pepper spray when not in self defense. Illegal use carries a fine and jail sentence up to three years. (1)
Online Update: After press deadline the Thousand Oaks Investigations Unit/East County Sheriff’s Department announced the arrest of Amy Atkisson, 46 of Thousand Oaks on allegations of “unlawful use of tear gas,” in relation to this incident at the protest. She was later released due to the current Zero Bail Rule in effect as a result of the pandemic. Atkisson has a court date set for July 31, 2020 in Ventura County Superior Court. Any witnesses with information are encouraged to contact Detective JD Eisenhard at 805-494-8224.
Over the weekend, protestors in Thousand Oaks have reported police actions that seemed to escalate tensions and appeared to be aimed at reducing the impact of the gatherings. For example, the Thousand Oaks Police Department closed roadways near the intersection of Hillcrest and Lynn Road around the protests.
According to Jon Cummings, a resident of Thousand Oaks and co-founder of Indivisible: Conejo, by closing the freeway, nearby roads and freeway on-ramps and exits, the police effectively “deprived the protest of oxygen, by taking away the audience of the protest. That was definitely troubling.”
“What the police achieved . . . was to deprive [the protestors] of their First Amendment right by depriving them of an audience,” he said.
“Yes, the highway patrol closed the 101 at Lynn Road because the protesters were trying to get onto the 101,” Buschow confirmed.
Cummings disagreed with the VCSD’s assertion that the closures were done to keep protestors off of the freeway. He said all the protesters were on the “four corners” of the intersection and were not going onto the highway prior to the closures. According to Cummings, when protestors realized what the police were doing, they chose at that time to march to the freeway overpass and occupy both sides of the bridge. Cummings said the actions of the police escalated the situation.
“It was a love fest . . . People were so thrilled to see so much support and a multiracial and multigenerational presence there,” said Cummings.
About two hours into the protest on Saturday, the local police closed the exits onto Westlake Blvd. and closed the roads for several blocks surrounding that intersection. “Their explanation [at that time] was that they were trying to protect the safety of the protestors. But it was peaceful. The protestors were not unsafe,” said Cummings. He acknowledged a few “random incidents” of a person climbing a pole and one person shouting at a person in a car. “It was not an unsafe protest.”
The Sunday protest, at Lynn Road and Hillcrest, was also peaceful and Cummings said he just couldn’t understand the decisions the police were making.
“It seems to me the police were trying to stop people from seeing the protest,” he said. “The protesters were not moving toward the freeway before the streets were closed.” Cummings acknowledged that after the closures, a few protestors did venture down an exit and into the grassy area above the freeway.
Nicole Hanson of Thousand Oaks was at the protest on Sunday and witnessed a hit-and-run incident involving a pickup truck and a protestor in a crosswalk. Hanson was on the southwest corner in front of Sprouts Farmers Market and saw “protesters crossing the street in the crosswalk, and a police officer on the adjacent corners was diverting traffic,” waving them to “turn right, where the protesters were crossing. He had his back to the intersection.” Hanson said one of the cars turning was a “big, white pickup truck. It proceeded slowly into the crosswalk and the protesters who were crossing, pushing at least one protestor up against the front grill and I saw her hands go onto the hood.” Hanson said she thought the woman put her hands on the hood to “stop herself from going under the car.”
Hanson said that she looked at the pedestrian crossing sign and saw that there were seven seconds left on the crossing signal. “I looked back at the truck and saw the protestors helping each other out of the way of truck. There was another police officer in the same crosswalk at the time the pedestrians were pushed by the truck.”
Hanson said one lady called 911 and an ambulance arrived. The paramedics checked out the woman who had been struck by the truck. “The police didn’t come to investigate or talk to eyewitnesses. However, when a motorist wanted to claim that a protester had assaulted him, the police came to take his statement and investigate.” That turned out to be “just a verbal altercation between the driver and the protestor.”
The Thousand Oaks protests appear to have been student led and organized via word of mouth and social media, according to Cummings. He estimated that about 300 people were in attendance on Saturday and around 200 on Sunday.
Additional protests are expected at various locations across the county in the coming week. Some scheduled as of press time are listed HERE.