Pictured: Abry Harper (with megaphone) of Oxnard leads the VC Black Out march north on Victoria Ave. in Ventura on Sunday, June 7, 2020. Photo by Brandon King.
by Kimberly Rivers
For the second week, protests aligned with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement continued across Ventura County.
The movement expanded in response to video footage showing a black man, George Floyd, being killed by a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds on May 25.
“We watched as a nation how everyone became awake to something we always knew in our community, [about] how our children are treated,” said Regina K. Hatcher-Crawford, president of the Ventura County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) speaking on Thursday, June 4, at the Ventura County Government Center at an event planned by the NAACP with support from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “We watched a man begging 16 times, ‘I can’t breathe.’ At one point he asked for his mother.”
A few hundred people gathered on the grassy slope on the VCGC property at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Telephone Road. Most were wearing masks and practicing social distancing. The solemn crowd took up most of the grassy area.
“George Floyd’s death was not in vain,” she said with supportive murmurs from the crowd. “He brought us here today. Black and brown and white are all saying ‘enough is enough’.”
“America has been built on the backs of our enslaved ancestors, for free, I remind you,” stated James Joyce III, speaking after Hatcher-Crawford. Joyce is district director for Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson and founded Coffee With a Black Guy, an initiative to spark conversation and foster connection as a way to create an “entry point for non-black folks to enter their arch of racial understanding.”
There is an “urgency of now. [I] feel all the pain and pummeling of my ancestors,” said Joyce, at times moving into a poetry slam rhythm of speaking to describe his experience. “Elvis was a hero to most…but he never meant shit to me. You see, straight up racist that sucker was.”
Hatcher-Crawford and Joyce echoed three calls to action: Build community, get involved and forge meaningful relationships. There is an “urgency in this moment…It is time.” Joyce urged the crowd to find ways to “make your community better.”
The names of black men and women killed as a result of police brutality since 2012 were read aloud and the crowd was asked to take a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds as a powerfully long period of silence and remembrance.
Large turnout in Simi Valley
On Saturday, June 6, at 10 a.m. a crowd of about 2,000 people came together for BLM action on the corner of Cochran Street and Sycamore Drive in Simi Valley before marching to city hall.
Prior to the event, controversy was created when Simi Valley Mayor Pro Tem Mike Judge posted an email exchange between him and Mikiiya Foster, 18, of Simi Valley. She asked him to attend the event she and others were planning.
“It would mean a lot to me and to the youth of this community if you were to come to our peaceful protest for solidarity,” Foster wrote to him on June 2.
He shared her email on his official city council Facebook page with his response, declining to attend and discouraging her from proceeding with the event.
“I would ask you to re-consider this protest march, and call it off…I am very hard pressed to find one example of a truly peaceful protest,” said Judge in his email to Foster. He cited the 1992 Rodney King trial, in which four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of King’s savage beating, as an example of Simi getting “branded unfairly” as “only ONE of those [members of the jury pool] was an actual Juror the other was an alternate.”
His post continued, “Feel free and please do let me know of any other blatant acts of systemic racism in our City.”
“He never got my consent [to post publicly] and didn’t even give me time to respond before going public with it. I thought this was very inappropriate of him,” said Foster, responding to the VCReporter via email about Judge sharing the email exchange on social media. “As an elected official he should know better, especially since I had already been receiving threats. On a Facebook group someone was talking about how people had found my phone number and address.”
As of press deadline, Judge did not respond to requests for comment. All other Simi Valley city council members attended the protest.
Saturday’s event remained peaceful and no destruction of any kind was reported. The crowd created an amphitheater of sorts, circling up around the group of youth organizers and supporters including Simi City Councilmember Ruth Luevanos. The leaders asked the crowd to kneel and remain peaceful.
“It was inspiring to see how many people came. I had never felt more supported during my time in Simi Valley,” said Foster. “I think it really showed that Black Lives Matter is more than a trend, it is a movement.
This was Foster’s first time helping to organize a protest. “It was a great experience and I am thankful for all the support I got. I really had no idea what I was walking into, it was a lot of work,” she said. “This is important to me because I am a black woman myself and a firm advocate for human rights. Specifically in terms of police brutality, this issue hits very close to home.”
At the protest she read a slam poem she wrote and dedicated to her cousin, who was beaten by police in 2015. “Growing up my father would also tell my sister and I stories about times he had been abused by the police as well.” Her grandparents’ involvement in the civil rights movement had a major impact on her. “My grandfather had even marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. They had both been abused by police and white supremacists during their peaceful protests.”
“Black people have been taken advantage of by America for a long time,” said Foster. “Since the first slave ships arrived in Virginia to present day with gentrification, the prison industrial complex, police brutality, wealth inequality… black people have been given the short end of the stick to say the least….It is ridiculous that we are still having to fight for our rights 56 years later, after the civil rights act was passed.”
Protestors take Victoria Avenue on Sunday
A young group of organizers all “born and raised in Ventura County,” organized the Sunday, June 7, VC BLACKOUT (@vcblxout) event in Ventura that saw at least 2,000 people gather at Thille Park, then march out onto Victoria Avenue and engage in civil disobedience to take over the road north across the highway 126 overpass and north to the fields of Buena High School.
“It was beautiful,” said Sarah Martin, 23, of Oxnard, one of the organizers.
The crowd split, with some heading toward the police station and others blocking the westbound offramp. A third group stayed at the corner of Victoria and Telephone Road.
At about 6:15 p.m., nearly two hours after the official event had ended, an incident was caught on camera involving a vehicle driving into a group of protestors. Aerial footage posted on Instagram showed a white Toyota Tacoma truck and license plate number.
“It was the tailend of the protest,” with between 100 to 200 people left near the corner, recalled Tim Nafziger of Oak View, who witnessed the incident. He and a small group were resting in the shade behind the bus stop near the corner.
“I heard a loud popping noise…I saw the truck accelerating when it hit them. I saw them fly through the air…I had a clear view of the person flying through the air, head over heels,” said Nafziger. “A lot of people ran after the truck.” A small black car followed the truck up Victoria for a short distance. Several people called 911, and paramedics and a fire truck responded quickly to treat the person who was hit.
“I didn’t see any police talking with them,” Nafziger said. “That is interesting given that they were there earlier in the day.”
Martin confirmed she heard about the incident after the protest had ended. It has been reported to the police, and the video footage was provided. She hopes the truck incident doesn’t overshadow the successful event.
“It was breathtaking, overwhelming,” she said. “People brought their kids, their grandmas, grandpas. That is the face of Ventura County — unity and respect. It was beautiful.”
Martin said the organizing group met with police before the event. “They were very respectful, a lot different than what I was expecting. They said as long as it’s peaceful ‘we got you’ and they said ‘we’ll protect you’.”
Overall she felt positive about the police presence that day. A meeting with the Oxnard Police Department that was scheduled for June 3 was postponed to June 13.
“It’s important the police department sit down with the community. There are questions that need to be answered,” Martin said. “The people are tired of being told ‘we’ll look into it’.”
For Martin, the event confirmed the truth of the message, “Of course all lives matter, but all lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter.”