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Protests, rallies calling for racial justice continue in San Luis Obispo County

Thousands on the Central Coast have been protesting police killings of black people this week, with over five days of demonstrations in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. A rally calling for action on racial justice attracted thousands more Thursday evening. 

Following police tear gassing and shooting pepper and foam bullets at what many describe as peaceful protestors Monday in San Luis Obispo, organizers with the local chapter of the NAACP say they’ve had conversations with the SLO police department and Mayor Heidi Harmon.

Some of those discussions aim to ban the use of knee holds by police, elect more black people into leadership—including standing citizen review and advisory boards with subpoena power—and reviewing officers' history of misconduct.

KCBX News will have more on this week’s Black Lives Matter protests later Friday during All Things Considered.

UPDATE 06/04/20 

Another rally and possible march is planned in San Luis Obispo for Thursday evening, along with similar events in Santa Barbara and the Santa Maria/Lompoc area. The SLO County chapter of the NAACP is co-organizing the SLO event, along with R.A.C.E Matters SLO and Cal Poly black faculty and staff, and it's focused on nonviolence and taking action. The rally is planned from 5 to 6 p.m. in front of the San Luis Obispo County courthouse on Monterey Street.

Initial story published 06/03/20

Demonstrations continued in San Luis Obispo Wednesday. From 2 and 5:30 p.m., about 600 people marched around downtown for a few hours and the demonstration remains wholly peaceful. Police—not in the riot gear they wore Monday night—followed behind on bicycles.

Many had prepared for the possibility of violence. The city sent a letter to downtown business owners Wednesday morning, saying a third protest in the city was planned to start at 2 p.m. and they may want to close up shop, or at least prepare for closing. Many store owners took that as a cue to board up their businesses, and city offices closed at 1 p.m. and sent employees home.

Bettina Swigger leads the organization Downtown SLO and says the boarding-up of businesses isn’t solely based on local threats.

“A number of the downtown businesses that are part of national chains started getting boarded up because of corporate orders,” Swigger said. “So as we see violence and issues coming out of larger cities and some of the other areas, they're issuing blanket orders for their stores to be boarded up.”

One business owner told KCBX News she was closing her shop because she read online reports of looters planning on coming from out of town to cause havoc. Local police agencies have not confirmed that information.

The San Luis Obispo Police Department, in an email, said, “in anticipation of today’s protest, the city acted out of an abundance of caution closing downtown city facilities and providing notification to downtown businesses to consider proactively closing or being prepared to close if necessary. This was based on the potential for vandalism and unsafe behavior.”

Meanwhile, San Luis Obispo police say they’ve arrested four local teenagers, and charged them with vandalism that took place on Monday night, after police used tear gas on a group of demonstrators.

Black Lives Matter rallies and protests against the police killing of George Floyd have taken place across the Central Coast in the past week, in Salinas, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. 

Michael Barros is a reporter in the KCBX Newsroom. He has a degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University, where he spent two years reporting for the campus news outlet, Mustang Media. He spent several months as an intern for NPR's All Things Considered in Washington D.C. Michael covers breaking news for daily newscasts, and creates features for the local broadcast of All Things Considered and Morning Edition. When he's not reporting, he's probably hammocking in a forest or painting.
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