By Caleb Lunetta, Emily Alvarenga and Tammy Murga
Signal Staff Writers
A rumored protest in the Santa Clarita Valley became a reality Thursday, as an estimated 800 people marched, loudly chanting George Floyd’s name and “Black Lives Matter,” only to conclude serenely outside the SCV Sheriff’s Station.
Although there were a few tense moments, the protest remained peaceful.
Among those in attendance was Santa Clarita resident Valerie Bradford, who held a sign that read “67 and still protesting the same thing.”
As a black woman, Bradford said she was out there for her black sons, grandsons and nephews, “and this affects them.”
“I have been protesting for many, many years, and I felt like I needed to be out here and support the cause, and hopefully, they’ll be changed this time,” she added.
Bradford and her husband have lived in the SCV for 15 years and said she loved the response she saw from her community Thursday.
“We as black people appreciate others supporting our cause, and this is what’s different about this protest and protests in the past. We have never seen such a diverse protest in the past,” she said.
Simultaneously, groups of protesters broke off from the main group to confront sheriff’s deputies and National Guardsmen standing outside the Sheriff’s Station, while another 200 people protested at Bridgeport Marketplace around noon for the same cause.
Some residents in attendance recalled the racial unrest after the trial for the officers arrested in the beating of Rodney King nearly 30 years ago and felt that in the aftermath, nothing had been accomplished.
“I’m just out here for justice, not just for George Floyd, but for every human being, because this has been going on for years. I was around when the Rodney King incident happened,” said Marie Ordaz, of Valencia, who was at the protest with her family. “And they protested and did the same, but then they ended up giving up halfway, and nothing was done. And here we are, many years later. And we’re encountering the same thing.”
Thursday’s demonstration followed rumors on social media about a protest and counter-protest set to the same day, which prompted the city of Santa Clarita to issue a local emergency with a request to bring the National Guard, and a curfew that officials later rescinded.
Protect SCV, a group that formed in response to the Black Lives Matter demonstration, had a few dozen participants gathered at Valencia Boulevard and McBean Parkway.
“I got invited by a few friends. We all grew up out here and went to junior high and high school together. We grew up in Canyon Country,” said Jeff Whitefield, 37, of Santa Clarita, who was standing with the Protect SCV group. “We’re just here to make sure the local merchants, local businesses, along with the mall, don’t get vandalized … We’re just here to support. Things do need to change, ya know? The way we handle things, the way police officers handle things. We’re not against police. But there are a few who are not doing things the right way.”
Another group at the intersection didn’t purport to be with Protect SCV or Black Lives Matter, but instead said they were there as Christians.
“We’re representing Jesus, we’re not taking sides in this,” said Garrett Crawl, a pastor in Newhall, “except that Jesus loves peace, Jesus loves mercy and Jesus loves justice, so we’re just out here trying to keep the peace. … If anybody starts getting heated, and it looks like there’s going to be a fight or something, then we’ll just come in and say, ‘Hey, it’s OK, ya know. Everybody’s got their opinion and it’s a free country. Let’s try to keep it on a peaceful level.’”
In at least one instance, tensions briefly mounted as a counter-protester in a large pickup truck got out of the vehicle in the middle of Valencia Boulevard and confronted Black Lives Matter protesters. The incident de-escalated after a sheriff’s deputy escorted the driver away from protesters.
In another tense sequence of events, a group of protesters confronted sheriff’s deputies and National Guardsmen who were standing watch at the SCV Sheriff’s Station. The protesters launched profanity-laced taunts at the deputies, but the law enforcement officers remained calm and the situation eventually de-escalated.
While many spent most of the day protesting, some took the opportunity to join during their lunch breaks, including three nurses who said they walked about 25 minutes to the Valencia Boulevard and McBean Parkway intersection.
“We came just to show our support, our solidarity,” said SCV resident Emma DeSantiago, 46, “that we’re with the people supporting the black community and those protesting.”
At approximately 1:45 p.m., the group started heading eastbound on Valencia Boulevard to the Sheriff’s Station.
As officers down the street investigated the report of a suspicious device a couple of blocks away, a group of about 100 protesters coalesced around the Sheriff’s Station to exhort deputies who surrounded the station to take a knee. Officers on the scene were also regulating traffic at the intersections affected by protesters.
The Sheriff’s Station reported no protesters were arrested Thursday and no property damage was reported. Three suspects, in vehicles and not associated directly with Black Lives Matter protesters, were arrested on suspicion of illegal transporting of firearms.
“It appeared to be very peaceful,” said Capt. Justin Diez of the SCV Sheriff’s Station. “I just reminded all of our personnel to be firm, but fair, and always remain professional, and I think they did a great job of that. And that’s due, in part, to the peaceful protest.”
Diez said that hundreds of extra law enforcement personnel, including the National Guard, were brought in to assist, and are scheduled to remain in Santa Clarita until the end of the weekend.
“I just want people to know that no expense will be spared to keep this community safe,” said Diez. “We have the largest Sheriff’s Department in the world, and we have virtually endless resources. We will always be prepared to keep the (SCV) safe.”
Ahead of the protests, many prepared for potential emergencies, such as Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, or the possibility of looting and rioting. Businesses around Santa Clarita had either closed up early on Thursday or not opened at all, opting instead to leave up the plywood or other physical barriers they had placed for protection of their businesses.
A number of the car dealerships on Creekside Road had moved their cars to an offsite location and removed important documents and paperwork from their offices for protection.
“We’re doing the best that we can do to get ready for it,” Don Fleming, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Auto Dealers Association, said on Wednesday. Fleming added that the dealerships would either be closed or operating differently until the protests had concluded.
The main protest, concluded at the Sheriff’s Station, ended with hundreds taking a knee and remaining in silence for nearly nine minutes.