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'I've got your back': Buellton solidarity march draws hundreds of peaceful protesters

'I've got your back': Buellton solidarity march draws hundreds of peaceful protesters

Kneeling, and with heads bowed in silence, approximately 200 peaceful protesters on Thursday afternoon remained still for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, representing the time a former Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd before Floyd died. 

The protesters gathered in Buellton at the Albertsons shopping center parking lot in a show of solidarity with other protesters across North County, and to call for social justice and an end to police brutality.

"Remember, this is peaceful. We don't want to give them a reason to attack us," 18-year-old rally organizer Roberto Jenovese reminded the crowd. "You've seen on social media – things are happening in bigger cities. But I have faith in this city. I live in this city, and I really hope we can keep it peaceful and loving. Not an aggressive approach at all."

Local NAACP branch holds solidarity rally in Santa Maria; speakers call for equality, justice

With signs in hand and wearing masks, the crowd of mixed-ages and races surrounded Jenovese and co-organizer Aleiza Rogers, who with a megaphone in hand addressed the crowd.

"My grandfather drank from a water fountain that said blacks only," Rogers said. "It's over. It's time."

While leading the protesters westbound along Highway 246 towards City Hall and the police station, Jenovese shouted "What do we want?"

"Justice!" the protesters answered back in unison. 

"When do we want it?"

"Now!" yelled the crowd.

One group of teenage protesters who showed up to rally said due to the "predominately white" Santa Ynez Valley population, they felt the responsibility to speak up in support of all people.

"This is a movement that's been hush for too long and now it's being participated in in all 50 states," said Emilio Jimenez, 19. "I'm glad this is happening. We're all coming together in this community and making something happen."

The protesters stopped before the entrance to southbound Highway 101 to engage with traffic in both directions, waving their signs that read "Silence is A Form of Racism", "Stop Pretending Your Racism is Patriotism" and "Black Lives Matter". They chanted "No Justice, No Peace", to which many vehicles honked and passengers held up their fists in solidarity.

Highway Patrol officers, though present in numbers, did not interfere with the march and made certain everyone was able to safely cross the freeway overpass.

Longtime Buellton resident and former Solvang School educator, Pat Merritt, held a sign that read "No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police," and explained her reason for being at the protest.

"I just think it's time we speak up. I'm worried," Merritt said. "I have grandchildren who are African American and I'm afraid for them. I'm here to help ensure the world is safe for them – and for all children."

A 23-year-old protester said despite being "light-skinned", he and his sister have experienced racism at school. He added that having lost his cousin to police brutality, participation in the protest was even more necessary.

"I'm thankful to know that there's all types of color out here, supporting each other," the youth said. 

Another Valley resident said his reason for participating in the protest was to stand for justice in the wake of Floyd's death, that he likens to the beating of Rodney King in 1991.

The protesters then congregated at Buellton City Hall, and one-by-one spoke out against history repeating itself. 

Bringing water bottles for the protesters, Katherine Shaw, a staff member at Buellton Senior Center and Golden Inn & Village, said although some views expressed by the protesters were different than her own, she felt pulled to show love and support for her community.

"I've lived in this community for 30 years and my husband was murdered in the Albertons parking lot 15 years ago – and this community supported me," Shaw said. "I don't have to agree with you to love you. I've got your back no matter what color your skin is. I want people no matter who they vote for to know that we love each other in this community – and I've got your back."

Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News. 

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The question is what are we moving toward and what are we moving away from? If I could 'edit the tape' of my life, I would cut out certain parts. Not because I’m afraid of looking dumb or foolish but because they do not reflect the truth of my heart, or the person I aspire to be.

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