Protests, Felonies & Privilege

Update: Tianna Arata was released from San Luis Obispo jail on July 22,2020 of her own recognizance.

Update:  Tianna Arata was released from San Luis Obispo jail on July 22,2020 of her own recognizance. Although Tianna was released from jail at the time of print, the movement to quash protestors rights continues with vigor and the ‘Free Tianna’ movement remains active on

Tianna Arata is a 20-year-old Black Lives Matter organizer and she has been sitting in San Luis Obispo (SLO) County jail since July 21, 2020.On July 20, 2020, Tianna lead a protest that swelled to 300 strong and blocked traffic for an hour in either direction on the 101. During the protest there was some property damage and now Tianna is facing five felonies and three misdemeanors. Tianna is accused of smashing a flagpole through a car window and injuring a child that was in the back seat.

While the prosecutor decides his next move, Tianna sits in jail.I can’t stop thinking about Sandra Bland.I can’t stop thinking about how people end up dead so randomly behind those walls.The public has rallied behind Tianna, but each day the stakes get higher.During this period of civil unrest, I was shocked to see exactly how many demonstrators have been charged with felonies.In Louisville, Kentucky, 87 people were charged with felonies at the protest of Breonna Taylor’s murder.

In Washington DC, 214 people were indicted in 2017 inauguration protests.In Miami, a Black Lives Matter organizer is being charged with felonies (including strong arm robbery) for removing a flag from the vehicle of an opposing protester.In New Jersey, a protester faces felony charges for retweeting a picture of an officer and asking who he is. The officer filed cyber harassment charges stating that he “fears for the safety of himself and his family.”

The common denominator in these ‘trumped’ (pun intended) up charges and the frequency that they are occurring is the current administration. Defense and civil liberty organizations agree that they are seeing the laws applied against peaceful protesters in unprecedented ways.Many believe that it is a scare tactic designed to keep people from protesting and to keep people from voting. It is all too reminiscent of Jim Crow era tactics. Only in 2020 it’s swanked up with some $7 coffee and thousand dollar suits instead of the 1960’s hoses and German shepherds.

We can’t forget the suppression tactics of Bull Connor in Birmingham, the three freedom fighters killed in Meridian, Mississippi and the countless lives lost during that time. Under the constitution (that the flag represents and they won’t stand for anyone disrespecting) we should be able to peacefully assemble and protest without fear of reprise.

Tianna is sitting in jail.I imagine that she is alone and frightened, just like Sandra Bland. I wonder what she’s thinking about America’s great judicial system. I wonder if she’s second guessing her choice to fight against the system. I know that if she’s sitting there discouraged and despondent, they’ve won. I know that if she comes out of this a convicted felon, they’ve won because she won’t be able to vote. I also know that warriors aren’t broken easily.

During slavery it was not the Africans who were scared that the slave traders were most afraid of. The Africans that were unsettling were the warriors. The ones with fire in their eyes and a will to live. These are the Africans that they would silence with contraptions and punish the most severely. They somehow knew that those Africans would rather die free than to live enslaved. The danger of them motivating an entire ship of Africans to freedom or death was the most dangerous threat.

We are constantly reminded that making the rules and owning the board are synonymous with changing the rules.From 2016 to 2019 more than 100 bills have been drafted and considered in more than 35 states relating to protesting.Legal advocates are baffled at the emboldened crafting of bills specifically aimed at protester suppression. Ironically the bulk of these bills emerged to combat pipeline and environmental protesters (which tends to be a white and Native American demographic). They were funded and backed by wealthy corporations with conservative interests.

One such bill, In Louisiana (HB 727) makes it a felony to be on pipeline property in any capacity. Offenses are punishable by up to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.Texas is looking at a similar law that would have a $1 million dollar fine.West Virginia passed HB 4618 which allows police to charge bystanders at demonstrations as rioters if they refuse to disperse and help disperse crowds.

In response to the Breonna Taylor protests, Louisville, Kentucky has made assembly on public streets a felony. Protestors must march on the sidewalk.In all, 35 states have adopted 24 laws (with 17 pending) that make various methods of protesting felonious.Conservatives will claim that the bills are aimed at public safety and deterring property damage.However, a quick read through of the language of any of the bills illustrates clear intent to make protesting punitive. From the charges, to the fines to the jail terms, the purpose is to infringe on the right to free speech.The bills are designed to oppress and create submission.If protesters cannot gather peacefully without repercussions, perhaps they will stop gathering and let big interest continue about its business? Isn’t that the American way? The “haves” not only have more, but they get to shape and redesign the lives of the “have nots” through relentless legislation and flashing the mighty dollar.Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested over 25 times. He served four months in prison. Nelson Mandela served 18 of his 27 years imprisoned on Robben Island.Freedom fighters died but the movement for justice lives on.We have to keep that flame hot by fighting smart. These powerful entities have shown they are willing to lie, cheat, steal and use force to silence the masses. We have shown we are ready to go to prison and die for what we believe in. Now we must prove we are willing to meet them where they are.Peaceful protests are great, but those with money and power will not yield for passion. If we say that it is our right as Americans to peacefully demonstrate, they replace peaceful with violent and protest with disturbances.The power is in picking them off one by one, office by office, vote by vote.We got ourselves into this conundrum with our smug confidence in our legislative process and constitution. Our collective disgust with the system and distancing from the voting process, fueled their agenda. One way or another (like it or not) we participated in the moment we are experiencing today.Now that the veil is removed and our vision is clear, it’s our job to change history.Let’s flip the script as they have done in St. Louis by ousting long-time incumbent Lacy Clay.Vote every single greedy, complacent, destructive politician out of office. Break the system and replace it with real people that are committed to the future of this country and the world.A Word about the RebelsUpon hearing oppression knocking, privilege covered its ears. The demand was too great Privilege hid it’s plate and barricaded the doors. The righteous grew in numbers Their hungry pleas turned away from asking With force they began grabbing their rightful share. Privilege yelled, kicked and screamed Played victim Sought asylum from their destruction But the starved raged on Reclaiming their throne. —Kai KellyHow to helpSign the Petition to free Tianna ArataIf you’re In CaliforniaContact District Attorney Daniel DowAnd ask to have her released(as of publishing, Tianna has not been formally charged or arraigned)(805) 781-5800In your home state call your lawmakers and demand justice for peaceful protesters. Watch the laws being passed in your state and contact those voting for the punitive protest laws.Donate to your local civil Liberties organizationACLUBail a protestor outKai Kelly is a published author, creative writer, visionary and regular contributor to Born Brown: All Rights Reserved. Her book of poetry, Love, Kai is available for purchase here. Follow her on Instagram @author_kai_kelly and Kai Kelly on Facebook.

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