Despite palpable tensions and safety concerns preluding the event, a Black Lives Matter protest brought music, chants and peace signs to the city of Angels Camp on Friday.
At around 2:30 p.m., protestors donning medical masks and carrying handmade signs began to assemble at the intersection of Highways 4 and 49 in Angels Camp. Friendly greetings were exchanged as demonstrators offered each other water, masks and flowers. Some local residents who didn’t participate dropped off cases of bottled water as a gesture of goodwill.
Local teens Claudia Loomis and Riley Lowell, who acted as unofficial organizers of the protest despite the cancellation of their original planned event, thanked law enforcement officers for providing protection before addressing the growing crowd.
Police presence at the event included the Angels Camp Police Department, the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office, the Sonora Police Department, the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, and the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Office, with Cal Fire, American Legion Ambulance and the Angels Camp Fire Department providing assistance.
However, the majority of demonstrators were gone by 6 p.m., well before the city's precautionary 8 p.m. curfew. Some lingered to clean up any trash on their way out.
“We are here not only to protest George Floyd’s murder and the lack of accountability in police forces, but we’re also here to remember every single black person who has died unjustly,” 19-year-old Loomis told the crowd through a megaphone at the beginning of the event.
“It goes to show that Calaveras County is not what people think it is,” 18-year-old Lowell added. “We have people that want to be better. We have people that are showing everyone else out there that black lives matter, and no one should die at the hands of police.”
Demonstrators were instructed to be “the love crowd” and blow kisses at those who drove by screaming obscenities and “all lives matter.” Yet the majority of reactions from passersby were enthusiastic honks as the crowd grew to encompass all four corners of the intersection, stretching to the CVS Pharmacy parking lot.
Further down the road, a smaller gathering formed outside of Swendeman Hardware. When asked by an Enterprise reporter why they chose to stand there, one man answered that they were “just protecting the town” but declined to comment further. The group turned away when asked to be photographed.
However, a woman named Jodie Brixey, who claimed to be part of that group, later commented on Facebook that they had not been there for protection but were rather “looking at a building that was just purchased” and had stopped to watch the protest.
“This is absolutely false reporting!” she wrote.
A second Black Lives Matter protest occurred Saturday at 1 p.m., starting at the same location and moving down the roadside to Utica Park. Organizer Kassidi James, of Angels Camp, said she planned the demonstration after she heard that Lowell and Loomis’ event had been cancelled due to alleged threats from the public. Approximately 50 people attended, some of whom had also participated in Friday's protest.
“You can never speak on this enough,” she said.
Following the conclusion of the second demonstration in the afternoon, the city lifted its curfew.
"We want to thank our community and all participants for remaining peaceful," Police Chief Ellis stated.
Longtime Calaveras County residents Nate and Chelsea Frazier brought their two young children to participate in Friday’s protest. Nate Frazier, an artist and entrepreneur, said that he and his wife have chosen to raise their children in the community despite the unique challenges he's faced as a black man living in a predominantly white region.
“There’s a lot of things that are better now than they were, (but) I would be lying if I said there were not extreme struggles (and) discrimination in different areas of life,” Frazier said. “But we are still here because of the love we have for this community. There are wonderful people here. … Honestly, any chance I see Calaveras coming together to unify and embrace diversity, I’m all for it.”
Cheryl Draper, a 40-year county resident and a massage therapist from Avery, said that participating in the protest was beyond her comfort level, but she chose to do it anyway.
“It’s easy to believe things and watch it on TV, (to) be home, but to be out here with the others and try to make something a little more aware to the community means a lot to me and my family,” Draper said. “I love where I live, and I don’t want to be afraid. And I know how afraid (my) black friends have to be, and I want to be here to support them.”
Lifelong Mokelumne Hill resident Isaac Wasik, 30, described his experience of being a black person in the community as a burden of being "the bridge” between two races. Over the years, he’s had to develop “thick skin.”
“I don’t get to say how I feel very often,” the self-proclaimed “country boy” told the Enterprise. “You have to work your way to a point where they realize they have something in common with you. … Growing up here as a black man… I didn’t always know the stuff that was happening to me. … I just found a note the other day from an eighth grade girlfriend telling me she was breaking up with me because her uncle said that she shouldn’t be dating a [expletive]."
According to Wasik, “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter. He believes the issue can be boiled down to economic disparity and “implicit bias.”
“We all have it. Everyone has it. But when you have a badge and a gun and you think that your implicit bias is your instinct, and you think that person over there is suspect, more than likely, that is built out of your experiences and what society has told you,” he said.
Wasik has hope that prejudices will dissipate with the coming generations.
“Educating the youth is where we need to start,” he said. “If you have kids, take trips to the Bay. ... Get them used to being around diversity.”
Valley Springs resident Brandon Griffin, 28, brought his trained protection dog, Bolt, to the protest to help all involved feel more “at ease.” Bolt was fitted with a head-cam to obtain footage that will be featured on the Bolt The Mal social media pages.
Griffin said he isn’t a political person and doesn’t identify with any particular movement.
“I’m just here as someone from the area that’s trying to support everybody,” he said.
Griffin and Bolt have filmed two prior Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Stockton as an effort to show the public that protests can be peaceful.
“Growing up in a military family, I have an issue with everyone being lumped together,” Griffin said. “Four bad cops doing something bad shouldn’t bring everybody down on all the cops… just like one person robbing a convenience store doesn’t mean an entire set of people are bad people.”
Towards the end of the demonstration, some commented that they were impressed by the number of people who participated and the level of support received from those driving by.
“I was scared to come here today… (but) I am shocked," Wasik said. "As a black man who grew up in Calaveras County, I never would have expected this. I’ve seen people who aren’t even necessarily here for Black Lives Matter as much they’re here for the freedom of speech. They saw how people were trying to infringe on the internet for people in Calaveras’ right to protest, and they were here to stand in solidarity with us for that. And I thought that was epic.”
6/9/20: This article was updated to include information about Saturday's protest in Angels Camp.