On Protests in San Luis Obispo

Aaron Ochs
10 min readAug 6, 2020
Photo by Diego Rivera (Mustang News)

Let’s start with what many of us can agree on. Young people and people of color are motivated, energized and passionate over combating systemic racism, police brutality and misconduct. In our predominantly white county, a group of protests and organizations have successfully started a conversation on race and how SLO County, like every other county in this state and across the nation, should address racial inequality in their respective communities.

Right now, in SLO County, there is a clear deviation from the plainly stated purposes and goals that Black Lives Matter organizers have presented. But there are a number of reasons why protests are happening here.

SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson delivered remarks to a North San Luis Obispo County Tea Party meeting on July 6 that condemned the “violent protests” of the Black Lives Matter movement and characterized protests as a takeover of neighborhoods and communities. When he had an opportunity to clarify that he was only condemning the violent aspects of protests that veer away from the movement’s core message, Parkinson doubled down, saying there was no endgame or purpose of the protests “other than destruction.”

In June, Parkinson speculated that the suspect involved in a Paso Robles shooting spree in Paso Robles, in which four officers were injured, was motivated by recent protests. The suspect, 26-year-old Mason James Lira, had a history of mental illness that predated the protests. Lira’s father stated his son had no particular animus toward law enforcement and believed he was “special agent or a soldier and may believe he is under attack or in a war zone.” According to law enforcement sources, there was no evidence Lira was motivated by protests to conduct the shooting. Parkinson never walked back his initial assertions about the suspect’s motive.

While he hasn’t been as overt in his commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement as the Sheriff, SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow has come under fire for his overtly partisan conduct. Dow has often weighed in on local issues that oftentimes fall outside the purview of his duties. But on July 21, Dow weighed in on the San Luis Obispo protest once protesters marched onto Highway 101. He called for the highway to be stopped because it was “unlawful and highly dangerous.” Technically, he was…

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Aaron Ochs

Author, artist, advocate and entrepreneur from Morro Bay, California.