By Laura Antunez
Despite a peaceful protest, and an absence of any kind of violence towards the police, four individuals were arrested and charged with “unlawful assembly to commit breach of peace” after the Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday, June 6.
One of those arrested, Isabel de la Huerta, was only sitting on the sidewalk when police in riot gear arrested them and put them in an armored van along with two other adults.
“At that point, I think the police had escalated the people’s emotions and I was unsure of what to do; I felt like I had every right to be there,” they said. “I didn’t feel like it was inappropriate to just sit on the sidewalk and I definitely didn’t want to seem threatening because I didn’t want to be hurt.”
De la Huerta also said that they had not planned on joining the protest that day.
“I was really tired, I had gone there to bring donations that I had been collecting for the homeless,” they said. “I did join because it seemed really nice, there were some people on the side of the road with their signs [and] the response to some of the people passing by was mostly really positive.”
They said that the protesters were not blocking the whole street, and the march was mostly dying down. “When the huge line of [riot police] came and told us to get on the sidewalk, we immediately listened,” they said. “They said anyone in the area, not just protesters, was subject to arrest.”
One of the individuals detained was under the age of 18 and was placed in a separate vehicle to go to a juvenile center.
“They were trying to run away and I saw the police push him against the rail [with their shields],” they said. “I don’t think he was seriously injured but he was [scratched] and he looked very shaken up.”
At the time of the arrests, police vastly outnumbered those who were still marching. The number of protesters from the earlier rally at MMC, Modesto Maidique Campus, had dwindled down to only approximately 15 individuals.
“They were so armed even though there was no threat being posed to them,” they said. “Nobody tried to hit them or throw anything.”
Once detained, the four individuals were taken to headquarters where they were separated from the one which was underaged. They said they made them sit in a room facing a wall before they were questioned individually.
Afterward, they were taken to jail and booked. De la Huerta said they were bailed out fairly quickly and are awaiting trial.
The lawyer who is representing de la Huerta, David J. Winker, has expressed desire to represent the other three students who were apprehended on Saturday’s protest, pro bono. He’s urging those arrested to contact him.
“These students should not have been arrested,” said Winker. “The circumstances of their arrest is clearly unconstitutional.”
Winker said that after watching the video on Twitter of the students being unconstitutionally arrested, he wanted to be the one to represent them at no charge to them.
“I would encourage everyone to watch the video,” he said. “I hate to say it but this looks to me like something we’d see in communist China.”
He said the issue is not whether or not the charges will be dropped. “We have certain constitutional rights that the states are not allowed to take away from us, one of them is free speech and one of them is assembly,” he said. “But where do we go from here? What do we do to stop it?”
Winker said even if there is overwhelming evidence showing police abuse, it is incredibly difficult pressing charges against them due to a special protection law enforcement officers have known as qualified immunity.
According to Cornell Law, qualified immunity protects government officials for being sued for violating someone’s constitutional rights, although it is most often seen in cases with police officers.
“Basically what you’re running into is a situation the officers are taking it upon themselves, [to deem things] unlawful,” said Winker. “It is a systemic problem rather than a bad apple problem.”
State Attorney Kathy Rundle released a statement Tuesday, June 9 saying those prosecuted based on curfew violations will have the charges dropped.
“I see no value in prosecuting these individuals,” said the statement.
It is not clear yet whether de la Huerta’s charges will be dropped.