LANCASTER – Nearly two dozen local residents gathered in front of the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station Sunday afternoon for a rally and walk against police brutality and racial bias.
Titled “All Lives Matter! A Walk for Peace Down Lancaster Blvd.,” the event was organized in solidarity with protests sweeping across the nation after grand juries declined to indict police officers in the killings of two unarmed black men.
Eric Garner died July 17 in Staten Island, New York, after a police officer put him in an apparent chokehold. A grand jury on Dec. 3 decided not to indict the police officer who administered the chokehold. (Read more on the death of Eric Garner here.) Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri. The circumstances surrounding that fatal shooting sparked nationwide debates and triggered violent protests when a grand jury in November decided not to indict the police officer for his actions. (Read more about the shooting of Michael Brown here.)
Local demonstrators on Sunday said both incidents should concern Antelope Valley residents.
“I have a son who’s 17 years old and it concerns me as a parent, basically, to be in fear for my son’s life,” said Lancaster resident Sahaya Wright. “This is not just a black and white issue, but it’s a human issue and it concerns a lot of parents, especially African-American parents.”
“I can understand how every black mother feels when their children are out and about, because until he is safe at home with me, I am not comfortable,” said Denise Ferguson, referencing her grandson. “A lot of people don’t understand that if your child is not of color.”
Denise Ferguson’s grandson, 19-year-old Seth Ferguson, organized Sunday’s rally.
The demonstrators held signs in front of the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station and chanted, “All lives matter!” as some passing motorists honked their horns in support. The diverse group of mostly young people chanted while marching westbound on Lancaster Boulevard to 10th Street West and eastbound on Lancaster Boulevard back to the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station. There were no attempts at traffic disruption, vandalism or any of the other negative factors that plagued some of the protests in larger cities across the country.
Local deputies followed at a distance, but no assistance was needed because the rally began and ended peacefully. Lancaster Station Watch Commander Lt. Richard Martinez said he supported the demonstrators’ right to assemble and express themselves.
“The ability to petition your government for a redress of grievances is one of our basic constitutional rights and I’m a firm supporter in it,” Lt. Martinez said. “I would ask that it doesn’t devolve into something that inhibits the rights of other people to go about their day, but I’m fully in support of it.”
Not everyone supported the local demonstration.
An announcement about the rally on The AV Times’ Facebook page triggered nearly 200 mostly negative comments from Facebook readers. Community activist Miguel Coronado briefly attended the rally and voiced his disapproval.
“We have not had any kind of problems in the Antelope Valley of the sort that we’re having all over the country,” Coronado said, adding that he was “appalled” by the rally. “The sheriffs have done a wonderful job and the city leadership has also done a wonderful job, so I’m actually surprised and shocked that people would come out here and agitate like this,” Coronado said.
But rally organizer, Seth Ferguson, said the demonstration was a proactive effort by the younger generation to discourage police brutality in the Antelope Valley.
“I don’t feel like something has to happen in our community for us to get up and say that’s not okay,” Seth Ferguson said. “We don’t need to wait for it to happen here in Lancaster or in Palmdale for us to voice our opinion on the recent turmoil with the police and civilians.”
Seth Ferguson said racially bias problems existed in the Antelope Valley, and he said all local law enforcement officers should be required to wear body cameras to help ensure unbiased interactions with the public.
“We do not want a Mike Brown or Eric Garner or any unlawful act against AV citizens to go unseen,” Seth Ferguson said.
The Lancaster Station is one of four Sheriff’s patrol stations taking part in a six-month pilot program, which began in September, to evaluate the feasibility of using body worn cameras to record interactions with citizens, according to Lancaster Community Relations deputy Miguel Ruiz. Read more on the program here.
“Here at the Lancaster Station, we’ve had 30 of our own field personnel outfitted with the cameras on a voluntary basis,” Ruiz said, adding that more local deputies wanted to use body cameras. “But at this point, only 30 of them were given to us with the potential of more in the near future.”
“We’re currently in the research and development phase, as well as the field testing, so that our decision makers or policy makers can determine exactly which company and which model they want to proceed with in the future for long-term deployment,” Ruiz said.
Organizers said Sunday’s rally was the first of weekly demonstrations planned in front of the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station to make a call for change — specifically a mandate that all local law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, equip officers with body cameras.
“If we bother them enough, hopefully they’ll see that we the people want this,” Seth Ferguson said.
Another rally will be held during the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 14, in front of the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station. To become involved, contact Seth Ferguson at 661-886-0685. For more pictures from Sunday’s rally, visit our Facebook page here.