A crowd of close to 1,000 peaceful protesters marched from Storke Tower to Sands Beach in Isla Vista on Saturday afternoon in a call for justice for George Floyd, a Black man who was killed on May 25 by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Floyd’s death — as well as the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade –– have ignited protests against violence toward Black people in over a dozen cities.
The student-organized march for justice for Floyd, led by fifth-year history major Michael Sanders, rallied hundreds of UCSB students, staff and community members.
The demonstration followed that of protesters in downtown Santa Barbara, who marched down State Street on Friday night to protest Floyd’s death. Another demonstration is planned for tomorrow afternoon at the Santa Barbara Courthouse.
Despite the departure of students from Isla Vista in March after the cancellation of in-person classes, the size of today’s crowd echoed national outcry surrounding Floyd’s death.
The demonstration began with over an hour of various speakers from the Black community who shared thoughts, frustrations and pleas for allyship, justice and safety for Black people.
During the gathering at Storke Tower, many of the speakers teared up while at the microphone. Some noted that they had not originally planned to speak but became convinced to after seeing others do the same.
Many speakers urged for allyship from non-Black communities and emphasized the need for people in a position of privilege to self-educate about the Black community’s struggles.
“Black people are everywhere and deserve to feel safe everywhere,” one speaker said.
Several speakers expressed discontent with the Black student experience at UCSB, noting a lack of resources and a small population of Black students, currently at 5% of the undergraduate student body.
“Walk in I.V. and see what it feels like to have everybody staring at you for no damn reason,” one speaker said.
Other speakers shared personal accounts of police violence and fears that their Black loved ones could wrongly face violence or death at the hands of law enforcement. One speaker recounted a conversation with her younger sister in which her sister said she was afraid to go for a walk, or for her father to leave the house.
“I tried to tell her that she is safe, but I know in the back of my mind that that was not true. Even if she does everything right, even if she gives them no cause to bother her, there is a chance that she might become the victim of police brutality in this country just because of who she is,” the speaker said.
Ethan Bertrand, a member of the I.V. Community Services District Board of Directors, recalled a conversation he had with his own father before his father visited I.V. for graduation.
“I had to say, ‘Dad, you’re an older black man walking around our community and some people may see you as a threat. Some people may not think that you belong here, which you do, but some people don’t understand that, so please be careful,’” Bertrand said.
“It’s so hard for us to find the strength to battle through our tears to say that once again, we’re going to stand together and stand up,” he added.
Speakers also stressed the need for Black voices to be heard and acknowledged by non-Black communities.
“Pay attention to Black voices. Stop trying to speak over us. Stop trying to tell us what the answer is,” one speaker said.
Several UCSB administrators were in attendance at the demonstration, including Katya Armistead, assistant vice chancellor and dean of student life; Aaron Jones, director of the Educational Opportunity Program; and Diana Collins Puente, director of community affairs, student development and leadership at UCSB’s Associated Students.
But Chancellor Henry T. Yang’s absence and lack of communication prior to the start of the march was widely criticized by participants. About halfway through the speeches, Yang sent out a mass email to the student body that addressed Floyd’s death and expressed sympathy for those affected by his death.
“His words mean very little to me at this point,” one speaker said after reading aloud Yang’s statement to the crowd.
Around 1:30 p.m., protestors marched through I.V. chanting and holding homemade signs, as employees at local businesses observed from behind windows or stood outdoors to cheer on protestors. Once it reached Del Playa Drive, the crowd drew Isla Vistans out onto their balconies and into their yards. Some observers held their own signs and clapped for protestors, while others silently stared as the crowd marched toward Sands Beach, gathering more marchers along the way.
Surfers on bikes and families with children stood off to the side while protestors made their way down the dirt trail to Sands Beach, eventually gathering in a circle in a small field, where the demonstration’s organizers thanked the crowd for its solidarity and called for 30 seconds of silence to remember Floyd.
For those 30 seconds, protesters held their fists high in the air, some closing their eyes, the sound of the breaking waves the only noise.
Sanya Kamidi contributed reporting.