“No justice, no peace, no racist police” and “I can’t breathe” were just some of the chants heard June 1 in downtown Riverside, as thousands of protesters exercised their First Amendment right and made their voices heard following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed May 25 when a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck.
Protesters of all ages and ethnicities wore black and waved handmade signs as they walked through downtown Riverside in large groups to show unity against racial injustice. Others remained in their cars, honking horns and holding signs outside of their windows to show support.
The Riverside protest was one of many protests and riots across the country following Floyd’s death, which renewed the national conversation about police brutality and systemic racism in the United States.
Officer Ryan Railsback, public information officer for the Riverside Police Department, said the goal of the police department during a time of protest is to ensure the safety of the protesters.
“This march was larger and more vocal than other marches. Our intent as police is to make sure they’re safe and we’re safe,” Railsback said. “This time it’s harder to do that because they marched against law enforcement, but we want to facilitate their rights and make sure it’s safe for them.”
Railsback said the department blocked off certain streets to ensure safety but kept their distance because of the nature of the march.
Rosie Sanchez, a Riverside resident, said she came to the protest to advocate for justice for Floyd and to hold the police accountable.
“Human lives are not valued by the current system — these are people who are supposed to protect us,” Sanchez said. “If they are not protecting us, they are not doing their jobs and we are going to hold them accountable for that.”
Another protester, Darius Andres, a resident of San Bernardino county, said he came to show that enough is enough.
“It’s not right that we are out here being murdered because of the color of our skin,” Andres said. “It’s time we held people accountable. I’m disappointed it’s taken a nationwide wake up call to get us here, but at least people are doing something about it now. I only hope it leads to actual change.”
The protest, which began at 4 p.m. on the steps of the Riverside Public Library, remained peaceful until the mandatory county-wide curfew went into effect. The curfew stretched 12 hours, from 6 p.m and ended at 6 a.m. June 2.
The Riverside Police Department allowed protesters to remain until 7 p.m., an hour past the curfew, when it was then declared an unlawful assembly.
Arrests were made starting at approximately 7:30 p.m. and resulted in seven arrests, including five adults and two minors, Railsback said.
“There were some reports of vandalism and looting, but mostly we had a group of a couple hundred who were making loud noises and throwing water bottles,” Railsback said. “The protest itself was peaceful until the curfew.”
After curfew, protesters got angrier as the police began making arrests and they began throwing water bottles at the police officers and setting off firecrackers. The police retaliated by firing pepper balls, rubber bullets and throwing smoke bombs. At approximately 9 p.m. the protesters had completely dispersed.
Railsback added that many protests are in fact peaceful, despite what viewers see on the news.
“What you see on TV is the rioting and criminal situations, not the peaceful,” Railsback said. “It’s sad that some people want to take advantage of the emotions and situations right now, when a lot of people want to show their emotions peacefully.”
This was the second protest in Riverside this past week and the largest in Riverside county. The first was a peaceful protest of approximately 50 protesters on May 30 in front of the Galleria at Tyler mall.