'Freedom starts with speech' Tempers flare at dueling rallies in De la Guerra Plaza

Published on January 20th, 2015

Scott Steepleton
January 20, 2015
Santa Barbara News-Press

De la Guerra Plaza was closed to cars much of Monday for a clash over the word “illegals” that took place in front of the Santa Barbara News-Press office.

On one side was a group of 100 or so, including open-border advocates, who say the News-Press is wrong to use the word when referring to people in this country illegally.

On the other side was a group of 60 or so that included legal immigrants and naturalized citizens, all standing up for a free press.

Separating them was a fence set up by the Santa Barbara Police Department.

Waving the American flag in a way that signals distress, a man protesting the News-Press comes face to face with free-speech proponents outside the paper’s headquarters in De la Guerra Plaza.
People opposing the word “illegals” in the News-Press march through De la Guerra Plaza.
Self-proclaimed patriots rally for free speech on the sidewalk outside the paper.
From opposing sides of a fence erected by the Santa Barbara Police Department, Julia Di Sieno, right, debates free speech with protestors who take issue with the paper’s use of the word “illegals.”

Robin Hvidston, president of We the People Rising and organizer of the group supporting the paper that started its rally at about noon, said she was moved to act after someone sprayed graffiti and tossed paint bombs at the paper’s headquarters in response to its use of the word illegals in a story about the state granting driver’s licenses to people here in violation of federal law.

Among the messages scrawled near the front entrance was this: “The border is illegal, not the people who cross it.”

The incident happened in the hours leading up to an earlier protest of the paper that took place the same day France was mourning the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

“We’re very alarmed that groups are trying to dictate to a newspaper, particularly with what we saw in France with the Charlie Hebdo magazine,” Ms. Hvidston said.

The sentiments were echoed by Steve Thomas, president of the Santa Barbara Tea Party: “It’s amazing to me that we recently witnessed a huge tragedy with Charlie Hebdo. And what did Charlie Hebdo do? They were insulting everybody. They were the universal insulters, and they were massacred.”

“We stand with the News-Press, we stand for the right of the News-Press to use the word illegal,” Mr. Thomas said. “We stand with the News-Press in their right to report the news as it stands.”

“Truth is not mean, it is simply truth,” he continued, quoting the late Andrew Breitbart. “And that’s what we stand for. We stand for the truth. We will not stand for anybody crossing the line to stop freedom of speech.”

The group also heard from Jamiel Shaw, whose son, Jamiel Shaw Jr., a high school basketball star in Los Angeles, was gunned down by a gang member in the country illegally – a point he drove home repeatedly during a brief speech.

“I’m a pissed-off dad,” he told the crowd that lined up on the sidewalk in front of the paper.

Jamiel Jr. “had a right to grow up,” he said. “He had a right to have kids.”

Mr. Shaw described for the crowd how he reluctantly agreed when his son asked to go to the mall in a rough part of town that fateful day in 2008.

“I was scared, but I said yes.”

Walking to the mall, Jamiel Jr. was shot dead by Pedro Espinoza, 19, a member of the 18th Street gang who mistook the boy for a rival, all because Jamiel had a red Spider-Man backpack.

Adding to the tragedy is that the gunman had been released from Los Angeles County Jail hours before he killed the boy.

“The illegal alien that shot my son was out of jail one day,” said Mr. Shaw.

In 2012, Mr. Espinoza was sentenced to death.

To a heckler who called out that Martin Luther King Jr. would be ashamed of Mr. Shaw for his position, the angry father responded: “Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud of us today because this is what he died for – our right to protest.”

At another point in his speech, Mr. Shaw said, “I am not an African-American. I am a black American and proud of it. … Illegal aliens are killing blacks.”

“Illegal aliens are not the American Dream,” he said.

With signs promoting free speech held high and the stars and stripes waving, the group sang patriotic songs, read aloud the First Amendment and Preamble to the Constitution, and were not afraid to say where they stand on people violating the law in entering the country.

Holding a small American flag over his shoulder, Robert C. Newman of Redlands said he was willing to drive 300 miles round-trip to advocate legal entry to the U.S.

“My concern is securing the borders and keeping America safe from illegal intrusion of any type.”

A farm boy at heart, he knows all about the contributions immigrants make to the agriculture industry.

“We do need legal immigration in this country,” he said. “I, being involved in agriculture for so many years, am concerned that we have a guest-worker program.”

When a season is over “and the migratory aspects are finished, then a person must return to their country of origin,” said Mr. Newman.

The rally also saw members of Santa Barbara-based Californians for Population Stabilization.

“Our main concern is, and has been, for over 30 years, overpopulation driven primarily by over immigration,” Jo Wideman , the executive director, told the News-Press. “While we believe that most immigrants are good, hard-working people, we just can’t afford to absorb them all. Our motto is, ‘It’s not about who, but how many.’ We have limited resources: water, fresh air, flora and fauna. Our schools, prisons and freeways are terribly overcrowded.”

Ms. Wideman said with 92 million Americans out of the workforce, “giving work permits to millions and millions of people who should not even be here is just wrong.”

CAPS, she said, is running national ads “asking if so many African-Americans being out of work would have been Martin Luther King’s dream.”

While some from the opposition taunted the free-speech group at the south end of the plaza, the bulk of the group gathered at the other end before starting their rally in earnest at about 3 p.m. – the “deadline” they’d given the News-Press to retract the headline, issue an apology and change its policy.

The paper has no plans to do so.

They marched the loop a few times, chanting anti News-Press slogans, and going head to head with the free-speech group.

The protesters, including some former News-Press employees who tried earlier to assert editorial control over the paper and lost in federal court, used the monarch butterfly as their mascot, some donning orange wings, others holding balloons in the shape of butterflies.

“The butterfly wings represent the monarch butterfly, which originates from Mexico,” said Kathy Swift, from protest organizer People Organizing for the Defense and Equal Rights. “The butterflies follow a path of natural migration to get to the United States, and are viewed as a beautiful creature of nature.”

Protestors say use of the word “illegals” automatically dehumanizes Latinos.

Gavy Hernandez agrees, saying, “We are all humans; we’re not just here to put on a show. We are here in support of freedom of speech and to be accountable, not to provoke anyone.”

She said the headline was “disheartening.”

“But to see the second headline posted just last week? That shows us that some of these people don’t care about our community. It’s clear that the newspaper won’t back down.”

Oakland resident Filberto Nolasco, PODER activist, said use of the word smacked of righteous indignation. “I was mad. How can they call our community illegal?”

Santa Barbara resident Jasmine Reyes, 21, who was in the plaza with her sister, Kiki, 20, said she was saddened to see such bickering, especially given the day belonged to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.

“It’s sad this is happening. What was the point of Martin Luther King doing so much for racial justice only to have people screaming and yelling at one another 50 or 60 years later?”

Their mother, Maria Ochoa, said, “I have been living here for 25 years, and it has been nothing but peaceful. Seeing all of the screaming and shouting going on between these groups of people is very sad.”

By 4:30, the protest ended, and the police took down the fence.

Santa Barbara City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss said he attended the rally for a simple reason: “We’re here because of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which ensures freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the right of the people to peaceably assemble. When one group or party seeks to suppress any of these rights – by defacing a newspaper, for example – all those essential freedoms are threatened. And if they are not defended, they will disappear.”

Those freedoms, he added, must be defended, “whether it is the News-Press, the Independent … or any other newspaper that is the target of illegal protest.”

We the People Rising member Raul Rodriguez said that while he agrees with the word “illegals” as it is being used in the paper, his overriding concern is that outsiders would try to intimidate and censor a news outlet.

“Freedom starts with speech,” he said.

He added his group is for legal immigration.

“But we want to tell the illegals that if you’re here in the country illegally, you’re an illegal, and you need to get in line like everybody else did and get papers to become a citizen.”

“Otherwise, go back.”

Staff writer Mitchell White contributed to this report.

email: [email protected]

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