Story #1: How SLO protest leader Tianna Arata went from outsider to the middle of history It is the first house Tianna Arata has ever lived in. A place where they could finally settle down, have backyard barbecues, game nights and pizza parties. This story is a subscriber exclusive A place to call home. Now, things are different. Curtains are drawn; new security systems installed. Visitors never cross the threshold, and the beds are empty. “People say, ‘Oh, SLO, it’s so kind,’ ” Arata said. “But to me, especially recently, it hasn’t been. It’s been scary.” San Luis Obispo police arrested the 20-year-old after an anti-racism protest on July 21 on suspicion of participation in a riot, unlawful assembly, conspiracy, unlawful imprisonment and resisting arrest, according to a press release sent out by the department a few hours after she was detained. On Wednesday evening, San Luis Obispo County chief deputy district attorney Jerret Gran said that the police department is now recommending total of eight charges be filed against Arata, including five felonies. Those charges are four felony counts of false imprisonment; one felony count of conspiracy; one count of resisting or obstructing a peace officer, a misdemeanor; one count of inciting a riot, a misdemeanor; and one misdemeanor count of unlawful assembly. Arata is now in a state of legal limbo — advised by her attorney to keep a low profile while the District Attorney considers pursuing the charges. Comments posted on social media, YouTube and online forums after Arata’s arrest call her a domestic terrorist, compare her to Charles Manson and muse over different ways to kill or injure her and the other protesters. The targeted hate and aggression toward Arata have opened deep wounds of traumatization and ripped away any sense of safety, she said. “It’s deteriorating me,” Arata said in an interview with The Tribune. “Mentally as well as physically because I don’t get good rest. I’m waking up in the middle of the night.” The aspiring model and bubbly extrovert is now in a confusing standstill as she waits for the police to finish their investigation. “I just turned 20 last month, there’s so much that I want to accomplish,” Arata said. “And I’ve been through so much struggle in my life that dealing with this, it’s just like, I just want to be able to overcome it and to go on to the new steps of my life.” “It’s frustrating because I don’t necessarily see why all of this is being slammed onto me. I’m trying to build bridges. I’m trying to help people.” Growing up in Portland Building bridges became Arata’s specialty as a young kid growing up in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. She and her mother, Michelle, were forced to move around to afford rent. “We have always lived below the federal poverty level,” Michelle Arata said. “Like way below the federal poverty level,” Tianna added. Each month they couldn’t pay rent meant another month living at her grandparents’ house, and then another month trying to settle into a new apartment. It meant Tianna never had just one group of friends, she had lots, scattered around the city. Arata went to 10 different schools from kindergarten through high school. She was always the new kid, forced to carve out her place within unfamiliar schools and communities. Oftentimes, Arata found herself going to each new school with a nearly-empty lunchbox. “I remember I was in first or second grade and we barely had any food at home at the time,” Arata said. “And my mom packed me a bag of pretzels for lunch.” “All the kids would tease me. They’d be like, ‘Tianna, why don’t you just go buy school lunch.’ I didn’t want to tell them, ‘Hey, I can’t afford school lunch.’” Arata’s discomfort motivated her to prevent anyone else from feeling the same way, she said. She said she often found herself forming unusual friend groups, mixing everyone together — from the jocks to the nerds, no matter their sexual orientation, race or religion. In Arata’s circle, everyone was welcome. “I always wanted to make people feel accepted and feel comfortable because there’s been a lot of situations where it’s like I’m the outsider,” Arata said. Finding a foothold in activism Though Arata opened her arms to everyone, many did not do the same for her, she said. Taunts, microaggressions and insults against the color of her skin found her at every school she attended. “It was just a constant reminder that no matter how hard I tried to integrate people, I still was being pictured as other, as undesirable,” she said. That is, until Arata found her home in the activist community. Shortly after the Black Lives Matter movement started in 2013, she joined an Oregon-based organization, Don’t Shoot Portland, which protests against racism, police brutality and state violence. At just 14 years old, Arata marched at the front of protests in Oregon’s largest city and sat down to speak to the mayor and Portland Police Department in panels, she said. “Through all the mentorships and people I was able to meet, they (Don’t Shoot Portland) really uplifted me and showed me: This is how you do it, this is how you step into your own,” Arata said. Move to SLO brings culture shock Just as Arata had found her place, however, change came again when she and her mother moved to San Luis Obispo in 2016 to be closer to family. While Tianna attended and lived at the Grizzly Youth Academy, Michelle Arata said she slept on an air mattress in her brother’s office for months before she was able to get a job. “By the time she graduated, we had a home, which we still live in,” Michelle Arata said. “It’s the first home we’ve ever lived in. A house.” “I’ve never had, like, an actual house,” Tianna interjected. “We open the door, and we walk out to the street. We have a yard. We can have a barbecue,” Michelle added. It seemed like they had moved to paradise. But those rose-tinted glasses were quickly lifted. People crossed the street when they saw Arata and her friends of color. They followed her in grocery stores to make sure she didn’t steal anything. They stared. “At first, people are afraid of me,” Arata said. “People have not had exposure to black people here.” Black or African American people make up just 2% of San Luis Obispo County’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. White people make up more than 68% of the county’s population, compared to 37% of the state’s population, according to the Census Bureau. After Arata graduated from Grizzly at age 16 and started at Cuesta College in 2017 to pursue a communications degree, she hoped to find a sense of community there. Instead, none of her teachers looked like her, and the college had no Black Student Union on campus until November 2019. “When you don’t even feel comfortable, when you don’t feel like you have kinfolk, you want to go into hiding,” Arata said. “You don’t want to be social. You don’t want to go apply for a job at the new coffee shop.” Even at Cuesta College, Arata said she still felt like an outsider. But, like she always had before, she created her own community. “Tianna was an incredibly natural and vocal leader, more so than any other athlete I had coached before,” said Brian Locher, the track and field coach at Cuesta College since 2007. “She helped cultivate good relationships on the team.” Locher, who coached Arata for the three years she was enrolled at Cuesta College and on the track team, described a time when two athletes on the team had a falling out. He said Arata rose to the occasion and was able to help the two teammates get past their differences and heal their relationship. “She was a rallying force on the team; she never swayed from being a positive person who could get everyone excited for the next (track) meet,” Locher said. And Arata has been a fierce friend for many in the area. When Ariana Afshar’s mom and brother were diagnosed with cancer during her first year at Cal Poly, Arata was there to keep her going. “I doubt I would have survived my time at Cal Poly without a friend like Tianna,” Afshar said. “She’s gone through things that most people will never understand, but that’s where her passion comes from. That’s what makes her so kind and so accepting and loving of others.” Arata says one outlet for her to express herself is her style of clothing. Her bold outfits catch the eye of any passerby, even those in the fashion industry. In 2018, she traveled to Barcelona to model for an Italian shoe designer. But her favorite gigs have always been in downtown San Luis Obispo. “She comes off as incredibly confident and proud. It’s infectious,” said Erica Hamilton, a co-owner of Blackwater, a local clothing boutique. “So we thought she would be a great face for our company.” A leading activist in San Luis Obispo from the start After her years of protesting as a young teenager in Portland, Arata wondered if San Luis Obispo would have similar community activism. In 2018, Arata protested with hundreds of Cal Poly students and community members over photos of fraternity members dressed as gang members and one in blackface. And in May, Arata was one of the leaders of San Luis Obispo’s first Black Lives Matter protest this year. Since then, she has been a prominent leader in the local movement calling upon the city’s police for reform and the entire community to stand against racism. “It’s been something that’s affected me my whole life,” Arata said. “I’m not the type of person who lays down and dies. I can’t do that because I have a position of privilege.” July 21 protest: ‘I don’t know where this idea of trust enters’ The event on July 21 seemed like just another demonstration. Arata and other organizers rallied more than 300 people to Mitchell Park for a “nonviolent protest,” according to the event’s flyer. In a text message to SLO police Chief Deanna Cantrell before the protest, Arata told her that “honestly, there’s no plan for tomorrow, but it’s going to be peaceful,” Cantrell told Tribune reporters in a recent interview. But after Arata and the protesters blocked Highway 101 and one smashed a car window with a 4-year-old reportedly in the back seat after the car hit a protester, Cantrell texted Arata that “trust goes both ways,” according to a livestreamed video of the protest. Arata said she did not witness the car’s window being smashed, but learned of it later. “I have been shown in every aspect of my life — whether it’s school, interpersonal, my family — that the police are not there to serve you, specifically as a black woman,” Arata said. “So I don’t know where this idea of trust enters.” Her mom, Michelle, said that the protests are not meant to build trust between the protesters and the police force, but rather spark reform. “If you continue to abide by the oppressor, nothing’s going to happen,” Michelle Arata said. “No change, no positive change, is going to happen. That’s why protests are disruptions.” During the protest, heated encounters continued between drivers and protesters, and in one interaction, Arata hit a car with a flagpole. The driver was described by SLOPD as a “vandalism victim,” and Arata may face vandalism charges if the Police Department chooses to bring them to the district attorney. Cantrell said she is not sure whether police will bring charges against the driver who hit Arata and other protesters with their car. ‘Why am I being arrested?’ After the march, as the sun dipped below the horizon, most protesters headed home. Arata and a small group of organizers stayed behind in Mitchell Park and then began to pack up Arata’s car. The arrest happened quickly, with officers leading her across the street as she is captured on video yelling, “I am not resisting!” Arata remembers sitting in the back of the police car, panic rising. She had never been arrested before, so she had no idea what would happen next. “I asked, ‘Why am I being arrested? Why am I being detained?’ They didn’t answer me,” Arata said. “I asked again, ‘Why am I being arrested?’ They didn’t answer me. I asked again, ‘Why am I being arrested?’” “And their only response was, ‘We don’t know yet,’” Arata said. SLOPD Capt. Brian Amoroso said this was not typical, and that usually when an arrest is made, the arresting officer has also been investigating the case and is very familiar with the charges the suspect is going to be booked on. But in Arata’s arrest, the four officers who took her into custody did not play major roles in the investigation, Amoroso said, so they may not have been fully familiar with her case. After the arrest, about a dozen protesters and organizers who had stayed behind or seen it as they were walking home shouted and cursed at officers who stood their ground. Eventually, officers drove away on motorcycles and in police cars, while the distressed crowd regathered at the SLO County Jail to rally for Arata’s release. At about 1 a.m., police released Arata on her own recognizance. She has an arraignment set for Sept. 3. The aftermath: Legal limbo and an empty house Arata and her mom have not slept at their house since the arrest — fearing for their safety. The threats against her have become so severe, they said, they decided to stay at a friend’s house. “I’m scared,” Arata said. “I’m scared with what charges could be filed. I’m scared about individuals who don’t like what I’m doing. I’m scared that even people I’ve known for years are now no longer supporting me.” Comments on online forums and social media deliberate different ways to kill Arata and other protesters — anything from releasing a hornets’ nest on them from above, to gunning them down or burning their houses down. Some call her a domestic terrorist. One comment on the website Press California even claimed “she makes Charles Manson look tame.” Arata has taken her Instagram account down. And Blackwater, which featured pictures of Arata modeling on its Facebook page, said it deactivated the page because of a slew of hate-filled comments directed at the business and Arata. The hate and vitriol has forced her into hiding, and, at her attorney’s request, out of the protests. “We see how police power works. It silences people,” said Patrick Fisher, Arata’s attorney. Arata said she’s frustrated and hurt that she cannot participate in the protests. Her mental and physical health have deteriorated, she said, and she’s constantly looking over her shoulder, fearful for her safety. For a woman who has spent her entire life feeling like the new kid and the outsider, she hoped settling down in San Luis Obispo would change that. “It’s the police’s goal to keep protesters safe and to keep other civilians safe as well,” Arata said. “But I feel like I wasn’t even kept safe by the police who are supposed to — that’s supposed to be their job, right?” The San Luis Obispo Police Department sent their investigation report on Arata to the county District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday evening, a District Attorney’s Office spokesman said, and suggested eight charges against her. It was not immediately clear what the maximum penalty is should she be convicted of all charges. Cantrell said all of the charges against Arata are based on probable cause. Meanwhile, a GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $22,500 for Arata’s legal costs. Only $10,000 of that will cover her legal fees and the rest will go to bail funds for other social justice activists, according to the campaign. Protests held Tuesday were “about Tianna,” said one organizer Cavin Stokes. Chants of “drop all charges” echoed off the walls of downtown as hundreds of protesters marched through the city. “If you look at the grand scheme of things, I don’t think how the police and the DA (district attorney) are reacting to this would be happening if Tianna were not black,” said her friend, Afshar, in an interview. “And we will not stop fundraising, signing petitions, or fighting until the charges are dropped.” CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect that the San Luis Obispo Police Department sent its investigation report to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office late Wednesday evening recommending eight charges against Arata, including five felonies. A previous version stated the District Attorney’s Office was still waiting for the report." STORY #2: "SLO police ask DA to file 8 charges against protest leader Tianna Arata, including 5 felonies The San Luis Obispo Police Department wants county prosecutors to charge the leader of a local protest with five felonies and three misdemeanors related to her July 21 arrest after marchers blocked traffic on Highway 101. Chief deputy district attorney Jerret Gran said Thursday that the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office received reports from the police department late Wednesday recommending charges against Tianna Arata and another protester, Elias Bautista, who was also arrested after the event had peacefully dispersed. Gran said that the police department is recommending a total of eight charges against Arata: four felony counts of false imprisonment; one felony count of conspiracy; one count of resisting or obstructing a peace officer, a misdemeanor; one count of inciting a riot, a misdemeanor; and one misdemeanor count of unlawful assembly. The police department also recommended two felony counts of resisting or obstructing a peace officer with force, and a count of taking of another person from custody by means of a riot for Bautista. It was not immediately clear what maximum penalties Arata, 20, and Bautista, 22, could face should they be convicted of all charges. Both have an arraignment date scheduled for Sept. 3. Arata’s attorney, Patrick Fisher, was not immediately available for comment Thursday morning. In response to questions about the arrests, San Luis Obispo police Chief Deanna Cantrell said the department’s accusations against Arata are based on probable cause. Prosecutors will now have to decide whether each charge is merited, and if so, whether they feel they can prove each charge beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. The recommended charges were announced a day after roughly 350 people marched peacefully across downtown San Luis Obispo demanding officials drop the case against Arata."