From the Calaveras Enterprise.
Two teens who were organizing a peaceful protest in solidarity with nationwide anti-racism movements chose to postpone the event, citing death threats and a lack of support from local authorities.
Originally planned for Friday afternoon at the intersection of Highways 4 and 49 in Angels Camp, a new date and location for the protest has yet to be determined. Organizers say they were expecting 50 to 100 protesters to attend.
Organizer Claudia Loomis, a 19-year-old Bret Harte High School graduate and Columbia College student, told the Enterprise on Tuesday that she and her former classmate, 18-year-old Riley Lowell, didn’t expect the backlash they received after sharing their plan for the protest on Facebook.
“We got death threats from people calling us and telling us they know where we live,” said Loomis, who claims she has received roughly a dozen threatening calls from community members, including one man who promised to hold Loomis and her family “accountable” if the protest turned violent. “He said, ‘you know what that means around here.’ … They’re saying on Facebook that they have enough bullets to take down protesters; that they’re going to run us over.”
In the Valley Springs Bulletin Board Facebook group, where the protest flier was shared, hundreds of commenters butted heads over the event, with many expressing concerns that it would morph into a riot.
“What in the hell are you protest[ing] for?” one commenter wrote. “Something that happened somewhere else nowhere near you that honestly and truly doesn’t concern you and is really none of your [expletive] business.”
“Shoot to kill,” another wrote, with a second replying, “shoot to kill.”
In Sonora, a candlelight vigil organized by social activism group Tuolumne County Indivisible was held outside the county courthouse Monday night to honor victims of racial violence. As reported by mymotherlode.com, the event was peaceful, barring some obscenities yelled out by people driving by.
A Black Lives Matter protest is also planned for Wednesday afternoon in downtown Sonora. According to the Union Democrat, roughly 200 concerned citizens gathered for a meeting with law enforcement Tuesday to discuss how to protect local businesses. Sonora police chief Turu VanderWiel told the crowd that his department would be “in full force” on Wednesday.
Loomis said she met with California Highway Patrol, Angels Camp Police Department, Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office and city officials on Tuesday to discuss safety measures for the now-canceled protest in Angels Camp.
Sheriff Rick DiBasilio and Chief of Police Scott Elllis, in coordination with city officials, recently released statements condemning Minneapolis officers’ actions in the May 25 death of George Floyd, while also asserting that looting and violence would not be tolerated within the county.
“We respect the rights of all citizens to peacefully protest and demonstrate to express their outrage with the events in Minneapolis, however, regardless of the pain caused and felt by these events, the rights of others must be respected,” Ellis said in the statement, issued Tuesday morning.
Prior to cancelling the event, Loomis told the Enterprise that local law enforcement had agreed to provide protection to protestors, though it was suggested that she postpone the protest or pursue another method of activism.
“We have the protection of the police, but I don’t believe we have their support for doing (the protest) at this time,” Loomis said. “It seems like everyone was very worried about it getting violent, and rightly so. They didn’t want to entertain the idea of it being a peaceful, positive protest.”
Loomis says the spread of misinformation regarding the planned protest has been a predominant source of fear within the community.
“A lot of people started a rumor that I’m from out of town and paying Antifa to come up to protest for us,” she said. “No one’s going to come out to a little conservative town.”
Yet some of the more controversial social media posts have been penned by Loomis herself. She has recently taken heat for stating in a May 28 Facebook post that police are “inherently racist.”
Loomis took the opportunity to clarify that point on Tuesday, stating that “the justice system is rooted in racism” and that not all police officers are corrupt. She said she often uses “slang” terms among her politically minded Facebook friends that are not always understood by the general public.
Both Loomis and Lowell attended the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program during high school, where they participated in mock-governmental procedures. Loomis is a political science major and considers politics her “passion.” During her senior year of high school, she organized a walkout addressing school shootings in America.
Though she recognizes a lack of occurrences of police brutality within Calaveras County, Loomis still believes that racism is a relevant issue within the community, where less than 10% of the population is non-white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
She said she has received private messages from black community members thanking her for organizing the protest, expressing their fears of losing their jobs or facing “retribution” from other citizens if they were to speak out publicly.
Loomis said her family has also experienced racism first-hand as her adopted brother grew up in the area.
According to Loomis’ mother, Joan Loomis, her deceased son Jesse Jamerson Loomis was the first black child to attend Mark Twain Middle School during the late ’90s. She said he was bullied throughout his childhood and called “filthy names” by his peers. Jesse committed suicide by driving into a mountainside at the age of 20, she said.
“I’ll tell you, if I had to do it over again, I would not have brought a black child into the area,” said Joan Loomis, who claims she has raised “a few hundred” adopted and foster children in Calaveras County. “But now, it’s accepted. Maybe his purpose was to break the mold and make it OK for others.”
Claudia Loomis said she doesn’t condone looting or violence, but she wanted to organize the protest to bring attention to what she believes to be a real problem within her community.
“(Racism) definitely exists up here. It’s not something we should be silent about because it seems so far away,” Loomis said. “By promoting racial equality and trying to challenge people’s beliefs, we’re going to make this a safer place for locals to stay and live and raise their families.”