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Not a hero 

Tianna Arata is not a hero. She does not deserve special consideration from the legal system or anyone else. Ms. Arata led an unlawful protest, qualifying as a riot by law enforcement, onto the U.S. 101 freeway, blocking traffic lanes in both directions. She put the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people in jeopardy. She demonstrated a cavalier disregard for the rights of others and displayed a sense of entitlement that she can do anything she wants without consequences.

If you look at the complete video from that event (I have) you see her compatriots surrounding and blocking a car with a pregnant woman in labor even as the driver pleaded with "protesters" to let them pass. They taunted the driver with slogans such as "you have to share the pain" as a woman planted herself directly in front of the vehicle to ensure the vehicle couldn't move. Ms. Arata shows up at the scene and makes no attempt to assist the driver or the woman in labor but simply joins in with political chants. No compassion here, just a sense of entitlement and a desire to be obnoxious.

I frequently travel south down the 101 from Cuesta Grade and what I've noticed over the last 20 years is a dramatic increase in traffic, especially by heavy trucks. I've seen bad accidents on the grade and several chain-reaction accidents over the years. It's not easy to bring an 80,000 pound semi-truck to a stop when rounding a curve, of which there are many driving south on the 101 especially when you encounter a sudden traffic backup in front of you. Many of these big-rigs are carrying very hazardous and flammable materials posing special risks to everyone on the freeway. When confronting an unanticipated traffic jam, a single moment of inattentiveness can become a disaster in short order. It's not hard to imagine a pileup with people seriously injured, trapped in vehicles, or even killed with secondary effects such as fires spreading from the accident scene to the adjacent wildland. None of this seems to have occurred to Ms. Arata and her followers as they marched into the lanes of traffic after previously assuring local law enforcement that they would not go onto the freeway. Due in part to her assurances, the Highway Patrol had inadequate resources on hand to mitigate Ms. Arata's dangerous actions.

People could have been seriously injured or killed by Ms. Arata's actions, and her motivations are irrelevant. There is no justification for endangering the lives of motorists or demonstrators by such an irresponsible action. She led the demonstration, and no evidence has surfaced that she as a leader and organizer did anything to dissuade anyone from taking this dangerous course of action. The sympathy she is receiving from the local press is as irresponsible as it would be if an intoxicated motorist engaging in "wrong-way driving" was apprehended and the media pleaded for charges to be dismissed because of the driver's youth, gender, or "having a bad life experience." Ms. Arata's followers now demand charges against her be dismissed by SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow. Flyers from "Black Lives Matter" have appeared threatening his family in an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

I also take exception to the notion that SLO County is "systemically racist," a notion that is as insulting to the people of this county as it is false. Black Americans have lived and prospered in integrated neighborhoods, holding positions of high public esteem in our community, (such as Atascadero) since the 1950s, long before Ms. Arata was born.

I lived through the civil rights struggle, witnessing firsthand what a systemically racist community was like. The attitudes prevalent in society at large were racist in the 1950s when segregation was legal and codified. Americans watched the struggle of Black Americans as they fought for recognition as human beings and American citizens. I, along with millions of other Americans, came to admire Dr. Martin Luther King and those who peacefully marched with him. Despite savage attacks by segregationist forces, King never acquiesced to the temptation to resort to violence or retaliate against their persecutors. Their restraint gave them the moral authority to win over America's hearts and minds and changed how Americans viewed Black America. You have to remember that America was taught to hold Black Americans in low regard by academia, the media, and every public entertainment venue for more than 300 years. It takes time to change hearts and minds, but they have changed. As a result, Black Americans have risen to hold every position in society with white America electing and re-electing a Black president just 12 years ago. There is no position in society that they haven't held or height they haven't achieved, nor is any barrier so difficult that they can't overcome it.

Believing that Black Americans can't achieve due to systemic racism is itself a form of racism, implying that without help, young Black men and women are doomed to inevitable failure no matter their effort. Racism does exist in individuals, but like other sins, decent people strive to overcome it and reject it as America has over the last half-century. Δ

Al Fonzi had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Respond with a letter to the editor emailed toletters@newtimesslo.com.

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