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Ribbons on city-owned trees spark a debate in Grover Beach 

Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande residents put blue ribbons on city-owned trees after the active shooter incident in Paso Robles on June 10 and 11 to support the local law enforcement personnel who were injured while responding.

click to enlarge COMMUNITY DEBATE The city of Grover Beach called a time-out on community members arguing over placing ribbons on city-owned trees.s - SCREENSHOT FROM FACEBOOK
  • Screenshot From Facebook
  • COMMUNITY DEBATE The city of Grover Beach called a time-out on community members arguing over placing ribbons on city-owned trees.s

The act sparked a ribbon back-and-forth between those supporting Blue Lives Matter and those in support of Pride Month. The debate ended with Grover Beach city officials intervening and reminding the community that personal property cannot be placed on city-owned property.

In the last several months, Grover Beach City Manager Matt Bronson said, the community has been going through the same things the rest of the nation has: a global pandemic and the related economic impacts, as well as reactions to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis coupled with the pain that many residents feel and are expressing about injustice.

"These are legitimate concerns that people have. We're very concerned and disappointed by how people have been sharing and expressing these concerns outside of the peaceful free speech that we protect and enshrine in our community," Bronson said.

Through social media posts on the Protect Five Cities Facebook page, city officials became aware that residents decided to place blue ribbons on trees in the two cities along Branch Street and Grand Avenue starting the weekend of June 13. Bronson said the city then learned that other residents began putting up multicolored ribbons—some were placed around the existing blue ribbons—to create a rainbow supporting Pride Month. Residents who put up the blue ribbons then began to take down the rainbow ribbons.

"We also became aware that there were videos that were showing confrontations between individuals with scissors in their hands removing said ribbons and confronting others who were placing rainbow ribbons on trees," he said.

Individuals in the Protect Five Cities Facebook group, Bronson said, stated that the rainbows co-opted the blue ribbons and their support of law enforcement.

Shelley Wood told New Times that she and her friend Bonnie Evans decided to put up blue ribbons after one of the administrators for the Protect Five Cities Facebook group called on its members to go out and show their support and respect for local law enforcement involved in the Paso Robles incident. Wood said the Protect Paso, Protect Atascadero, and Protect Santa Maria groups joined the act of support.

"My heart was in the place of supporting people, and I never intended for anyone else to feel hurt or unsupported through our actions. We wanted to say to the law enforcement here, 'We appreciate you and we honor all that hard work,'" Wood said.

When she found that the blue ribbons were covered, Wood said she felt hurt and angry.

"I didn't understand why anyone would try to cover the support we had placed," she said.

Wood posted an eight-second video on Protect Five Cities of her friend cutting down the multi-colored ribbons off the tree, leaving their initial blue ribbon intact.

She didn't post the video to "bash anyone," she said, but to show "loyalty to all those who put hours and hours in putting them up." The video was shared, and Wood said it was interpreted as a representation of hateful action against the LGBTQ community—which she said it wasn't. The backlash was immediate, calling for Wood to be fired from her place of employment.

"It looks so terrible without context, but it literally had nothing to do with people the ribbons represented, just uncovering the blues ones," Wood said. "Through this, people I have never ever met began to make calls, emails, and Facebook messages to my past brokers saying I hated gay people, and that I should be fired, also calling me a racist and many other derogatory depictions."

Woods removed her account, she said, for safety reasons after receiving threats and one death threat.

"It has been so challenging; I have cried and cried for days trying to figure out how to resolve this and explain our intentions," she said.

The social media ribbon conversation began to escalate when the Protect Five Cities group started talking about putting up ribbons that were harder to remove—such as using blue duct tape or putting the ribbons higher up on the trees with ladders.

"We also saw a post from somebody that advocated for putting poison oak on the blue ribbons so that if somebody tried to remove them, they would have a nasty surprise," Grover Beach City Manager Bronson said.

At that point, Bronson stepped in via the city of Grover Beach's Facebook page to say that individual items are not permitted on city-owned property, including trees, and are subject to removal.

"It was unfortunate that the city had to step in and do this, but given what was transpiring, we felt that we had to step in as a city and really call time-out and urge people to show their support for their causes—be it law enforcement, first responders, Black Lives Matter, and other causes—on their own property," he said.

The video of Wood and her friend was shared on the SLO County Protest Watch Facebook page along with another video of a woman confronting underage girls putting up the multi-colored ribbons. The mother of the girls asked New Times to keep her name anonymous for safety concerns. She said she felt the blue ribbons were put up in direct opposition to the Black Lives Matter marches.

"We kind of just wanted to illustrate what it feels like when people say 'all lives matter,' because you know that's exactly what the rainbow ribbons did," she said.

She said she and her daughters split up to tie the ribbons, but a woman approached the girls and asked them if they were putting up the ribbons in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. She said the woman also shamed the girls for the rainbow ribbons.

"I've lived here for 18 years and this is the first time I've had a fairly nasty interaction with the public and I feel like that's, ... this is what our president has done. I mean he's turned even the happiest place in the country to a divided place," she said. Δ

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