July 5 protest

Voices raised—From left, Brenda Ramirez-Sotelo, Erika Quezada and Ashley Sanchez address participants during a July 5 protest. Photo Zoë Strickland

Second Cloverdale protest brings out around 70 participants

Around 70 people filed into the Cloverdale Plaza on Sunday, July 5, protesting police brutality and voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Participants were also encouraged to share their experiences, or their family’s experiences, with racism in Cloverdale. 

The event was organized by Brenda Ramirez-Sotelo, Ashley Sanchez, Erika Quezada and Vianey Lopez, who held the protest under the name Stand 4 Justice. Ramirez-Sotelo and Sanchez also organized a protest in support of Black Lives Matter at the end of May. 

The event, which lasted a few hours, also had a space for people to write on cards and share their experiences with racism in Cloverdale, as well as tables set up where people could register to vote or purchase a raffle ticket or T-shirt, the proceeds of which are being donated to Colors of Change and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We decided to do it today just because it’s not over yet,” Ramirez-Sotelo said. “We’re going to keep on speaking until we can’t anymore, and we can have our voices be shared for those who can’t.” 

Cards detailing experiences of racism were hung on a string on the Plaza, where those in attendance could read them. The activity was inspired by a similar event held in Healdsburg on June 11.

On one card, someone wrote that they were 4-years-old when they were first told to “go back to Mexico.” Two of the cards mentioned people being called racial slurs. Others talked about being encouraged to be part of the community and to help think of solutions, only to not be truly seen or have their ideas recognized. 

During the 2010 census, Cloverdale’s population was 29.4% Latino.

“It’s about bringing awareness to racism in Cloverdale. We had some backlash last time we tried to do the Black Lives Matter protest and we had some people making comments like, ‘We’re really supportive in Cloverdale, we don’t treat people differently here,’ and what they don’t realize is that while their experiences are great, some other people here do experience racism, and so we want to start that conversation,” Quezada said. “Sometimes it’s hard to have that conversation, it’s a vulnerable conversation to have, but also with a town with a big Hispanic population, people who are undocumented live in fear. They live in fear of calling the police when something is happening, when they’re being harassed, when they have racism or hate being projected toward them.”

“The point is also, if you are a child of an undocumented person or a Latino person who has experienced racism, tell their stories if they can’t. If there’s a language barrier, come here and tell their stories. And if you’re not scared, if you have the privilege to be a U.S. citizen and your parents don’t, if you’re not scared to speak up then speak up,” she continued. 

Prior to the May 31 protest, Ramirez-Sotelo and Sanchez faced increasing calls to cancel the event, with community members expressing fear that a protest would turn violent and result in looting. The May 31 event, which brought out around 50 people, remained peaceful. In Sonoma County, the only protests that have resulted in violence or looting have been ones in Santa Rosa. In north county alone, Healdsburg has had three protests (one student-led one, which resulted in the current investigation of a vehicle that allegedly sped toward protesters in an unsafe manner) and Windsor has had two.

Ramirez-Sotelo said that Sunday’s event received some negative comments, but not as many as they received last time.

“We’re not going to be silenced. We want our voices to be heard. We’re done with injustice, we’re done seeing every news title of ‘oh, another person got killed,’ ‘another person of color got killed,’” she said. “We deserve rights as humans. We’re all the same. We all die the same. We’re all just skin and bones and at the end of the day we just want to be treated equally.” 

The organizers said that even as protests and calls for reform are happening across the country, news of more instances of police brutality have continued. 

“There’s always a different news story, different names, different victims,” Sanchez said.

During the protest, someone read off the names of 86 people of color who have been killed by police. The names made up an incomplete list of people presented on a large-scale poster with illustrations of those killed. 

Protesters also chanted the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and others, as well as “hands up, don’t shoot” and “no justice, no peace.”

Quezada said that they also want to encourage people to educate themselves and their family members about issues like mass incarceration and systemic racism, and to vote locally. 

“If you feel like your vote doesn’t matter, it does. But also, if you feel like you can’t make a difference in a huge way, you can make a small difference in any small town like this. We don’t have a lot of diversity of people here. We don’t have many Black people here — and maybe there’s a reason for that, things like redlining and looking into those things that have been set in a place, a system that has been set in place to keep minorities down,” she said.

“We have to continue doing the long work — it’s not just showing up for a protest, it’s reading a book, it’s watching a documentary, it’s having conversations — you have to do more than show up,” she said.

When asked if they’ve been contacted by city officials about discussing racism in Cloverdale, the organizers said that Councilmember Marta Cruz gave them resources to include voter registration at the event. They said that there have been other council members who have been supportive on community Facebook pages, and both Councilmember Melanie Bagby and Mayor Gus Wolter attended the event. 

“I hope that with us having this, people can try to empathize with people that have experienced hate,” Quezada said. “We’re having these conversations and it’s vulnerable, we want the community to understand that while they’ve had a great experience here … some of us have not and let’s just be empathetic and let’s be patient and let’s be tolerant and hear them. Try to understand where we’re coming from. People have had the police rally here and that’s great if they want to support the police. We’re not here being anti-police, we’re here trying to hold the police accountable. We’re not upset people are having these police rallies, we encourage people to be passionate and stand up for what they believe in, but we don’t want people to be upset with us for doing what we believe.

“On the receiving end of the police rally, I don’t feel like they had a lot of hate, especially not from us. But we’ve experienced a lot of backlash, and people personally messaging us things. It’s not fair, it doesn’t seem fair for us. We’re being polite and we’re being respectful and we were initially doubted,” she continued.

The group reiterated that they plan to hold future events, which will be listed on their Instagram page, @cloverdalestandforjustice. 

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