Saturday was brutal.
After working around the clock for months on COVID, battling a COVID induced budget crisis, massive civil unrest nationwide, and now a critical incident with multiple officers shot. The suspect threw pipe bombs at deputies and shot and Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller with an assault rifle and my officers were on the way in an armored vehicle to rescue officers trapped. I did not need one more protest. I ran out of resources.
At the same time as the critical incident, two protests took place in Santa Cruz. Both centered on policing and the need for change. The protesters were at the department to demand change while our officers were focused on saving others. Our resources were depleted before the incident, now just a few officers were left to police the city and large portions of the county.
I walked out to reason with the protesters, and listen to their grievances. Walking out, I felt stressed, exhausted, and angry. Why would these protesters pick a time like this to barrage the department? Of course, they could not have known about the wounded officers.
I opened the front door and stepped into the crowd. They kneeled silently with their hands up.
This protest, more than any of the others, had a profound impact on me. The group was a mixture of high school, college students (UCSC) and activists. I explained the situation and asked for them to give us a little breathing room. “Protest! Do it loudly, as we need to hear your voices and be determined to bring change. But today, please be respectful, as two officers were just shot, and I did not know their condition.” I looked at the ground. Emotional.
A man stood up from the demonstrators and said, “Can I pray for you?” I agreed. I took a knee along with protesters, this time not showing solidarity with them, but them supporting me, our department, and our officers. It was powerful. Meaningful. Touching. Timely.
These kids and activists have my full attention. I talked with a group of them for over a half-hour about how we can bring change. They had solid ideas and incredible passion. I have learned the vast majority of protesters want to see peace and justice, not the abolition of the police or anarchy.
I and every cop in my building would go to battle for these students—actually, Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller did. Sgt. Gutzwiller was killed defending their right to protest peacefully. These protesters showed Gutzwiller the respect he was due. Respect and listening to one another is how America rises out of this crisis.