This story has been updated throughout the day.
Santa Ana officials on Sunday issued a 10 p.m. curfew for city residents — lasting through 5:00 a.m. on Monday — after a night of demonstrations and looting where police shot rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters who advocated against police violence while launching projectiles and setting off fireworks.
The Sunday order comes on the second day of protests across Orange County, with Huntington Beach police officials declaring competing protests as an unlawful assembly earlier in the day.
Protests still planned on Sunday included one in San Clemente and another underway in Santa Ana.
The protests in Santa Ana — along with demonstrations in two other OC cities — were prompted by nationwide rallies denouncing the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, and police violence against Black people and people of color in the U.S.
Local activists are questioning the curfew order and officials’ remarks denouncing Saturday’s looting and property damage — challenging them to look at systemic youth and policing issues in the city and why Floyd’s death struck such a nerve among young people in the first place.
City council members have largely separated and condemned the looters of local business establishments on Saturday from the core issues that are motivating the protests. One council member, David Penaloza, called the looters “animals” in a Facebook post — a statement he later apologized for.
Penaloza in a previous interview said the looters were “destroying an already marginalized community.”
Many Santa Ana residents, frustrated by the looting, also came out early Sunday morning to clean up affected business areas.
Citing the Saturday protests and the events unfolding nationwide, the local order issued by City Manager Kristine Ridge on Sunday under emergency declaration powers from the Covid-19 Pandemic said the city “deems a curfew necessary to secure the health and safety of Santa Ana’s citizens.”
Yet many youth leaders say city officials are misreading what’s really driving young residents to lash out.
The curfew “misses the point,” said Roberto Herrera, a director at Resilience OC.
While city officials argue looters weren’t a part of the protests — just exploiting them, Herrera said “Everything that’s happening and has happened around police accountability and George Floyd has direct connections to OC, and the violence youth experience at the hands of law enforcement.”
Herrera said looting by young people in the city can often be an expression of anger around systemic issues with their environments, and that arresting them “only continues this cycle.”
Young people in Santa Ana “don’t lead single-issue lives,” Herrera said.
“I am disappointed to see the city is yet again silencing residents and youth over the outrage of GeorgeFloyd. Last night’s protest was a result of years of police violence that closely hit home,” said Boomer Vicente, an organizer with Chispa OC.
Ridge in a Sunday phone interview said the curfew order isn’t meant to impede protests, rather “the city respects the right of anybody to do a peaceful protest, so the way we’re doing the curfew is to provide the opportunity to do so until 10:00 p.m.”
“We’re not doing anything in any way to eliminate or impede a protest,” she said, emphasizing the curfew will only last from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
Chispa Executive Director Hairo Cortes said “It would be nice to see this same immediate energy used to address the problems that have led to youth problems in the city.”
Asked about the criticisms, Penaloza said he understood the arguments by local organizers questioning the order. But he said “those are the consequences of those bad apples who caused the turmoil last night – now all those who are good meaning and want to protest peacefully have to pay the price.”
When it comes to looting — “that’s not acceptable,” he said.
During the curfew, no one can travel on any public street or public place, according to Ridge’s order, issued under her emergency authority granted during the novel Coronavirus pandemic.
To read the city curfew order, click here.
Exceptions to the curfew include “All law enforcement, fire and medical personnel, as well as other personnel authorized by the Santa Ana Police Department and credentialed members of the services are also exempt. Individuals seeking emergency care, fleeing danger, or experiencing homelessness, and having to travel to and from employment and religious services are also exempt.”
Police officers under the order are authorized to arrest people who don’t obey the curfew after a warning. “Any person not abiding by this declaration is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to punishment in accordance with the Santa Ana Municipal Code enforcement provisions.”
Local activists say tension in Santa Ana among young people is particularly high in this city – where youth make up a significant portion of the population – because the local police union is exerting undue influence on city hall as well as the local budget.
City residents did just come off a controversial recall of Republican Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias, who openly clashed with local police union officials over what she called unsustainable salary raises granted by the city council majority at the time.
Santa Ana’s police union also has effectively fought off local efforts to institute police oversight panels and held a no-confidence vote in Police Chief Carlos Rojas in 2015 largely over officer discipline issues. Rojas ultimately resigned back in 2017.
Since that time, the city’s police union has become the largest campaign spender in Santa Ana, with most of the city council members elected with their support.
The police in Santa Ana usually get the largest appropriation of the city’s spending budget — largely driven by payroll, which council members have in the past justified to keep the city competitive in hiring officers and maintaining effective police services and emergency response.
Yet activists say this trend on police spending ultimately ends up shorting other critical city services, such as youth programs, that also contribute to maintaining public safety.
While many city officials denounced young people on Saturday for looting, activists like Herrera argue that police are essentially “looting other city services by sucking up resources in the budget.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.