Calls Mount For Irvine Mayor to Recant Criticisms of Protestors

NOAH BIESIADA, Voice of OC

Hollie Washington, Vice President of the Thurgood Marshall Bar Association, speaks in front of the Irvine City Hall on June 6.

Irvine Mayor Christina Shea is drawing criticism for recent Facebook postings and discussions where she took issue publicly with protesters who called the police department racist or promoted hostile sentiments to officers.

Shea’s stance drew a harsh rebuke on Friday night from Orange County’s Black bar association on the steps of city hall, with lawyers and community leaders calling on Shea to apologize, step down or prepare to be voted out.

“We are here tonight because we are outraged by the expressions of indifference, intolerance, and injustice we have seen over the last few days from the mayor of Irvine,” said Irvine resident Rebekah Thomas, president-elect of the Thurgood Marshall Bar Association. 

In the face of peaceful protesting, Mayor Shea has spoken and written about her intention to stop those who would bring radical behavior, expressions of anger, and other unrest to a place she calls her city. Not our city,” Thomas said. 

“Something is happening in our city. Something is happening in our world…we are in a place where we will no longer tolerate intolerance.”  

Based in Orange County, the Thurgood Marshall Bar Association is the only black bar association in Orange County, and is an affiliate of the Orange County Bar Association. They have nearly 100 active members including lawyers, judges, students and others according to Thomas. 

Friday’s press conference was led by Thomas, and included comments by the association’s vice president Hollie Washington, Rev. William Summerville and one of Shea’s colleagues on the city council, Councilwoman Farrah Khan, the only city representative to speak at the conference. 

The comments in question came from a video statement released by Shea and several comments on her Facebook page that many felt were insensitive to the issue.   

“I will not allow my city to become the location for expression of anger and hate against my residents and my stellar police force, who I stand behind 100%,” Shea said in the video. “I do not personally support displays that host profanity, comments of our police officers being racist, or promoting hostility.”

To view the full video of that address, click here.

Critics say Shea is way off in trying to squash free expression. 

“The rights afforded all us by the First Amendment affirms that you cannot tell us how to express our anger. We are here to inform you that you will not,” Washington said. “This statement was woefully irresponsible, insensitive, and ignorant.” 

Washington, who is also an Irvine resident, directly addressed Shea’s comments about how protestors should not call the police racist with her own story of when she was pulled over by the Irvine Police Department while driving home from work at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. 

On her way home through the rain, she said she was pulled over by officers without an explanation while wearing a black hoodie. 

“Instead of asking the initial questions they ask and telling me why I was pulled over they asked me: Where are you coming from? What are you doing in this neighborhood? And is this your car?” 

Washington said the officer told her she was getting an “attitude,” and Washington told the officer she was a lawyer because she “felt I had to say that to save my life.” 

“We are so accustomed to seeing normal traffic stops end in mangled black bodies on phone cameras. I was like, that could be me, and all I’m trying to do is work,” Washington said. 

Washington said she reached out to Police Chief Mike Hamel and had a productive conversation with him, and was set to have a conversation with the officer before the coronavirus pandemic forced the shuttering of many city facilities. 

“So Mayor Shea, I ask you, was that traffic stop stellar? No, it wasn’t,” Washington said. “The Irvine Police were not stellar on that early Saturday morning, but their response shows that they strive to be stellar, and are open to getting to know the black people in this community.” 

“It is my constitutional right to speak today and to speak about my encounter with the police…You do not have the authority, no one does, to sanction the words that come out of my mouth about my experience.” 

In a call with Voice of OC after the press conference, Shea made it clear she would not be issuing any type of retraction or apology for her comments. 

“I’ve never said anything that was egregious or in opposition to anybody protesting at city hall,” Shea said. “I think they’re limiting my freedom of speech, I don’t know where this nonsense is coming from.” 

When asked about Washington’s comments on her interaction with the Irvine Police Department, Shea said she had never heard about such an incident and said her door was always open to the community. 

“If they have a concern I’m more than willing to listen to those concerns. That’s legitimate and I’m very sympathetic to those concerns,” Shea said. 

Shea again mentioned she felt the press conference was politically motivated under the direction of Councilmember Farrah Khan, who she said is running for mayor in the upcoming election. 

Khan did not respond to requests for comment late last night to verify whether or not she was running for higher office. Khan did not make any remarks related to her potential candidacy at the event. 

“We can and will work for a better tomorrow,” Khan said. 

Khan also posted a statement on her Twitter late Friday night that spoke against criticizing protestors. 

“To infer that people are unpatriotic & support violence bc they participated in protests is unacceptable,” Khan wrote. 

The bar association also reinforced they did not have any political affiliation, stating they got involved after an Irvine resident named Lamar Ward reached out with concerns when his comments were deleted under the mayor’s Facebook page and he was blocked from commenting further on her account. 

“We were not called by any political party. We were called on by the people and that is why we’re here today,” Thomas said.  

When asked about the removal of posts on her Facebook, Shea said she had removed several comments because she thought they were troll posts. 

“They were making statements that I was racist, making all kinds of negative comments about the community, so I deleted those posts,” Shea said. “I made it very clear if you’re going to be threatening me I’m taking them down and I have every legal right to do that.” 

“My grandchildren go on my personal page, I will not tolerate people trolling me and putting fake posts up and lying about me, I don’t think any of us should tolerate that.”

Shea is up for election in November, with many of the residents who came to the conference reminding people to vote. 

Is it that hard for a mayor to do her job?” Rev. Summerville said while taking questions from the audience. “That’s all we’re asking. Just do your job.”