Saturday afternoon a large crowd gathered at Caldwell Park in Redding to listen to speakers, visit booths and participate in a silent March for Justice.
The event was originally scheduled for Tues., June 2, but was rescheduled earlier that same day due to a Shasta County Sheriff Department “officer-involved” shooting. According to Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller, investigation of the shooting had diverted law enforcement who had planned to provide security at the originally scheduled march. Organizers of the march asked locals to stay home after the march was cancelled, but a huge crowd instead chose to attend an alternate protest that was held at the Shasta County Courthouse the same night.
Despite the official reason given for rescheduling the original event, few law enforcement officers were seen at Saturday’s event at Caldwell Park.
The obvious law enforcement presence included four on motorcycles, two on bicycles and several law enforcement vehicles that closed the road for the march and to direct traffic. A single high-flying drone — possibly belonging to law enforcement — hovered near the side of the event. RPD chief Schueller and Shasta County Sheriff Magrini spoke at Saturday’s March for Justice, along with a number of other dignitaries, such as Eddie McAllister, a community activist associated with the The Beloved Community, and one of the organizers of the March for Justice
The low number of law enforcement officers involved in Saturday’s march stood in clear contrast to the significant law enforcement presence at the spontaneous protest that occurred Tuesday night in lieu of the originally scheduled March for Justice event. Pictures from that Tuesday-evening event show police on rooftops, stationed around the courthouse and blocking traffic on multiple roads surrounding the event. A line of approximately 20 members of law enforcement in riot gear worked to end that peaceful protest by containing and dispersing the crowd.
The Caldwell Park March for Justice was heavily religious, with three or more times of prayer, spoken word performances that referenced sin and revival, and a brief speech from co-organizer Jensine Victoria who said, “God is here. Can you feel it?” and “When we speak the language of heaven we speak the language of revival.” At times, dozens of participants raised their hands in prayer or worship.
The event has been widely associated on social media with local mega-church, Bethel, but online flyers for the event say it was organized by the Redding Hope Initiative and The Beloved Community. The Redding Hope Initiative appears to be a newly founded organization, according to online statements made by Victoria. A statement by Bethel’s Communications Director, Aaron Tesauro earlier in the week, denied any official Bethel affiliation with Redding Hope Initiative or this event. In his statement he said of Redding Hope Initiative:
“This is not a ministry or organization of Bethel Church, however we are aware that some but not all of these individuals have been students and are alumni of the ministry program at Bethel. As for those organizing this event, and anyone attending who may also attend or work at Bethel Church, those individuals are attending as citizens of Redding. As a church, we celebrate the goals and heart of this peaceful demonstration. Our community is deeply grieved by the recent death of George Floyd and other injustices like it over these last years, and is actively engaged in conversation with members of the black community who attend our church on how we can be both supportive and actively a part of facilitating change and reconciliation.”
Bethel Church did not respond to questions about what practical or financial steps they have taken since George Floyd’s death to support racial justice.
Janete Nash, a first generation Cuban-American, attended the Saturday event and called the experience, “nice but more like an MLK celebration than a protest.” She said she’d heard about it through the Shasta Beloved Community, which she said she had connected with only in the last few weeks. With tears in her eyes she recounted early childhood experiences that shaped her, such as hearing the phrase “one language, one flag” in school. Her parents spoke Spanish at home and she learned to speak English fluently only after beginning to attend school.
Eddie McAllister, said he chose to support the Saturday protest due to his connection with organizer Tinasha Larayé. “She’s been very active in the Beloved Community,” he said. “We’ll support anything she does.” McAllister said he was unable to attend other local protests this week, but was fully in favor of them, and was particularly impressed by the number of young people involved. McAllister said the new location of the March for Justice was chosen by Redding Police Chief Schueller, with agreement from the march organizers.
Nathan Blaze, founder of Facebook group Bethel Memes, and organizer of Friday’s protest at City Hall, was also at the event. Blaze said he came for a protest but was concerned about the Bethel lingo, as well as beliefs “forced” into the event, and about Bethel Church’s ties to local law enforcement. He cited the financial support Bethel Church has given the Redding Police Department, including money for drones, and salaries for community service officers.
“The police chief and Sheriff didn’t come to the City Hall event last night like this, and shake my hand,” he said. According to Blaze, Redding Police Chief Schueller told him 85-90 law enforcement would be stationed at his City Hall protest, but none of these officers participated by mingling with the crowd as Schuller and Magrini did during the Caldwell Park event. Blaze was also concerned about the format.
“I don’t understand why this is a silent march,” he said. “This is a time to get loud.” Organizers said during the event that the march would be silent because, “It’s time to talk with our feet.”
The March for Justice featured booths stationed around a soccer field including SCCAR, 2-1-1 NorCal, Hope City, Western Service Workers Association, a kids’ coloring booth, and first aid, water, snacks and volunteer-registration booths.
Organizers also mentioned a voter registration booth and encouraged participants to register to vote.
Around 2:45 p.m., after speeches, songs and prayers, the highly diverse crowd – many holding signs – left Caldwell Park and marched silently along the appointed path, led by the American flag.