A Town Struggles to Find Harmony in a Divided Nation

Violent faceoff between Floyd protesters, counterprotesters roils Yucaipa, California
July 17, 2020 Updated: July 21, 2020

YUCAIPA, Calif.—When activists on social media suggested burning down businesses in Yucaipa, California, City Councilman Bobby Duncan grabbed his shotgun and headed uptown. He joined other citizens who had decided to keep watch on June 1, the night that attacks were expected.

“I brought my shotgun. I set it by the wall. I sat down by it. I didn’t have it in my hands. I wasn’t brandishing it,” Duncan told The Epoch Times.

A widely circulated image of several men holding guns on the roof of a building on Yucaipa Boulevard has helped fuel a portrayal of the town as full of threatening vigilantes that night.

But the authenticity of the image has been questioned; townspeople have told The Epoch Times they saw nothing of the sort. Barbers at Elite Clipz, one of the businesses in the pictured building, told The Epoch Times no armed men were on the roof that night. The image has some inconsistencies, including numbers missing on the front of the building.

Epoch Times Photo
An image circulating on social media shows armed men on the roof of a business in Yucaipa, Calif.
Epoch Times Photo
Yucaipa City Councilman Bobby Duncan stands in Jepson’s Guns and Ammo shop in Yucaipa, Calif., on July 10, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Those who kept watch over other businesses on Yucaipa Boulevard that night, including Duncan, have said they were armed, but stood guard peacefully and didn’t brandish their weapons.

A little more than a dozen protesters gathered near the ARCO gas station on the boulevard on June 1. They held signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice 4 George Floyd,” the black man who died in police custody in Minnesota, sparking protests and riots across the nation.

Across the street, a group of counterprotesters gathered, more than twice as many in number than the protesters.

Fights broke out between the two sides; no one was seriously injured, but the boiling over of tensions and the violence that night scared many in the city.

Since June 1, the city has been in the national spotlight. Internally, it’s been torn.

Epoch Times Photo
A view of Yucaipa Boulevard on July 10, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Some locals praise Duncan and the others for protecting the businesses. Some say they should have stayed home—that the rumors of pending attacks weren’t enough reason to appear threatening to protesters.

Confusion has abounded around gun laws and whether their actions were legal. Many felt they were within their rights to bear arms in protecting the properties.

Some say they should have let the police handle it, while others say the police wouldn’t stay to guard the businesses, so they had to.

In the following weeks, the tension at City Hall was palpable. The voices of many who testified at City Council meetings were broken, trembling with outrage. Some residents said Yucaipa is steeped in racism, while others said that’s not so.

Abigail Gonzalez was one of the protesters on June 1.

“I was yelled at. I was told to go back to my country. … I was born in Michigan,” she said at a July 13 Council meeting. She was the first one to show up to the protest, and she said the counterprotesters started taunting her, telling her because she has short hair, she must be a man.

“My brother is … [a] Marine … who passed away a little over two years ago for this stupid country,” she said. “You guys put his banner here and took a picture with him. And people are telling me to go back to where I’m from now. … You better believe that there’s going to be more protests coming. I’m not scared.”

Mike McCue said at the same meeting, “My son was actually … on the protesting side, but showed up to the last meeting to support Bob Duncan.

“The town of Yucaipa came together to protect life, property, and livelihoods,” he said. “Most of us, along with the rest of the world, watched the news and businesses burn, store windows and fronts broken into and looted, people ripped out of cars, beaten … all in the name of George Floyd.”

Businesses in neighboring San Bernardino had been devastated by riots in the days leading up to June 1.

Eric Welsh owns Massaro and Welsh, a civil engineering company across the street from where the protesters gathered that night. He said police showed up on the morning of June 1 after concerns about possible attacks came up, but then left.

As he spoke at a June 8 Council meeting, Welsh looked at the crowd in front of him and said, “I know there were a lot of people here sitting in front of me who tied their hands.

“Who was there to protect us?” he asked. “Why wouldn’t anyone say, ‘Go home, we’ll protect your business’?”

“Mr. Duncan came by to see how we were doing.”

How It Started

Duncan saw social media posts targeting Yucaipa and Redlands, a neighboring city, on May 31. They were urging protesters to wreak havoc on local businesses.

Duncan called San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson, and after that phone conversation, Duncan told The Epoch Times that he believed he was within his rights to take his shotgun uptown.

“So, I can tell you for sure that there was a credible threat on Facebook to come to Yucaipa and loot and burn,” Duncan said. “I noticed on Facebook that someone wrote: ‘Why are you burning down your home of San Bernardino? Why don’t you go burn down Redlands and Yucaipa because there’s a bunch of Trump-loving white conservatives that are racists.’

“I went to the business owners and I said, ‘Look, here’s what they’re saying on Facebook. They say they’re coming up here tonight, coming up here to teach us a lesson, to loot and burn our city. That’s the word on Facebook.’ So, I’m the one who went business to business on Monday morning [June 1].”

When he sounded the alarm, a “grassroots movement” developed, Duncan said.

“I told them what to expect and everybody kind of organized themselves, I guess.”

Kopper Kettle Kafe

One business on Yucaipa Boulevard was the center of attention. The Kopper Kettle Kafe has long been surrounded by rumors of a Ku Klux Klan association, because of its KKK initials.

Actually, it’s been the Kopper Kettle Kafe and Katering (KKKK) for years, but the added “Katering” had to be drawn on the storefront sign in smaller lettering to squeeze it under the original three words, leaving the three Ks relatively prominent. The KKK rumors persisted.

One Twitter user wrote on May 29, “Please don’t burn down, damage or vandalize small businesses!! (unless it’s that KKK cafe in Yucaipa).”

Another called Yucaipa a “hick … hillbilly 1950’s sundown town” and wrote, “The Kopper Kettle Kafe’s been there 4 like 25 years and it’s always been a thing, is it kkk or …?”

Stacy Dean owns the cafe. She is the fourth owner, and she bought it from her mother who was the third. Dean told The Epoch Times that the original owner is the one who named it, and she doesn’t think there was any racist intent behind it.

“I guess she was just kind of an eccentric person, and the reason she named it Kopper Kettle [Kafe] was because she loved everything copper. She even had copper-colored hair, and she thought it was a cute name. I mean, there’s nothing menacing behind it, and I’m sure that the use of the Ks was just whimsical. So, it stayed that way,” Dean said.

Her mother had added “and Katering” to the name, in the hopes of dispelling the rumors. Nonetheless, about two years ago, Dean heard that a professor at nearby Crafton Hills College had chosen the KKK rumor about her cafe as a topic for classroom discussion.

She was upset by the insinuation that her family had ties to the Klan or that she was racist.

“That’s one of the ugliest things you can call someone. I could have just been mad, but instead, I said, ‘Hey, this hurts!’”

She sent a letter, accompanied by cinnamon rolls, to the professor in an attempt to dispel the rumors.

“I explained to him who my family was—who we were and how my mom bought the business from the woman and had it for 30-some years, and everything that she’s done for the community. I remembered everything, and everybody that we ever hired—every race, gender. We’ve hired special-needs people. We did every fundraiser,” Dean said.

After reading her letter, the professor apologized to her and spoke to his students about it. He paid a visit to the Kopper Kettle.

“We sat and talked, and it was amazing, because you never get that kind of result, you know? Incidentally, he was African American.”

Epoch Times Photo
A message board is displayed in the Kopper Kettle restaurant in Yucaipa, Calif., on July 10, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Staff work in the Kopper Kettle restaurant in Yucaipa, Calif., on July 10, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

When Dean heard the rumors about her restaurant being targeted on June 1, she took down her sign.

“I’m tired of the negative correlation with it, and I’ve had it,” she said. “We don’t even call ourselves that; we just go by ‘Kopper Kettle,’ so this stupid word ‘Kafe’ was what was throwing people.”

“This is genuinely coming from my heart: If our sign reminded people of awful things, or if African Americans looked at it and only saw the KKK, who am I to say they’re wrong?” she said. “I want everybody to drive by our restaurant, read the sign and go and say, ‘I hear that place is great!’ I don’t want anybody to look at it and go, ‘Hmmm, what’s that all about?’ So, for so many reasons, it was time to take it down.”

Some people in the city criticized her because she “caved to the mob,” she said. “I didn’t cave. I listened,” she said. Her restaurant has a new sign that says, “Kopper Kettle.”

Epoch Times Photo
A new sign adorns the storefront of the Kopper Kettle in Yucaipa, Calif., on July 10, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A friend told her of something he witnessed at her restaurant one day in the past. Three black customers were there laughing and enjoying themselves, until one of them looked up at the sign. They expressed disbelief. He watched as their shoulders sank and he could sense their sadness.

“I don’t know what that feels like … and it broke my heart when he told me,” Dean said. “It made him feel bad to see that, and it made me feel terrible to hear it. We can just say, ‘That’s ridiculous. Why would they think that way?’ But, that’s because we’re white. We don’t know what that feels like.”

Community members expressed support for Dean and her business at a June 8 City Council meeting.

Paul Welsh said many of the employees at the cafe are Hispanic.

“There is no racism here, just little old ladies baking cookies and pies and serving a great breakfast and lunch. These ladies are scared to death,” he said.

Councilman Dick Riddell says he’s known Dean’s family for 35 years, and they deserve all the accolades they’ve been awarded for community service. He said of Dean’s mother that there’s “not a racist bone in her body.”

On the night of June 1, Dean said, “I was home under my covers praying that my restaurant wouldn’t get burned down.”

She didn’t ask others to defend her business. They came of their own accord.

The ARCO gas station is across the street from the Kopper Kettle. Her restaurant was ground-zero; it was in the Kopper Kettle parking lot that the group of counterprotesters gathered.

Epoch Times Photo
The ARCO gas station on Yucaipa Boulevard, on July 10, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The Faceoff

Duncan said the fighting started when a protester knocked the red hat off one of the counterprotesters.

“I don’t remember if it was a Make America Great [Again] hat, but … that’s what started the fights,” he said.

A retired police officer and longtime Yucaipa resident who stood guard on the roof of the Kopper Kettle spoke to The Epoch Times on the condition of anonymity. He said an older man wearing sweatpants walked across the street to talk to the protesters, and a protester punched him.

The punch triggered a wave of counterprotesters, who rushed across the street to confront protesters, he said.

Epoch Times Photo
An aerial view of Yucaipa Boulevard, on July 10, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Videos posted on YouTube of events show a counterprotester in a white T-shirt moving through a crowd in the ARCO parking lot toward a protester wearing a pink T-shirt, then punching him in the face.

A protester in a pink T-shirt appears in other videos hitting counterprotesters. Counterprotesters at one point chase him and hit him repeatedly.

Counterprotesters ripped the shirt off of another protester and hit him repeatedly. A panicked bystander who was filming is heard on video saying someone was yelling, “Kill him.” Other counterprotesters broke up that fight.

Protesters repeatedly hit a female counterprotester who had been yelling at them.

Later that night, four protesters accused of being Antifa reportedly showed up at the ARCO. Some residents say one of them had a pistol and was wearing a T-shirt with an Antifa logo on it. Duncan said counterprotesters drove them off.

“There were a lot of cars going up and down the boulevard that normally are not here. I believe they were from out of town,” Ron Kliewer, a longtime resident and local business owner, said at the July 13 council meeting.

Kliewer thinks the counterprotesters scared away some potentially dangerous activists.

“A show of strength is what stopped a riot from happening.”

In the midst of the scuffles, a lone police car had pulled up. When the officer didn’t immediately exit the car to stop the fighting, a local who was filming yelled at him: “What are you guys waiting on? They’re killing that guy.” This was while one of the protesters was being beaten.

The local who yelled at the police is heard apologizing to them shortly after, as the situation defused, saying he was caught up in the emotion of the moment.

“He was a sole deputy,” the retired officer who had been guarding the Kopper Kettle told The Epoch Times. “As soon as his partners got there, then he rolled in and they addressed the situation. And that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do.

“There’s no way in a fight of 50 to 60 people, that you’re going to send one deputy in and expect him to resolve or stop the fight. It’s just not going to happen, and it’s not safe.”

He said the reports of widespread drunkenness among counterprotesters were exaggerated. And although people were carrying weapons, “nobody pulled out a gun that I saw. No shots were fired.”

“For everybody, the whole community, we just wanted peace,” he said.

“Hey, come to our city. That’s what makes America great,” he said. “I prefer not, but if you want to come and protest and have signs of whatever sort you want, that’s America. You have the right to do that. But, you don’t have the right to go into any community to destroy it, loot it, and burn it down.”

Another of the men who had stood guard on the Kopper Kettle roof told The Epoch Times: “There was about five of us up on that building, but there were guys on other roofs all up and down the street. … At least on our roof, we weren’t brandishing. We weren’t carrying our long guns. We had them laid down.”

“We were just standing up there watching, and one of us had a drone to check other areas. It could go several miles,” he said. They used the drone to check on several businesses, including a coffee shop just up the street.

“Heaven forbid they find out it’s called the White Rabbit. They might think that’s racist, too,” he said. “It’s an Alice in Wonderland thing. But that’s the kind of stuff that they’re doing now. They take something out of context and say, ‘Oh, it’s racist!’”

Though he was sickened by the brutality of Floyd’s death and he believes peaceful protesters should be heard, he said the innocent mom-and-pop shop owners and those who have stepped up to protect them shouldn’t be silenced.

“When I saw the video of Floyd … saying he can’t breathe … I wanted to just push the cop off of him … It’s terrible!” he said.

But, he said, “A lot of those businesses are barely getting by because of the pandemic. They are just barely starting to open up, their margins are very tight. They’re not getting rich doing that; they work long, hard hours every day. And then to have it taken away because vandals—criminals—just decided to tear it out because they’re quote ‘protesting’ is just not right.”

Police Response

Yucaipa Police Lt. Julie Landen, a 20-year resident of Yucaipa, said in a June 10 video statement posted on YouTube that police have begun a criminal investigation into the June 1 incident near the ARCO station.

Yucaipa police released photos of two men wanted for questioning, both counterprotesters.

One suspect is shown with an activated Taser in his hand, and videos show him running toward protesters. The Taser can also be heard in the videos. The other suspect is shown with an expandable-style baton. Videos show him beating a protester with it.

During the initial investigation, none of the parties contacted desired prosecution, however, three alleged victims later came forward, Landen said.

“Two detectives have been assigned to the case, and the investigation has been ongoing since that time.

“We are aware of several photographs showing residents and business owners who were armed in the Uptown area. Since that night, we had been working to contact those people and educate them on weapon laws and encourage compliance.”

The Yucaipa Police Department told The Epoch Times on July 7 that nothing had changed since the June 10 statement; no charges have been filed related to the events.

Use of Firearms

The Yucaipa Police Department wrote on Twitter in the days following the event about firearm laws. It cited California penal code sections that prohibit “a person from carrying a loaded firearm in a public place … concealing a firearm upon one’s person or in a vehicle.”

It noted that other penal code sections state that those sections don’t “prevent any person engaged in any lawful business, employee, or agent authorized by that person for lawful purposes connected with that business, from having a loaded firearm within the person’s place of business.”

An exception also applies to California gun owners who have carry concealed weapons (CCW) permits. Some of the men guarding the Kopper Kettle told The Epoch Times they have CCWs.

Epoch Times Photo
Jepson’s Guns and Ammo store on Yucaipa Boulevard, on July 10, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Although Duncan initially defended his “constitutional right” under the Second Amendment to bear arms as he did that night, he walked back the comments in a statement on June 8 after revisiting the issue with District Attorney Anderson.

Duncan said he misspoke, citing misunderstanding or miscommunication between him and the DA’s office.

The next day, Anderson issued a statement: “If you are a business owner in lawful possession of a firearm, always remember you are not allowed to use that firearm to protect property. That is why you have business insurance.”

The California Department of Insurance (CDI) advises business owners to read the fine print of their insurance policies to make sure they are covered for property damage and losses associated with “civil unrest.”

“Standard commercial policies typically include coverage for physical loss or damage to the insured premises and other business property resulting from looting, vandalism, and riots. Whether a specific loss will be covered depends on the actual language in the applicable policy and any coverage exclusions that may apply,” the CDI website states.

Aftermath

“Insurance only covers so much,” said a local business owner who supported Duncan in her comments at a June 22 City Council meeting. “Had they not done that, maybe something terrible would have happened.”

She is Colombian and she said she hasn’t experienced any racism since she moved to Yucaipa from Orange County four years ago. She was, however, terrified by the activist threats against Yucaipa.

“I don’t believe that the town should turn their backs on the citizens that are the bread and butter of this town, the backbone of this town, that have their small businesses here and we should all be called racist. … It’s not going to make people like me come from Orange County and invest in this town.

“[They] slander all of us for the actions of a few bad apples,” she said.

Grace McCray said at a June 8 meeting: “I’m a young African American woman living in Yucaipa. I’ve been here for over 10 years, and I’ve never felt completely safe. I know that there are people in this town who would go out of their way to find a reason to harm me and my family and friends.”

She also spoke at the July 13 meeting, saying, “The aggression from counterprotesters toward the Black Lives Matter movement and the after-effects that we’ve all seen are all the result of racism.”

At the June 8 meeting, Rebecca Reyes, who grew up in Yucaipa, said: “I’ve never been more disenchanted and disheartened by the activities that occurred on June 1 here in this town. I’m a white girl … and I don’t feel safe here. I don’t feel safe to speak my mind. I don’t feel safe to be an inclusionary person. I don’t feel safe to support Black Lives Matter.”

Mayor David Avila said at the June 8 meeting: “As a Mexican American, I’ve never felt anything but welcome by the people of Yucaipa ever since I’ve been here since 1990. I don’t share the experience that others say that they have.”

He said he chooses to look on the bright side, hoping the town can come together and talk about racism and the tensions dividing it.

“I think our community will come together,” he said. “It’s been a rough, rough six months. I know we will move past this.”