BLM Protesters, Opposition Clash in Yucaipa as Wildfire Rages

August 3, 2020 Updated: August 4, 2020

YUCAIPA, Calif.—As firefighters struggled to contain a raging wildfire in the hills above Yucaipa, California, on Aug. 1, another battle was raging on the streets below. 

Against the ominous backdrop of a towering plume of smoke, chaos erupted on Yucaipa Boulevard as Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters blocked traffic, and police equipped with riot gear marched to separate about 80 protesters from more than 200 counterprotesters. 

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department ordered the crowd to disperse, calling the protest an unlawful assembly. Several protesters attacked a deputy, according to a statement by the Yucaipa Police Department. One of them dropped a loaded firearm, later recovered by deputies.

A protester drove a car erratically down the boulevard, almost hitting police, while he and two other occupants yelled at counterprotesters. A total of nine protesters were arrested.

“We were going to do a peaceful caravan and march,” Steph Marie Murphy, one of the protest organizers, told The Epoch Times amid the upheaval. The protest had “absolutely not” gone the way she had hoped or expected, she said.

A police helicopter circled overhead, and a booming message over loudspeakers ordered people to leave or face arrest. 

Epoch Times Photo
Protest organizer Steph Marie Murphy stands in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
An officer kneels on the ground beside a protester as he arrests the protester in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
A protester is arrested in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Though Murphy is not an official BLM leader, she helped organize the protest in solidarity with BLM, she said. Murphy is from neighboring San Bernardino. 

The protest marked the second major clash between protesters and counterprotesters in Yucaipa, the first having occurred on June 1. Murphy said one of the reasons for the latest protest was to stand up against “white supremacist attacks” in Yucaipa on June 1. 

Response to Earlier Clash in Yucaipa

“This is about black and brown unity,” Murphy said. “What happened on June 1 was unacceptable. They came out here to protest for George Floyd, and they were trampled, they were harassed, they were beat up. That’s why we came out here. We didn’t come out here to destroy the town or anything like that. We came out here to peacefully protest, to use our freedom of speech.”

Videos posted online show the June 1 clash between a dozen or so protesters and more than twice as many counterprotesters. Witnesses of those events also spoke to The Epoch Times, saying both protesters and counterprotesters threw punches.

Two counterprotesters were wanted for questioning by police following that incident. One is shown in videos apparently threatening protesters with a Taser. Another appeared to beat protesters with a baton. 

Yucaipa residents, including City Councilman Bobby Duncan, had seen threatening social media posts suggesting looting and burning in Yucaipa on June 1. Duncan and others armed themselves and stood watch on the rooftops of local businesses. A group of counterprotesters also gathered in a parking lot across the street from the protest. 

Epoch Times Photo
Counterprotesters line the street alongside a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (Brad Jones/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
People look on a Black Lives Matter protest in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

No businesses were damaged, and no shots were fired, but the sight of fighting on the street alarmed many residents, while others say the show of strength might indeed have deterred looters and vandals. 

Murphy said social media posts preceding the June 1 protest were not credible threats and she was unaware of anyone planning to damage Yucaipa businesses. 

Regarding the fire raging on Aug. 1, Murphy said some have accused protesters of starting it. “They claimed that we started the fire in Cherry Valley. That did not happen. We were literally all on group chat when that fire was going on, so there’s no way. None of us are attacking anyone.”

As of Aug. 3, the so-called Apple Fire had encompassed more than 25,000 acres and the cause of the blaze remained under investigation. 

Epoch Times Photo
Smoke from the Apple Fire is seen from Yucaipa Boulevard in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (Brad Jones/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Fire blazes in the background near Stater Bros., where many Black Lives Matter protesters parked their vehicles ahead of a demonstration in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The original flier for the Aug. 1 protest, called the “Ride for Justice & Unity,” stated it was “seeking justice for victims of the attacks committed by white supremacists.” 

“Time to get involved! When they attack one of us, they will get all of us,” it read. But Murphy said the protest was not about getting revenge. That flier was later replaced with one that had a softer tone. 

“That is not what we are here for. We’re not here to hurt anybody,” she said, as police began to clear a way through counterprotesters for the protesters to reach their vehicles and depart. “Like I said, I’m not a part of the official movement. I promote peace. We’re not Marxist. We’re not arsonists. We’re not racists. We’re not looters. We are peaceful, and we are here to promote unity. That’s it.” 

The Epoch Times reached out to official BLM leaders for comment, but did not receive a response.

Murphy said she is tired of hearing “Go back to your country.”

“We’re Americans,” she said. “What problem do they have with the Mexican flag? We’re flying the American flag and the Mexican flag in unity. What is wrong with that?”

Epoch Times Photo
Abigail Gonzalez flies a flag at a staging area in Calimesa, Calif., preparing for a Black Lives Matter protest in nearby Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (Brad Jones/The Epoch Times)

Abigail Gonzalez was at the June 1 protest, and she was preparing for the Aug. 1 protest at a staging area in Calimesa, across the county line in Riverside, when she told The Epoch Times, “What they did to me and to the other protesters here in Yucaipa kept me mad and I’ve just been out ever since.”

“I think the police let us fall into a trap. They knew about it, and they haven’t been helpful with us since,” she said. 

Gonzalez said more protests are coming to Yucaipa. 

“There’s going to be an even bigger one,” she said. “Right now, it’s just to see how everything works out, how we organize and to bring attention to what happened on June 1, because people were hurt and they’re not being helped,” she said. 

At the Protest

During the Aug. 1 protest, one protester dressed in black and made up to look like a skeleton, perched atop a car holding a Santa Muerte idol, and chanted, “Death to white supremacists.”

Epoch Times Photo
A protester chants “Death to white supremacists” in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
A protester walks along Yucaipa Boulevard in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Another protester walked down the middle of the boulevard with a bullhorn, his speech full of expletives and repeatedly shouting to counterprotesters, “Go back to Europe. This is not your land!” 

Several counterprotesters called him a racist. But he continued, “You have no culture. You’re a disgrace to your own … European people.” 

The protester also disparaged a black man, a counterprotester, over the megaphone.

Epoch Times Photo
Local residents hold signs with messages responding to the Black Lives Matter protest in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (Brad Jones/The Epoch Times)

A Yucaipa resident, who preferred not to be named, said BLM protesters had earlier cornered him. He had made a remark to the effect that, if they care about black lives, they should be against black women having abortions through Planned Parenthood. 

“They all surround me threatening to beat me up, stop traffic in the streets … And you know, our side doesn’t want violence. All we want is to protect what is ours. That’s all we want to do. And, if they’re going to come to my town and tell me I’m a racist, I’m going to call them out for their hypocrisy right to their face. They don’t [care] about black lives. All they care about is the destruction of this country,” he said. 

“Black Lives Matter” and “Defund Police” signs were common among protesters, while counterprotesters waved signs saying “All Lives Matter,” “Blue Lives Matter,” and “Defend America.” One flag read, “Don’t Give Up The Ship.”

When counterprotesters sang the Star-Spangled Banner, BLM protesters took a knee on the other side of the boulevard. 

Epoch Times Photo
Counterprotesters stand along Yucaipa Boulevard as a protest in support of Black Lives Matter proceeds in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (Brad Jones/The Epoch Times)

Residents Defend Yucaipa

Yucaipa resident Christine Beamer supported Councilman Duncan’s efforts to protect local businesses on June 1, and she was among the counterprotesters on Aug. 1. 

Knowing that Duncan and others were watching over residents and businesses was reassuring, she said. “I think it’s great. I felt safe. I felt good about my business.”

Epoch Times Photo
Christine Beamer stands among counterprotesters in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (Brad Jones/The Epoch Times)

“I’m here to stand up for America,” Beamer said, holding an American flag. “I have lots of family and friends that fought for this country. There’s been lots of men who have died to hold up this flag, so if we all stand together, that protects our rights, our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”

Beamer comes from an immigrant family of Mexican and Polish descent. They came to the United States for better opportunities, she said. “I live every day for that freedom, and I want it for our kids and our grandkids,” she said.

“It really irritates me when they call everyone ‘white supremacists,’ because I’m a Mexican-Jewish business owner in Yucaipa, and I’ve never had any problems,” she said. 

Brock Knudsen of Yucaipa Strong Apparel, told The Epoch Times ahead of the protest that he was planning to attend. He makes “Back the Blue” T-shirts that support police and military veterans.

Knudsen said he has received threats for speaking out in support of Yucaipa. He said loving his town doesn’t make him racist. “I don’t stand for racism,” he said.

He said that after hearing there were threats to Yucaipa on June 1, “I was actually at home worried, stressing, and taking care of my family.” He got calls from people claiming protesters were going to vandalize homes that had American flags.

Epoch Times Photo
Protesters march in support of Black Lives Matter, in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Police control a protest in support of Black Lives Matter in Yucaipa, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“I’m a proud American,” Knudsen said. He said a wedge has been driven between people in the United States. “I am a Trump supporter. I was an Obama supporter,” he said. “I support Trump and I love what he’s done for the black community. I love what he has done for our economy.” 

Knudsen views the protests as a way for leftwing groups to attack President Donald Trump after failing to impeach him. “Nothing they’ve done has worked, so you know what, ‘Let’s just have an uprising.’ It’s a scary time,” he said.  

Kathy Gillette, a former defense attorney who lives in Yucaipa, said that besides politics, one of the reasons the nation is so divided is that many Americans have abandoned the notion of taking personal responsibility. 

“People are going out and blaming other people for their own problems. And you know what? I did not grow up rich. I grew up poor. I got myself two degrees, and I got myself out of the hole,” she said. “And no one paid for me. No one gave me reparations for being a poor Irish girl. I worked my butt off, and everybody needs to take personal responsibility.”

Gillette, who supports Blue Lives Matter, said Yucaipa is a town of hard-working people who want law and order. “[People buy homes] here because they can’t afford to buy down in L.A. or Orange County. They buy here for the peace and quiet of it. And, we’re workers. We all work,” she said.

The protest lasted about two hours. Police reported minor vandalism, with no injuries or damage to businesses.