By Aniela Russo
A crowd gathered at the steps of the Riverside Historic Courthouse for a pro-police rally Sept. 12.
Masks were few and far between as everyone bowed their heads in prayer for law enforcement officers.
Demonstrators marched around downtown Riverside, eventually making it to the 14th Street bridge over the 91 freeway, and then returned to the courthouse as Riverside Police Department officers cruised by and expressed appreciation.
Back at the courthouse, Mike Hestrin, Riverside County district attorney, spoke in favor of Proposition 20, which is on the California ballot this year. If passed, Proposition 20 would restrict parole for non-violent offenders and authorize felony charges for some theft crimes currently charged as misdemeanors.
“It fixes the problem of what is and what is not violent crime in California,” Hestrin said.
He argued that in the present, human trafficking and abduction of minors for prostitution are not considered violent crimes in the state.
Hestrin also took a shot at Proposition 47, arguing it hurt small businesses by allowing career criminals to continue to rob them. The proposition, passed in 2014, allowed certain crimes previously charged as felonies to become chargeable as misdemeanors.
The district attorney also urged students to get involved and educate themselves.
“Don’t just accept what you’re getting on social media,” Hestrin said. “It’s a time for us to appreciate. We are lucky to have the democracy that we have. So, I urge students to get involved civically.”
Black Lives Matter I.E. demonstrators were protesting nearby in memory of Massai Cole, an 18-year-old Black man who was killed in Moreno Valley in February. Cole was shot at a party by a 19-year-old white man named Darren Zesk in what jurors have ruled was a hate crime. Zesk and his nephew Jared have both been charged with murder.
Avery Garvey, a Black Lives Matter I.E. a representative said their demonstration was not initially meant to counterprotest the pro-police rally, but that they decided to march towards the event when they heard Hestrin was speaking. Police dressed in riot gear blocked them off at City Hall.
Cole’s stepfather Marcus Brooks, 45, of Pasadena, stood behind the crowd with his mother.
“We love and miss him dearly,” an emotional Brooks said about Cole. “He was a wonderful young kid and man. We want justice for him.”
Garvey said Hestrin initially intended to let the Zesks take a plea deal that would have allowed them to walk in five years or less.
“Justice for Massai means his murderers will not be freed in five or 10 years,” Avery said. “We want his family to be able to rest knowing his murderers are behind bars.”
Ali Mazarei, a Republican who is running for State Assembly for District 61 against incumbent Jose Medina, attended the Blue Lives Matter rally.
“The best thing you can see and acknowledge is that there are no democrats here,” Mazarei said. “Support the blue.”
Sonia Perez, a candidate for Temecula city council, also attended in support of police.
“I’m here for freedom,” Perez said. “We are here to fight for the constitutional rights that have been taken from us. I’m here representing 1776 and to hear what the speakers have to say.”
Both protests remained peaceful and dispersed without any visible incidents.