October 18, 2020
BY KAREN VELIE
In a damning letter to District Attorney Dan Dow, San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon accused the district's chief prosecutor of suppressing voters for believing that Dow charged a man, not because he violated the law, but because he supports their campaign.
"Arresting people who stand up for your political opponents is a recognized form of voter suppression," wrote Harmon in her letter. "And Dan Dow knows his political playbook."
After George Floyd's death, Harmon and her campaign advisor Quinn Brady began promoting protests against Black Lives Matter. On June 21, Harmon participated in a protest organized by Tianna Arrata and Brady, but attended a city council meeting before the group entered Highway 101, where they blocked all lanes in both directions for almost an hour.
Following the protest, SLO police arrested Arata for alleged crimes related to violating the civil rights of others and Elias Bautista for kicking a police officer in the groin.
On Friday, prosecutors brought charges against six other protesters on a range of charges including wrongful detention, obstruction of a person's freedom of movement in a public place, and resistance or delay of a police officer.
In her letter, Harmon accuses Dow of "singling out three black men – leaders in our communities – from the predominantly white crowd".
Of the six men charged on Friday, three are black. Harmon argues that, according to her letter, Dow would have to arrest 115 white protesters in order to racially equalize the arrests.
“I'm here to say: NO. Not on my watch, ”writes Harmon. “Your Jim Crow tactics won't be here in SLO. And we, the people of SLO, will not remain idle while our young people are played like peasants for political gain. "
However, Dow said his office doesn't take a person's skin color into account when it comes to bringing charges.
Harmon also accuses Dow of targeting a protester for advocating their campaign.
"Seven days ago my campaign posted a highly regarded video of Amman Asfaw supporting our campaign and asking fellow students to vote," writes Harmon. "We republished his name when a member of the city council appointed a DE&I task force just a day before Mr. Dow decided to include Mr. Asfaw in his executive summary."
Harmon is currently running to keep her seat as mayor of San Luis Obispo, a non-partisan position.
The letter from SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon to Dan Dow on October 17th:
“Our democracy is being called into question.
“Late on Thursday evening, three black men were charged with participating peacefully in protests against Black Lives Matters last July. Of the hundreds of people who protested peacefully, the prosecutor picked these three black men – leaders in our communities – from the predominantly white crowd. These men have worked to give voice to our black and brown communities in San Luis Obispo. If Dan Dow finds his way, her activism in this election will result in jail time.
"D.A. Dan Dow's actions to incriminate these community members for exercising the 1st Amendment are nothing more than intimidation tactics. Tell our community members to keep quiet or to be arrested.
“He is trying to divert attention from the elections and create civil tension by bringing fabricated charges against peaceful protesters. But together we will not allow injustice to reign.
“The Voters Rights Act of 1965 was intended to end the institutionalized disenfranchisement of blacks.
“Today, our district attorney is using the power of his office to try to disenfranchise and silence three men in our city – and, through proxy, the entire community these men are working on to empower them through their activism.
"With a single step by unrestricted judicial authority, D.A. Dan Dow has indicted 29% of the black population in SLO City. For context, he should have indicted 115 of our white citizens if all things in the prosecution had been kept the same.
"The message Dan Dow is sending to our city is clear: use your voice to tell the truth to the Force and we will send you to jail.
“This apparent abuse of legal authority has one intended aim: intimidation. With the indictment against three outspoken, leading members of the SLO youth community, our district D.A. sends a targeted message to all potential future community activists: stay home and stay safe. Or not.
"The timing of these particular charges isn't even particularly obscured. California ballot papers didn't arrive in SLO until the beginning of the month. The last day CA voters are registered online is the 19th – two days from today. And the voting." the CA general election will only last 17 days. Seven days ago my campaign posted a highly regarded video of Mr Asfaw supporting our campaign and calling on his fellow students to vote. We have republished his name as a member of the city council only appointed a DE&I task force the day before Mr Dow was elected to include Mr Asfaw in its executive summary.
“The arrest of people who stand up for your political opponents is a recognized form of voter suppression. And Dan Dow knows his political playbook.
"That one. enforces systemic repression of community activism here in SLO and sends a message: you are not sure to protest, vote or belong – if your skin is not white.
“I'm here to say: NO. Not on my watch. Your Jim Crow tactics won't be here in SLO. And we, the people of SLO, will not remain idle while our young people are played like peasants for political gain.
“If this is a political proxy war, you have chosen children as your targets.
“And Mr. District Attorney, you seem to have forgotten something that is most important to the obligations of your office: the Constitution. As Justice Kennedy put it in Citizens United, "Political speech must prevail against laws that would deliberately or accidentally suppress it." Here your actions are clearly intended. We have constitutional provisions like the first amendment that protect citizens like Mr. Asfaw, Mr. Montgomery, and Mr. Powell only because our founders introduced themselves to malicious government officials like you.
"Lord. Dow, make no mistake – I will stand by our community. I am ready to speak out on their behalf. I have sworn an oath to this town and, unlike you, I will see mine fulfilled. And our constitution will protect men who have indicted you, even if you try to undermine the exercise of our democracy.
"I suggest you bring our community members back to their families immediately and let us stop using young people as farmers in your political games."