Nevada City opens investigation into ‘outrageous’ actions during march
Special to the Sierra Sun
Tensions between demonstrators escalated in separate incidents in western Nevada County last weekend, starting with an Airsoft shooting in Grass Valley on Saturday and culminating in numerous scuffles during a Sunday march in Nevada City.
Jace Samuel Manoguerra, 21, of Grass Valley, faces a felony charge in connection with the shooting into a crowd of Back the Blue demonstrators Saturday night in downtown Grass Valley, reports state.
No arrests or citations had been made, as of Thursday morning, in Nevada City, as multiple videos surfaced of apparent assaults and numerous calls were made for action by the City Council and law enforcement.
Nevada City Police Chief Chad Ellis called the actions of the counter-protestors “outrageous” and decried any violent actions made “under the guise of Back the Blue.”
Ellis noted that previous protests in Nevada City have been extremely peaceful and said his department received little advance warning of the march and had not assigned additional staff for the event.
“We had anti-(Black Lives Matter) protestors show up and they came looking for confrontation, which they got,” Ellis said. “They were the aggressors, (they were) the agitators.”
Ellis said Nevada City has opened an investigation and urged anyone who was a victim of an assault or a theft to come forward so the suspects can be identified.
‘I’m a mom’
One of the videos was posted by Nevada City resident Kim Musillani and shows a man aggressively confronting her and refusing to let her pass. What was not caught on video was a physical assault by another man, who Musillani said knocked her off balance twice by pushing her with his American flag and leaving her with bruises.
“It was pretty shocking,” she said. “It’s (something) I didn’t think would happen here.”
Musillani’s daughter had planned to go, she said. When she heard there was a group organizing a counter-protest, Musillani decided to attend and be “another set of eyes.”
“I trusted it would all work out in a different way than it did,” she said. “It was interesting how fast (things) can go, from people with tambourines walking down Broad Street to people throwing punches. It was pretty disturbing.”
Musillani and others said the initial confrontation came at the beginning of the march, when counter-protestors formed a line across Broad Street.
Of the man shown on video, Musillani said, “He was telling me to go home, he doesn’t want us in his town, which I took offense to, because I live around the corner. … He kept yelling. He wanted to see my ID.”
Once demonstrators started to make their way past them, she said, the men began following and pushing people. Then, on the other side of the highway, the counter-demonstrators began “herding” the Black Lives Matters group and causing more conflicts, Musillani said.
“I had been thinking, what would I do (in a violent protest),” she said. “I felt like I needed to go out and protect those kids, make sure everybody was able to get home. I wasn’t expecting it to get that violent.”
Musillani said the experience made her understand how her interactions with law enforcement in the past have been a reflection of her age, gender and race.
“I’m aware of how my presence looks,” she said. “I’m in my mid-40s, I’m white, I’m a mom.”
Musillani said she was frustrated with the narrative that the demonstrators were outside agitators, noting, “Pretty much everyone walked home from the event. There were not carloads of people coming from other places. … We were moms and kids under 23 and a sprinkling of dads. They were hyped-up big burly dudes ready to start a fight; they were ready to brawl.”
According to Musillani, officers who were asked to intervene told some demonstrators it had been their decision to protest, and appeared to be siding with the counter-demonstrators.
“I have defended Nevada City police before, because I have seen them do good things,” she said. “But I’m not a fan today.”
Journalist Josh Wolf has been covering protests since 2003, and said it was a natural progression for him to start covering what was happening in Nevada City since his move here a year ago.
His initial take on Sunday’s march was that of a “boisterous, peaceful gathering” that was disrupted by confrontations with counter-demonstrators who initially attempted to block Broad Street in a line. Wolf estimated 80 to 100 BLM demonstrators and 15 to 20 counter-demonstrators were on hand, and said he witnessed the physical attacks by the counter group.
“Their mannerisms evoked white nationalism,” Wolf commented, adding that he was most surprised by the “lackluster” response by law enforcement.
Nevada County resident Darin Driscoll livestreamed the march from start to finish on Facebook, and said he was present mostly out of curiosity after seeing a flyer advertising the event.
“The first five minutes was probably the worst of it,” he said. “The counter-protestors were trying to stop their progress and telling them to get out of here.”
Driscoll echoed Musillani’s assessment that most of the Black Lives Matters demonstrators were young.
“It was just people,” he said. “Not a radical element.”
The counter-protestors were “clearly” more aggressive, pushing people, grabbing signs and throwing them on the ground, Driscoll said.
According to Driscoll, the police officers present were “embedded” in the crowd and not aligned with one side or the other. One thing was clear from his perspective: “We have to figure out a way to de-escalate this thing,” he said. “Otherwise, someone is going to get hurt.”
Those concerns were echoed by city officials, both in Nevada City and Grass Valley.
“The videos were incredibly disturbing,” Nevada City Mayor Erin Minett said. “What we had last night was a number of families and young people doing a peaceful protest. The other group was looking to be violent, and it really is unacceptable. Personally, speaking for myself and not for the council, I say, ‘Shame on you.’”
Like Ellis, Minett encouraged anyone who was a victim of violence during the march to come forward and file a police report.
“This is not OK,” she said. “If we don’t stand up to the bullies, they are going to keep bullying.”
Grass Valley was working to issue a statement Monday, Grass Valley Mayor Lisa Swarthout said.
“Our number one concern for our citizens is people’s safety,” she said. “Absolutely, we support the right of people to peacefully protest. But when people’s safety is at risk, obviously the city (has) to evaluate the situation.”
Swarthout and Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard both noted that the Back the Blue protestors targeted in Grass Valley on Saturday do not appear to be the same group who caused problems in Nevada City on Sunday.
“What I’ve seen is peaceful protests on both sides,” Swarthout said. “Our community has always had a diversity of opinions, but (in the past) we’ve all managed to live together peacefully.”
Liz Kellar is a staff writer for The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. Contact Liz at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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