Southern California protesters demanding justice for George Floyd recently have been met by opposition, some counterprotesters carrying weapons, others engaging in fisticuffs — a trend that will continue in the days ahead, one expert says.

“Yes, over the past few days we are seeing more of an escalation” of conflict between groups at demonstrations, marches and rallies, said Lowell Smith, chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at La Sierra University in Riverside.

In Upland on Monday evening, several hundred Black Lives Matter protesters gathered at Euclid Avenue and Foothill Boulevard for a rally in support of Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

The rally in Upland was peaceful until the protesters were met by about 20 people wearing Trump campaign Make America Great Again hats shouting “Go home,” said Romualdo Sanchez, 17, who graduated from Colony High School this year and was there as an online reporter recording the event.

This ignited a back-and-forth exchange that escalated when a counterprotester began a face-to-face argument with a Black Lives Matter protester, Sanchez said.

Then, a man emerged from a white Ford pickup truck carrying an assault weapon that he pointed at the protesters while yelling for them to leave, using profanity.

Police quickly arrested Jacob Bracken, 39, from Rancho Cucamonga, for suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and he was booked at the West Valley Detention Center, said Capt. Cliff Matthews in a prepared statement.

The weapon was an AR-15 assault rifle, confirmed Upland Capt. Marcelo Blanco. Many say the Upland officers stopped what could have been a more serious incident. “It was unusual but we’ve seen a whole lot of unusual things on TV, like violent protesters and looters,” Blanco said on Tuesday.

On the same night on the other side of San Bernardino County, a much smaller band of protesters holding signs appeared on a major boulevard in Yucaipa, asking for justice for Floyd.

Floyd died May 25, after Minneapolis police arrested and handcuffed him on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes, an incident captured on video, while Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe and eventually lost consciousness. Chauvin has been fired from the police department and, on May 29, was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

In Yucaipa, two groups exchanged insults across the city’s main thoroughfare Monday evening, until a melee ensued at a gas station, where at least one man was beaten and another was apparently arrested by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies, according to an unedited video posted on YouTube.

In a series of tweets Tuesday, sheriff’s officials said the incident is under investigation, and responded to calls about social media posts showing “subjects and/or business owners displaying guns” Monday evening.

“We have been made aware of photos circulating online, depicting business owners on rooftops and on their property with weapons,” sheriff’s officials wrote, adding that deputies are working to educate the community about weapons violations, including prohibitions against carrying a loaded gun in a public place.

And on Tuesday, Santa Ana authorities arrested a man suspected of throwing fireworks at officers and brandishing a weapon at protesters during a demonstration against police violence.

These incidents represent a new trend, whereby protest rallies are being met by opposition groups, Smith said.

However, Jim Bueermann, a former Redlands police chief who runs Future Policing Strategy, a consulting firm used by police agencies and the U.S. Department of Justice, said Tuesday that those opposed to Black Lives Matter protests are motivated by concerns that the protests could result in looting and ransacking of stores, as has happened in recent days.

He said he is familiar with the “MAGA/Trump” contingent in Yucaipa, noting he’s seen them at intersections selling hats and T-shirts that say “Make America Great Again.”

“A lot of people are upset by images of looting they’ve seen on TV. That, I am guessing, is what got those red-hat guys going,” Bueermann said of the events that unfolded Monday evening. But, he said, he doesn’t see events such as those in Upland or Yucaipa as escalating tensions.

Instead, he’s concerned that people are way too emotional and that what happened in Yucaipa, for example, occurred because the counterprotesters saw only a small group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators and felt they could oppose them. Also, the shouting and fighting occurred before law enforcement was present, he said.

“When there is no police presence, two opposing groups can go at it,” he warned.

He advised law enforcement to monitor social media sites and be present, keeping both sides separated.

Smith, the criminal justice professor, said counterprotesters are emboldened by the president’s tweets of  “Law and Order” and by a photo-op Monday in front of a church near the White House in which Trump ordered Black Lives Matters activists cleared away by the National Guard, which used tear gas.

“When they see they have support at the highest level of government, they tend to be more active,” Smith said. “You will see a marked increase in this activity.”


By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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