When Shaun Miller saw a community advisory on the Westminster Police Department’s Facebook page about a peaceful demonstration scheduled in the city, she knew she had to get involved.
“Something kept calling me to it,” said Miller, who’s lived in the city for 42 years. “I need to be a part of this.”
She commented on the post and was contacted by the local organizers, who were representing Black Lives Matter. They asked if she would speak at the event, and she said yes. She also called Westminster Police Chief Mark Lauderback to let him know she was going to be part of the demonstration.
Miller’s father, Charlie Wilkins, served as a chaplain for the Westminster Police Department for three years before he passed away 11 years ago.
“He was a very known man in the city of Westminster,” said Miller. “The police department, they just have so much respect for my father. When my father passed away, they were there the entire time. We stayed connected with them.”
She attended the event with her mom, brother, Eric Wilkins (who also spoke during the event), and her two daughters, who are 19 and 22. The event lasted three hours with about 200 people, starting at a nearby park and ending in front of City Hall, and remained peaceful the entire time.
“It was an event that I was very proud to be a part of on that Friday,” said Miller. “To see my children, my girls out there, that are protesting peacefully, and to see my brothers and sisters in blue to stand there peacefully, but making sure we were safe.”
A second demonstration took place the following Saturday. This one was much larger, closer to 2,000 people, and began on Magnolia and Hazard, but also ended in front of City Hall. Miller and her family attended this protest as well, but didn’t speak. That event was coordinated by other organizers affiliated with Black Lives Matter, according to Miller, and started at 4 p.m.
“Our police department is awesome,” she said. “They are amazing. They did what they had to do … they just kept everybody safe and I think that was awesome.”
Commander Cord Vandergrift said both demonstrations were peaceful and went smoothly. The Westminster Police Department live-streamed both protests via Facebook with the agency’s public information officers updating live from the events. Several updates were posted and translated to Spanish and Vietnamese on the Westminster Police Department Facebook page. Vandergrift said the updates generated positive feedback from the community as well as other local police agencies.
“We had mutual aid from all over the county come to assist us,” he said, which included the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. “No arrests, no property damage, nothing negative you can think of.”
The agency closed down streets surrounding the protests while they were going on and limited courtyard access to the general public in front of the police department and courthouse to give demonstrators room to speak and gather.
“The goal of the police department was to allow people to peacefully voice their opinion while keeping the community safe and the protesters safe,” said Vandergrift. “That’s one of the things we protect is their right of free speech, allow them to have that forum to speak about anything they want to speak about. … How proud we are that our community represented themselves in such a respectful way, peacefully protesting, and didn’t cause any problems or cause any damage.”
Miller recalled one moment during the second protest when she felt a little tension in the air amongst the demonstrators.
“At one point I felt like I needed to kind of break that tension,” Miller said.
She went over to the speaker at the time and said she wanted to give a police officer a hug if one was willing to give her one. The speaker relayed the message to the audience.
“One of the officers came down and gave me a hug,” said Miller.
At 7 p.m. they marched back down the street.
“And they marched back to the park, and dispersed, and there were no problems,” she said. “I’m very, very proud about my city.”
Miller wants to do more to help.
“I’ve been affected being a black woman here in Orange County and America, but I also feel like I can’t just sit back and not try to do something to make change,” she said.
She and her brother brainstormed about it, and believe it comes down to connecting police with the younger generation.
“Right now there’s such a division between the two,” she said.
Miller and her brother are meeting with the WPD chief to coordinate something. She feels strongly that it is all about working together. She knows what her father would have said.
“Yes, you can be angry,” she said. “You can have your moment of ‘Ugh I hate this.’ But you can’t complain … don’t complain if you’re not going to come up with a solution. We all have to try and figure out how we’re going to get along in this world. We can agree to disagree but we don’t have to be ugly to each other.”