It’s a familiar story in every corner of this country: An unarmed black man in mental distress is gunned down by a police officer. And it’s caught on video.

Unarmed, mentally ill men getting shot by police isn’t new in San Diego. This time last year, we were talking about the shooting of Fridoon Rawshan Nehad.

Voice of the Year

But the September death of Alfred Olango in El Cajon – and the protests it provoked – were unusual because of what came next. That is, something changed.

Like in other shootings, it was clear from the very beginning that video footage of the incident existed. And like in other shootings, law enforcement initially declined to release that video to the public.

Protests erupted in El Cajon and spilled into other parts of San Diego. Though many of the demonstrations were peaceful, some were violent. Protesters’ grievances were as much about the release of the video depicting the shooting as they were about police use of force generally.

Within a week, law enforcement officers did something they rarely do in these situations: They changed their minds.

They released video footage of the incident, seemingly contradicting a video-release policy regional law enforcement officers had crafted less than two months earlier.

In statements explaining their decision, officials acknowledged that the protests motivated the about-face. Though they roundly condemned demonstrators’ behavior, law officials were also effectively admitting that it had worked.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego this year.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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