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It’s been almost a month since George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Since then, cities across the nation have seen near daily protests and demands for justice, including San Diego.
Much of the coverage surrounding the demonstrations has focused on the arresting imagery of burning banks and broken storefront windows, but the protests I documented across the region for VOSD – from La Mesa to Encinitas to downtown – have been overwhelmingly peaceful and effective in conveying their message.
In fact, many of the protest organizers stressed the importance of keeping things peaceful throughout the process and even tapped teams of people to disperse throughout gatherings to ensure nothing got out of hand. Some even stayed after the protests ended to make sure no one was looting or acting violently. Though protests and marches often tend to be organized by established social justice groups, many of the recent local protests actually began with a young person who put things together on the fly using social media.
Here’s a closer look at what we saw over the last several weeks.
Around the same time news of Floyd’s killing began to spread, video of a local incident in which a La Mesa police officer stopped and violently shoved a black man before arresting him began to circulate as well. A couple days after the incident, protesters met at the La Mesa Police Department building to voice their concerns. As community leaders began giving speeches and rallying supporters, I kept looking around to see if I could find police officers nearby. Hundreds of protesters stood outside the doors of the police department building, yet the only law enforcement presence I saw were MTS officers across the street who were patrolling the La Mesa Boulevard trolley station.
After a couple minutes, demonstrators began marching toward University Avenue. They walked into heavy traffic as drivers stopped to watch and showed their support by honking their horns or raising up a fist outside their car windows. Protesters peacefully made their way down the street without any incidents of violence. I continued to walk with them for a couple of blocks until I decided to head home for the day.
When I got back to my house, I saw on social media that police with riot gear and tear gas had been waiting for protesters at the end of the street. The protest grew violent as the evening wore on, and it ended with business being looted and a woman being hospitalized after police shot her in the head with a bean bag.
The next day, hundreds met up again in downtown San Diego to continue the protest police brutality. This time, police were present throughout the entire day and deployed tear gas and flash bangs against protesters. I drove through downtown later that night as the crowds began to disperse, and caught up with a small group of protesters who lingered near Fourth Avenue, where police had blocked off the area. The standoff, which reminded me of a Western movie, lasted just a couple of minutes before police began to arrest people after they’d declared the gathering an unlawful assembly.
On June 3, I attended a demonstration in North County, along with Voice of San Diego reporter Kayla Jimenez. This time, residents met in front of Escondido’s City Hall to honor Floyd. Local leaders, including Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara and Police Chief Ed Varso, Councilwomen Olag Diaz and Consuelo Martinez, spoke in support of police accountability measures.
The event ended peacefully with residents posting sticky notes on the windows of City Hall with messages of how they plan to take action against racial injustice.
Later that afternoon, VOSD contributor Vito Di Stefano photographed a demonstration in Encinitas where hundreds of surfers gathered at Moonlight Beach for a “Paddle Out for Unity in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter” event.
Before paddling out into the ocean, protesters listened to speakers talk about the experiences of black residents in a predominantly white community and honored Floyd with a silence that lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds – the amount of time an officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, killing him.
“That for me was the most emotional moment,” said Di Stefano.
The following day, I attended another protest that began at the San Diego Police Department headquarters downtown and made its way up to North Park. As the protest continued to grow, a group of young black activists scattered throughout the crowd, made sure the event was safe and peaceful. At one point, when an individual tried to incite violence, organizers asked him to leave the event as the crowd chanted, “Don’t take the bait!”
Along the way, several other individuals stood at the wings of the march offering free water, bottles, snacks and masks. The march ended that evening back at SDPD headquarters, where organizers lingered to ensure no violence or looting occurred. San Diego Police estimated about 2,000 attendees took part in the march and called it “one of the biggest we’ve had but very peaceful.”
As protests continued to take place throughout the city, hundreds of residents also demanded that the City Council cut $100 million from SDPD’s budget. When the Council members approved a budget that instead increased police funding, residents voiced their frustrations at a subsequent protest downtown.