Spirit of Community Outweighs Chaos at George Floyd Protests in California


Photo by Ebone Monet 6-year old Stewart attends demonstration outside of La Mesa PD Sunday, May 31, 2020

Ebone Monet | California Black Media

This weekend protests swept the Golden State days after police in Minnesota killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. From Sacramento to San Diego, angry and grieving Californians organized peaceful demonstrations, marching, blocking traffic and calling for change outside of government buildings across the state.

The death of the 46-year-old is the latest symbol in a documented history of law enforcement officers brutalizing and murdering Black Americans. Police shoot and kill Black Americans 2.8 times more often than they kill White Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Unarmed Black people are also more likely to be killed by police than white people.

In San Diego County Saturday afternoon, more than 1,000 people gathered outside of the La Mesa Police Department on University Avenue. The department is investigating its own accusation of excessive force filed against one of its officers following a recent arrest that was recorded and also widely shared on social media.

In the crowd, there were people carrying signs that read “Black Lives Matter”, “Justice for George” and “I Can’t Breathe,” one of the last phrases Floyd uttered as former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin is seen pinning him to the ground with his knee to his neck in a viral video that has ignited nationwide unrest. Floyd also called out for his mama.

Collena Horne, an African American woman and San Diego area resident, said what she saw in the video took her to her breaking point. After watching it, she felt compelled to join the La Mesa demonstration.

“I just started crying. That could have easily been my dad. That could have been my uncle,” Horne said. The protest was a first for the 28-year-old San Diego native.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable being at home knowing that I had a chance to be out here and use my voice, while still social distancing and still being peaceful,” she added.

The protest went on for several hours. At one-point, hundreds of participants walked from the police department to the nearby I-8, a major regional highway that stretches west from the beaches of San Diego to the Casa Grande north of Tucson in Arizona.

On the highway, they blocked westbound lanes. California Highway Patrol responded by stopping traffic in both directions as they worked to gain control. The interstate standoff finally ended with protestors retreating to the police department.

The protestors were ethnically diverse and most of them were young adults and teenagers.

Twenty-three-year-old Alexander Learner drove her 16-year-old sister Logan Mia from Los Angeles to La Mesa to take part in the protest.

“We chose San Diego because downtown LA looked more dangerous from what we’ve been seeing on the news. We came to show what we believe in a safe way,” said Learner.

Mia said as a white teen she understands the importance of the Black Lives Matters movement.

“We’re all people. Right now, Black people need us. Black Lives Matter especially right now. We need to stick up for them because they’re the ones being oppressed right now.”

The teenager said she was nervous to transition from social media so street activism.

“If you’re not following with actions, then words don’t mean anything,” she said.

Minutes after the sisters arrived, police released tear gas. They also shot rubber bullets into the crowd. Authorities said they were keeping the large group from gaining access to the building. The police action came after demonstrators spray-painted an armored police vehicle. Some of the protestors there, though, maintained that they were demonstrating peacefully when police applied force without warning.

Several people have posted videos of the clash and its aftermath. There are images of people crying that their eyes and throats were burning from the pepper spray. One woman’s family says she was standing across the street, slightly away from the large gathering, when she was hit in the head with a rubber bullet. Images of her lying on the ground bleeding heavily as other people try to lend aid are circulating on social media.

More pictures depict other people’s injuries. Some demonstrators retreated to their nearby vehicles while others made their way to nearby shopping centers. Many of the surrounding businesses including Walmart inside the Grossmont Center Mall closed early. Aerial images from local media outlets showed people breaking into the store and leaving with goods. Several other stores were damaged at a La Mesa Springs Shopping Center, also on University Avenue.

By night’s end, a fire vehicle had been set ablaze along with Chase and Union Banks.

Up north, authorities in the Bay Area are searching for a white van in connection to the shootings of two federal security guards who gunmen opened fire on Saturday night outside of the federal building in downtown Oakland. 53-year-old David Patrick Underwood, who is African American, died from injuries.

The extensive damage caused by the unrest in the state’s most populated cities dominated much of the news coverage Sunday. At the request of Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California National Guard moved in to protect Los Angeles County from further infrastructure damage. In addition to the 1000 Guardsman, LA leaders put millions of people under a mandatory curfew.

Across the state, protests continued Sunday evening in some places without the reported volatility from the night before. San Diego PD reports officers arrested more than 100 people in connection to the unrest over the weekend LAPD says its number is around 900, and Sacramento and Oakland police report fewer than 100 arrests combined.

Demonstrators such as Horne and others in California and around the nation will have to wait to find out if their temporary disruption will have a lasting impact.

“I am just tired. It has to change,” she said.

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