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By Henri Migala

Protesters outside Santee Town Center

June 6, 2020 (Santee) -- I received a call Saturday, June 6 advising that people protesting police brutality in the wake of the death of Mr. George Floyd were demonstrating in front of the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee in vehicles. The vehicle protest provided protection in the COVID-19 era; others stood on a street corner, most wearing masks.

By the time I got there, police had blocked off the entry road to the detention facility at Magnolia Ave.  But there were still many cars in support of Black Lives Matter, with passengers holding up signs out the window, driving up and down Magnolia Ave, passed the parked police cruisers.

I decided to drive around the area to see if there was anything going on and came across a young woman alone, on the side of the road, holding up a sign that read “Black Lives Matter.”  I stopped and asked her if she knew what had happened at the facility and she said that people are just driving by and holding up signs protesting police brutality. 

I asked her if there were any demonstrations.  “Nobody wants to get out of their cars,” said Isabel, who declined to give her last name due to fear of retaliation. “It’s too dangerous.  Would you want to be a person of color walking in “Klantee”?  (A reference that Santee is rife with white supremacists).

I asked Isabel about her experience standing there by herself.  “You know how many people flip me off and spit on me as they drive by?” she asked.  “I’m scared to stand too close to the curb because I’m afraid that someone will try to drive up and hit me.”

I asked her if she was at the demonstration at the intersection of Mission Gorge Rd and Cuyamaca Street the other night.  “No, but my friend was arrested trying to leave for curfew, 25 minutes before the curfew started.  And they arrested him” said Isabel.  “And as he was getting arrested, he kept asking the officers, “is your body cam on? Is your body cam on? Is your body cam on?” 

Isabel added, “After he was cuffed and picked up off the ground, then the officer said `Yes, now it is!””

I asked Isabel for her friend’s name and she declined to share it, saying that he wasn’t supposed to be out there, because his parents didn’t know.  He was afraid that his parents would find out that he was out demonstrating so he bailed himself out.

Isabel also shared that she’s worried about some of her other friends who are out demonstrating. Two are minors and very small, barely weighing 100 lbs. She’s worried about them getting shot with rubber bullets and suffering harm.

She went on to say that things are a bit sensitive now because a Mexican teen was allegedly assaulted by some “white guys who came up to him and beat him up with brass knuckles”. Isabel lamented, “Nobody reported about it!”

“I’m afraid to make a police report and put my name on anything because I’m afraid of the police, and afraid that they’ll retaliate,” said Isabel.

She then held up her water bottle and said, “I have my tear gas solution here.”  She explained that it’s three tablespoons of baking soda to one bottle of water, to help soothe the effects of tear gas. “I just don’t know what the police are going to do, so I’m ready.”

I decided to return to the intersection of Mission Gorge Rd. and Cuyamaca St., the location of daily demonstrations of people, mostly youth, in support of Black Lives Matter. The area of this intersection had seen violence in the preceding days. I was there on Monday when a group of young demonstrators were trying to get away from a group of burly white men who shouted racial slurs and seemed intent on causing harm and starting violence.  East County Magazine reported on this incident in a previous article, with a video of some of the fighting that I had recorded that evening.

But on this day, the BLM demonstrators that I observed, a group that varied from between 20-25 people throughout the day, were all peaceful and were not physically assaulted.  Even young children were there.  Drivers would steadily honk in support of the demonstrators as they drove by, although occasionally, someone would shout an obscenity. 

One truck, however, drove by with a sign that read “F*** You N****s”.

A white woman held up a sign that read, "When George cried out for his Mama, all mamas heard," a reference to George Floyd's final words beneath the knee of the white Minneapolis police officer who killed him, an action that has sparked national outrage and a week of protests thus far.

I spoke with an African-American woman in her 20s.  Her name is Aalyiah, and she lives in Santee. She, too, declined to give her last name, as did several others I spoke with later on. I asked her if she was afraid and she responded, “Yes.”  I asked why, and Aalyiah went on, “There are a lot of people here talking about wanting to hurt black people.”

I then spoke to a young man named Deshawn, 19, who recounted an experience similar to the one described by Isabel, though it is unclear whether this is the same incident. He also declined to have his full name published.  He said he and a friend, Sheldon, also 19, were here the other night, June 3, (at the northwest corner of Mission Gorge and Cuyamaca) when the police asked them to leave because it was approaching curfew.  So, he and his friend were walking to their car when they heard Sheriff’s officers cock their guns.  Deshawn said that he and his friend got down on the ground and the officers arrested them.  According to Deshawn, his friend was pushed to the ground so hard that he had to get stiches on his chin.

A video posted by OnScene TV shows portions of the events leading up to the arrest but neither confirms nor refutes Deshawn’s version of what happened. It shows five people, including Deshawn and Sheldon, their hands raised, walking east on Mission Gorge towards a line of officers.  The clip then shows the five  demonstrators on their knees with their hands raised, talking with the officers.  One of the demonstrators asks “What are you going to do?”  An officer from off screen responds “We’re going to arrest you”.  A group of at least 10 officers is then seen hurrying towards the protesters, who got up and walked away before the officers arrived.  The video has a post stating pepper spray was deployed but it’s unclear when, or if, that occurred. The video has been clipped and does not show the details of what happened next, but jumps to show two of the protesters prone on the ground being handcuffed.

Deshawn told ECM that they were never read their rights, and that he and his friend kept asking the officers if their body cams were on. According to Deshawn, the officers responded “No,” until after the arrests, and then they said “it is now!”

I then spoke to Jonny, a 41-year-old white man.  Johnny was standing with the demonstrators, listening to their conversations, but not really participating.  He started walking away when I caught up to him. 

“I live here and see these kids out here every day,” said Jonny.  “They’re beautiful.  Always peaceful. I was here the other night when on the other corner, there was another group that was really menacing. But during the whole time, the group here was sharing nothing but positive messages. I can’t think of anything better than to see them fighting for what’s right.  This is all I could ever hope for.”

Jonny, with his eyes starting to tear, went on. “The whole time, theses kids, half my age, and I always and only see these kids being phenomenal, and loving.”

I then sat on a bench off to the side when a young woman came to me and offered me a chia seed latte coffee.  I had seen her earlier with the demonstrators.  She had arrived with a couple of tote bags and offered the demonstrators coffee and other refreshments.  Her name is Camille. She said she is an herbalist and that she’s not the demonstrating type but wanted to support them.  So she made some of her own herbal creations and came to share them with the demonstrators, then moved on to offer refreshments to others.

Among the peaceful demonstrators was a family--a mother, Tonya, and her three children (Marissa, Austin and Mark), and one of daughter’s friends (Scarlett).  Tonya said that she was at the florist across the street the other day to buy flowers for the George Floyd mural next to Vons.  Her children were in the car.  Tonya said she heard a white man complain about the protesters, saying “Those are my tax dollars being wasted!”

Tonya said she told her son, Mark, to get out of the car and had him stand in front of the white man who had just made that comment, and then told the man, “You say that to this young man!”  “Big man, aren’t you!”  The man would not repeat his comment in front of Mark.  Tonya said she then told the man, “Those are my tax dollars too!  Life is more valuable than any amount of money!”  The man then turned around and left.

“Nobody is going to tell me that money is more valuable than a life!” said Tonya.  “That’s why these kids are out here!  It’s for their future!”

I then asked Tonya’s daughter, Marissa (probably around 8 years old), why she’s here.  “Because people are hating because of the color of their skin, and what they’re doing is not respectful,” she said.

During the several hours I was there, a car with two young white men drove passed the demonstrators, each time shouting their support of Black Lives Matter.  Towards the end of the afternoon, they decided to park and come join the demonstrators.  They were two “brothers” (actually friends, but they said they were so close that they were ‘brothers’), Trevor, 26, and Cameron, 20. 

At first sight, Trevor seems like one of the people you would probably be worried about confronting—a heavy set guy, not tall, but big, with tattoos on his chest and seemingly pretty tough. He said he works with youths in Santee. Trevor was not only enthusiastically in support of the demonstrators, but was eager and ready to protect them, especially the youngest and smallest of them, from anyone wishing them harm.

“It’s good this is all going on,” said Trevor, “because everyone matters!”  “We’re all family.”

I asked Trevor about Santee. He indicated that while there are some racists in Santee, "they don’t represent all of us,” he responded.  He then went on to say, “A bunch of kids came with a bull whip the other night, but they’re from Lakeside.”

Trevor made clear he does not support violence either against protesters or by those who engaged in rioting after some protests in other local communities such as La Mesa.

“I’m not with the looting,” said Trevor.  “I’m not with that.  But I am with you protesting.”

Trevor added, “We’re Santee, through and through,” then made clear he is not with the racists. "But we can change it.  Stand up for your black brothers and sisters.”

He concluded, “There are racists out here, but that’s not what Santee stands for. When you live in Santee, you got to stand up for what’s right. I got Republican friends and Democratic friends, and we don’t stand for that...Santee is not about that and never will be.”

Dr.Henri Migala is the founder of Henri Migala Photography. He has won numerous photography awards and most recently had one of his images chosen as a “Top 10” finalist  in the  Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest out of 48,000 submissions.  The independent photographer has previously provided video and photography for ECM ranging from bighorn sheep in the Anza-Borrego Desert to presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s San Diego visit .

He has lived and worked in 15 countries in global health, international development, higher education administration and humanitarian aid including disaster relief. His past positions include Director of the International House at the University of California San Diego, Executive Dean and Grants Administrator for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, and Adjunct Faculty instructor at San Diego City College. He holds a doctor of education degree from San Diego State university, a Masters in Public Health degree from the University of North Teas, and a Master of Art degree at the University of Texas, where he studied anthropology. He is a volunteer and board member with AGuilas del Desierto, Inc., helping to save lives of lost migrants, and as a Rotary Club President, has worked with International Relief Teams.  He speaks three languages (English, Spanish and French) has won many awards for his community service, and his international activities include working to eradicate polio through the World ealth Organization as well as participating in rural, border and cross-cultural health issues, , disaster relief and reconstruction.  He has published numerous academic papers and written nearly $30 million in grants that have funded.

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Retraction Needed

I have been an East County resident since 1969. This article is so untrue and one sided. Reports should do more investigation before writing something so inflammatory. A retraction is needed. A very minor number of East County residents are racist at all. No more than in any other community. I see more racisism coming from other communities than I do from East County communities. This article needs a retraction and apology.

We stand by our reporting.

Our reporters and other witnesses thorughout the week have repeatedly witnessed acts of racial slurs and intimidation in Santee, some caught on video, though Santee is not the only community plagued with this problem.  There are reports of occasional racist remarks in San Diego, too, at protests in recent days though those did not end in brawls or injuries to my knowledge.  Regardless, while the vast majority of Santee residents are not racists, those few who engage in such acts give the city a bad name.