AFTERMATH OF LA MESA PROTESTS AND RIOT LEAVES RESIDENTS AND PROTESTERS WONDERING WHO IS TO BLAME

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Update: La Mesa curfew extended 7pm 6/2 until 5:30am 6/3
 
By Briana Gomez
 
ECM Editor Miriam Raftery contributed to this report
 
June 2, 2020 (La Mesa) -- The day after the fiery riot following a La Mesa protest left the city in shambles, many citizens were suspicious about who really incited the rioting, looting and arson.

 
On Sunday, May 31, 2020, La Mesa looked almost unrecognizable as the quaint town hosted traffic extending for miles. Cars drove by burnt buildings, slowing down so passengers could take photos of the skeletal and eerie remains of Chase Bank and Union Bank on the corner of Spring and Allison, near downtown La Mesa as well as the still smoldering remnants of the Randall Lamb historical building nearby.
 
A few protesters still lingered in the area. Many locals wielded industrial brooms and helped with cleanup efforts spread across the nucleus of the city – the banks area, the Vons shopping center, the neighborhood market Sprouts, and some stores on La Mesa Boulevard had all fallen victim to attacks.
 
A Christian evangelist grabbed a megaphone and started shouting at crowds to repent for their sins. 
 

A few protesters still lingered in the area. Many locals wielded industrial brooms and helped with cleanup efforts spread across the nucleus of the city – the banks area, the Vons shopping center, the neighborhood market Sprouts, and some stores on La Mesa Boulevard had all fallen victim to attacks.

A Christian evangelist grabbed a megaphone and started shouting at crowds to repent for their sins. 

Hundreds of individuals were scattered throughout the Vons shopping center trying to help load items onto trucks. Many of the items had been water damaged in efforts to put out fires there.

Photos: Looters’ images posted on social media accounts. If you recognize any of these individuals, please contact La Mesa Police.

Falon Tablas, a La Mesa native decided to help the community and was designating tasks to hopeful volunteers. Tablas was in the area Saturday night helping fellow shop owners at Postal Annex. 

“They were busting in, they went in there and stole stuff, I had to help him get them out of there and guard the building as much as we can,” said Tablas, who said he suspected these looters were part of the protest. He described them with masks and other articles that they used as weapons. “There weren’t 400 of them there were 1,000 of them,” said Tablas, “they were just with bats, skateboards, they went bashing windows…lit the place on fire here behind me..I think this is really bad they didn’t need to damage and set things on fire. Let your mouth be heard but you don’t need to be damaging people’s property.”

Photo, left by Briana Gomez:  Falon Tablas

However, other protest attendees and neighbors disagreed that these protesters were part of the original crowd.

Britney and Taylor, two young women who declined to give their last names stood outside of Vons saying “The protesters did not start this.”  Both young women were at the protest almost the entire time. “It was peaceful the whole time until the sun went down,” Britney said.

Taylor said she got flash-banged, rubber bulleted, and tear-gassed by law enforcement, got milk and came back to assist other protesters, but the protests stayed peaceful even though police were aggressive.

“There were a few people trying to instigate violence but those got shut off really quick,” said Taylor, citing a man wearing riot gear who was escorted out of the crowd by other protesters.

Both Britney and Taylor felt that while they were getting smoke bombed and tear gassed, another group of people arrived to cause mayhem.

Multiple witnesses have told ECM that they saw groups of people arriving in the late afternoon to early evening in vehicles, most dressed in black, some wielding baseball bats. Social media posts claim some vehicles were dropping off piles of rocks around town—rocks later used to hurl at police, vehicles, and store windows.

Protests on Saturday had been incited in part by a recent event in which a La Mesa Police Officer harassed a young man named Amaurie Johnson who was waiting near the Spring Street trolley station for friends in a nearby apartment complex. After a video showing an LMPD officer pushing Johnson into a sitting position went viral, the officer was placed on administrative leave while an investigation is being conducted

This event and the killing of George Floyd, who was brutally choked to death by Minneapolis law enforcement shown in another viral video, triggered strong emotions for the black community and their allies, sparking protests nationwide including locally.

The protest Saturday was organized by KC Short who had mutual friends with Johnson and was publicized by the Racial Justice Coalition, specifically Yusef Miller, a local activist  who was joined by Desiree Smith, a mother whose teenage son was placed in a chokehold by law enforcement in 2017. 

Contrary to popular conspiracy theories, none of these individuals are tied to white supremist groups. Miller and Smith had just come from a previous motorcade protest on Mayor Faulconer’s Point Loma residence, which was completely peaceful and well attended.

All of the organizing individuals promoted peaceful protests first and foremost, and made sure that the crowd of about 1,000 people understood them. 

East County Magazine spoke to Short, Miller, and Smith who shared values of getting charges against Johnson dropped, and putting pressure on police to discontinue use of the carotid restraint, which Miller said “becomes the chokehold.”  San Diego’s Police Chief yesterday announced that SDPD will eliminate use of the controversial chokehold method. 

Protesters began assembling near the parking lot at the La Mesa police station Saturday morning. The protest went up Allison to the Spring St. Trolley and back down Allison, where protesters went west on University blocking both sides of the street all the way past the Riviera restaurant. The protest went back up University and turned on Baltimore where protesters overtook a freeway exit and eventually got past the police barricade. 

Taylor said it was while protesters were on the freeway that police began using tear gas and were shot with rubber bullets without being warned. 

ECM Photo by Miriam Raftery: Burned rubble of Union Bank

After dark, the town transformed into a city under siege. Videos shot by citizens, bloggers and journalists caught many crimes in the act. 

Most damning, a video shows numerous people inside the Randall Lamb building committing arson, adding fuel to the flames until the building was fully engulfed. Most wore masks but the arsonists appeared to be of multiple races, as were looters shown on still photos carrying out TVs, sporting goods and other stolen goods from stores across La Mesa.

Another terrifying video shot by Onscene TV shows individuals torching vehicles, rocking a battalion chief fire vehicle afire, and flame shooting along the street in front of City Hall, as well as looting and other mayhem.

Project 21 Founding Member Deroy Murdock, a founding member of Project 21, a pro-law and order black group formed after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, issued this statement regarding the current civil unrest sweeping the nation.

"Rioters have looted George Floyd's spotlight. In raping and pillaging dozens of American communities, these hoodlums have shifted the nation's attention away from Mr. Floyd's atrocious killing at the hands of the malicious Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin and three of his at-least-criminally-negligent colleagues,” says Murdock  in a statement sent to media. “Instead, Americans are focused on the mayhem and bedlam that are tearing our republic in two. Once again, the left is 'fighting for' blacks while also demolishing our neighborhoods and ruining our lives. Enough is enough!"

But it’s far from clear whether the destruction was caused by activists on the left, the right, or a combination of both.

An NBC TV report reveals that over the weekend, a Twitter account claiming to belong to a national “antifa” organization and pushing violent rhetoric related to ongoing protests has been linked to the alt-right, white nationalist group Identity Evropa, according to a Twitter spokesperson. Twitter later suspended the account after a tweet that incited violence.

By Sunday, as more protests were taking place in multiple states across the U.S., the newly created account put up by white supremacists  under the handle @ANTIFA_US, tweeted, “Tonight’s the night, Comrades,” with a brown raised fist emoji and “Tonight we say 'F--- The City' and we move into the residential areas... the white hoods.... and we take what's ours …”

Photo, left by Briana Gomez:  Taylor and Brittney, who asked that their last names not be published

Taylor and Brittney and many other witnesses in La Mesa now agree that the protesters during the daytime remained peaceful, which leaves many wondering, “Who are the violent looters and arsonists and where did they come from?” 

 

Briana Gomez holds an MBA from the University of La Verne and a Bachelor of Science in International Business from Azusa Pacific University and freelances as a journalist.  She is originally from La Mesa and lived in Japan for five years in her youth. After this experience, she took an interest in travelling and learning about global cultures and cultural identities.  She first travelled to Hungary in 2013 to teach English on a gap year before obtaining her master’s degree. Appreciating the experience, she returned in 2018 to pursue journalism and research on multicultural communication.

Gomez has written for online and local publications in Budapest and in her native San Diego, including coverage in East County Magazine. She is passionate about human rights and minority issues, bringing awareness to ethnic groups in our community. She also sits on the committee for the Arab and Muslim Community Coalition and is an active member of the San Diego Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and San Diego House of Lebanon. 

East County Magazine thanks the Facebook Journalism Project for support through its COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program to help  sustain reporting on vulnerable local populations and rural communities. Learn more at #FacebookJournalismProject. 

You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.

 


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