CONFRONTATIONS HEIGHTEN RACIAL TENSIONS IN SANTEE

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Threats on social media prompt preparations for more potential clashes after violent confrontations earlier this week



By Miriam Raftery; ECM journalists and photographers Rebecca Jefferis Williamson, Henri Migala and Paul Kruze contributed to this report.

Photo, left by Henri Migala: Sheriff's officers cleared those on both sides of a contentious protest Monday night in Santee

 

June 5, 2020 (Santee) – Businesses in Santee including some major retailers and Wells Fargo Bank are boarded up or closed this afternoon, with a major law enforcement contingent in place after a post on social media called on marchers to “F*ck Klantee” tonight. Other posts suggest activist events may be planned over this weekend.

The posts follow several nights of conflicts and physical altercations between a group of white men who shouted racial taunts and allegedly physically harmed several young people who claimed they were Black Lives Matter protesters, though the white men claimed they were detaining suspected looters.

The white men are part of a broader group of “East County Defenders”  who first turned out on Sunday with a announced intent to protect local businesses against potential looting after La Mesa protests turned into a night violent rampages following peaceful daytime protests there over the killing of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer now facing murder charges in Minnesota.  

“They outnumbered us today but Friday we’re going back with more,” states the post today that has provoked concern. It shows a figure in a tear gas mask. The post, which purports to be from Black Lives Matter, calls on marchers to converge on the Town Center Community Park East to “get to the heart and root of it in Daygo.”

It is unclear whether the post is legitimately from Black Lives Mattter, since NBC news has reported instances of white supremacist groups nationwide using false social media posts that seek to incite violence at BLM protests nationwide, including Twitter posts using an Antifa name that were in fact posted by the alt-right white supremacy groups.

Multiple violent altercations have occurred this week, including several scuffles caught in part on video. A Hispanic teen suffered serious facial injuries Sunday night and an ECM reporter spoke with another teen who was punched in the face at a Santee protest on Monday evening. 

The Hispanic teen’s family and some community members are calling on law enforcement and city leaders to stop the violence by the white men, whom some believe are  white supremacists.

“They do not have the right to go into the street and act like militiamen,” his mother told CBS 8. She said her son, 19, and his friends had gone to Santee for a Black Lives Matter protest when the men approached them at a shopping center on Mission Gorge at Cuyamaca Street and asked if they were members of Antifa, an anti-fascist group, and there to loot. The teen maintains that he and his friends were there to protest peacefully and that assailants insulted a young woman with the teens. A video shot by the teen shows the men accusing them of being looters in a crowded parking lot, after which the teen was assaulted. “He has fractures in his face. He needs surgery to put a plate under his eyelid and on his cheek,” said his mother, who asked not to have her name published.   

But others told a different version of Sunday night’s events, claiming the teen was poised to hurl a rock through a store window and that community members sought to detain him. A second video obtained by ECM shows a scuffle and a young woman being detained. The video also establishes the presence of members of the Peckerwood Motorcycle club, which the Anti-Defamation League has called a white supremacist gang.

On Monday, a small group of mostly young protesters gathered near the junction of Mission Gorge Road and Cuyamaca near the Santee Town Center in yet another incident. Three ECM reporters arrived on scene separately, witnessed portions of what transpired and interviewed some participants. ECM’s editor later reviewed multiple videos posted on social media to piece together what transpired.

Early videos indicate that participants in the Black Lives Matter group were holding up signs such as “I can’t breathe” and demonstrating peacefully against police violence and the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed beneath the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

There were no visible  bats, bricks, or other implements associated with looting.

On the opposite side of the street, signs such as “No looting Santee” were displayed by the Santee defenders, along with American flags (photo, right, by Henri Migala)

“I’m not here to beat anybody,” said Santee businessman Dylan Dearborn, owner of Infinity, a mixed martial arts facility. Deerborn said he was interested in keeping Santee businesses safe with other defenders to prevent damage to businesess, following a riot May 30-31 in La Mesa that damaged dozens of businesses and burned down three structures.

Collin Cady, an off-duty emergency medical technician (EMT) told ECM reporter Rebecca Jefferis-Williamson, “I live here. I understand both sides.” He indicated he wanted to be on hand in case anyone got hurt. 

Many of the defenders waved American flags and affirmed positive motives. But some made racial slurs and referred to the Black Lives Matter activists as “looters.” 

Videos shot by multiple bystanders showed the scene from various angles. Someone in a vehicle driving past hurled a bottle at the Black Lives Matter group, some of whom lobbed plastic water bottles back in return. 

At some point, a burly defender shouted “Melee!” meaning fight. A group of the “defenders” rushed across the street and skirmishes ensued.

ECM reporter WIlliamson found Marcos  Navarro 19, bleeding heavily. The white medical mask he wore for COVID-19 protection was soaked through with blood. He told ECM that after getting off work nearby, “I decided to participate in the peaceful protests,” with the Black Lives Matter group. “But it escalated quickly …some guy just punched me.” 

Photo, left, Marcos Navarro, by Rebecca Jeffers-Williamson:

Henri Migala  an ECM photographer, arrived in the midst of an altercation in the USA gas station on the corner. A long line of police cars with lights and sirens on were driving swiftly toward the area. Migala saw youths from the Black Lives Matter group, which included white and black protesters, running away from several defenders as this video shows: https://youtu.be/NIkNJunwlnU

“Seconds later, a group of very angry and agitated white men entered the parking lot following the others,” Migala said of the defenders in pursuit. “One of them took off his shift and threw it on the ground, revealing the tattoos that covered both sides of his torso and his arms, and yelling the “N*****” word.”

Multiple skirmishes ensued. Migala got his equipment set up in time to capture the end of one skirmish on video as the youths attempted to fend off the heavyset tattooed attacker, who can be heard repeatedly shouting racial slurs. (Screenshot, right). View video https://youtu.be/GuKiu2mspG0  

Migala’s videos also show another of the defenders at the skirmish wearing a confederate flag mask, a symbol sometimes affiliated with white supremacy groups.

“As the youth got in their cars to try to drive away, one of the white men jumped on his car and started pounding on the roof with his fist. Others threw rocks at the car as they tried to leave,” Migala reports, a fact shown in one of his videos.https://youtu.be/AKWwiOD8R-U

A video posted by another witness on Facebook included a bystander shouting “Stabbing!” as a voice claimed one of the white assailants had a knife and had early been seen with brass knuckles, though ECM could not confirm those details. Another social media post included a photo of the tattooed man and asked help to identify what the post referred to as a “vigilante” who allegedly assaulted a protester. Yet another video, since removed from Facebook but reviewed by ECM’s editor, showed a passenger in a vehicle flash a white power sign at the defender’s group.

The defenders also became targets of intimidation, however.

A passenger in a  black Dodge Ram driving past a group of defenders not involved in the violence clashes, on the opposite side of the street, allegedly brandished a gun.  The Sheriff’s department reports that deputies conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle and found a couple with a child, a semi-automatic handgun with two loaded magazines inside. The passenger, a Hispanic woman, was arrested, along with the driver, a Hispanic man. They are charged with exhibiting a firearm and child endangerment.

A middle-aged Santee couple walking their dogs took a different view.  They told ECM journalist Paul Kruze that they were glad to see the Sheriiffs deputies take control of what they perceived as agitators, stating, “We’re here to support Santee to keep these thugs from trying to burn up this town…They are not doing anything for their cause.” Thee woman said what happened to George Floyd was wrong and supported the officers responsible being jailed.

A Sheriff’s helicopter overhead at 8:30 p.m. ordered the crowd to disperse.  A troop of some 40 San Diego Sheriff’s deputies clad in department uniforms and olive green tactical uniforms with helmets and shields marched from the Trolley Square in formation to clear the area.  A tip that Parkway Plaza in El Cajon might also be targeted proved inaccurate, ECM reporter Paul Kruze confirmed.

On Tuesday night, the two groups again held a protest and counter-protest, drawing some 200 people.  After a Sheriff’s helicopter made several announcements that the 7 p.m. curfew would be enforced and directed protesters to leave, “Some of the protesters left on their own accord, however a vast majority of them refused to leave the area…as a result, multiple arrests related to curfew violations were made,” a Sheriff’s news release states.

On Facebook, several individuals posted allegations of harassment by white racists in Santee this week.  Aimee Perez posted on June 1, “Yesterday evening my family members were ambushed by 40 drunken white supremacists. Bottles were thrown at their vehicle, grown men spit on the car while yelling for them to get out of there they don’t belong there. My family has lived in Santee for over 10 years. To add insult to injury the Sheriff’s saw what happened and chose to do nothing at all. Their response to this attack was they were working on getting this crowd of drunken white supremacist [s] to leave.”

Marlene Tucker wrote that her brother in law was going to the Santee Walmart nearby and that “the `great’ citizens of Santee threw cans at his ar telling him that he needed to take his Beaner ass back to Mexico!!  My brother in law got out of the car to confront them” she says,adding that the assailants grabbed their phones “and said oh no, call the cops the Beaner probably has a gun or a knife!!” she wrote.

ECM has contacted the Santee Sheriff’s substation for comments but has not received a response. To date, no arrests have been announced for any of the acts of violence allegedly committed by the white defenders.

Photo, right by Paul Kruze: Shopping carts piled up inside and outside Target formed a barricade Monday night

The attacks and racial taunts come on the heels of two incidents in Santee in May, when  images of a man wearing a KKK hood and a couple wearing Nazi swastikas went viral on social media. (photo, left, via Facebook)

Santee is not the only hotbed of racial hate activities locally. A San Diego Union-Tribune report in March 2019 revealed that the white  nationalist group Identity Evropa, has been recruiting on college campuses locally, including Grossmont College, SDSU and others. Identity Evropa is the same group that organized the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a protester was killed and dozens injured.

Santee, however, has a long history of racial incidents in the past that gave rise to the derogatory nickname “Klantee” that the city has fought to overcome.  Last month, some residents held a “Santee Loves” rally and vehicle process to provide a message of inclusiveness to all.  Many spoke out at a recent virtual city council meeting to ask that more be done to combat racism.

Santee’s Mayor John Minto has denounced the racial incidents in his city and told CBS 8 that based on videos he’s seen of the white group that allegedly beat up the teen Sunday night, the men were in the wrong—and he wants things to change. “If we don’t work on it right now, we’re not gonna make any progress,” the Mayor concluded.

On Facebook Monday, Minto posted, “Now more than ever, we need to show tolerance, understanding and unity without violence. Our priority is to keep the community of Santee safe and to protect our residents and local businesses, while supporting peaceful protests. Let’s stay strong, Santee. We are in this together.”

Santee has been under a curfew since last weekend’s civil unrest.  The curfew order referred to “large gatherings in violation of public health orders” at Town Center which “created threats to public safety and property” which “continue to exist in the San Diego area and in the city.”

Sheriff William Gore weighed in Monday with a statement stating, “We understand the anger and frustration over the death in police custody in Minnesota last week. We condemn the action that led to the death of George Floyd.” He continued, “We must now allow the justice system to run its course. Violence and vandalism will not make this process any faster. There is a difference between protesting and rioting. There are people at these rallies exploiting the situation to discredit those peacefully assembled by looting businesses and setting fires to buildings. When demonstrations threaten life and property, law enforcement must act to restore safety in our communities.”

The statement concludes, “We ask our community for patience and calm during these challenging times. These acts of violence distract from the message of honoring the memory of George Floyd.”

Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.

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