By Briana Gomez
June 16, 2020 (Lemon Grove) - Approximately 50 people gathered at San Miguel Elementary School, Saturday June 13 for the start of a protest in memory of Trevon Harris, a black adolescent killed by a man driving a vehicle on San Miguel Avenue in Lemon Grove last year.
Trevon was hit near San Miguel Elementary School, where his younger brother is a student.
Trevon’s family believes that his case was another example of police cover-ups and a disregard for black lives in the community.
“My son was not given the opportunity to have a fair investigation done on his death, and I believe that is because he was a young black man and they felt as if it was just another black kid,” said Tonia Harris, Trevon’s mother who led the organized protest.
Harris also says she has evidence that the driver, Chatman Ward, has ties to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, which she believes is the reason that he has not been charged with vehicular manslaughter.
The San Diego Sheriff’s Department responded to ECM via email saying, “There is no record of anyone by the name of Chatman Ward ever being employed by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. We are also unaware of any personal relationships between this individual and anyone currently working for the Sheriff’s Department.”
“My son was hit in a school zone and the driver was charged with nothing. No charges. No toxicology. No nothing,” Harris said.
She says it took two and a half months to obtain the police report of her son’s death, and that she and her family have still not received photos of the investigation.
The family has a petition in place to put pressure on the District Attorney’s office to charge the driver. NBC 7 reported last August that a Sheriff’s investigation concluded that Trevon slipped or fell, and that the driver was not at fault.
The family’s claim against the City of Lemon Grove was rejected last year. The family had blamed potholes and loose gravel, also calling for speed bumps to be installed on the street in front of the school.
The protest for Trevon comes after a wave of protests for black lives following the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who was killed after a police officer used brutal force, choking him
“I’m devastated because of George Floyd’s death, but it was his death that allowed me to have a voice – to have my child’s voice to be heard to say ‘Mom, yes, now is the time,’” said Harris.
Other community members helped Tonia spread the word about her son’s life and the issues facing the Lemon Grove youth.
“After Trevon died there was a charity basketball tournament because we want to be able to give back to the community, to the youth of the community, and it’s not being done by our city, what we want to happen is for the street to be calmed either by speed bumps or by light up signs,” said Teresa Rosiak, a founding board member of the Lemon Grove Improvement Council.
“If they don’t want to put [the money] out, fine; then give us the permission to fundraise and calm the street ourselves,” said Rosiak.
Rosiak has attended all the Lemon Grove City Council meetings since 1992 with the hope of aiding change in the community. She has also previously run for Mayor and Council.
Also in attendance was Rachel Mercer, a community member and organizer who has supported the Millers and other community events in Lemon Grove
“We are going to be holding another rally on June 20. It’s going to be with an effort in mind of reopening the Lemon Grove recreation center, year round, to bring back a sense of community and hopefully have a place where we can fight systemic racism together as a community,” said Mercer.
Mercer wants to encourage other community members to attend this rally and is planning interactive events to fundraise.
The protest was spearheaded by a speech from Harris and a prayer from Pastor Richardson, who eulogized Trevon into the Christian faith.
Harris told supporters, “With Georg Floyd’s death and as he laid on that ground like I’ve seen my child on that ground, and when he called out on his mother, that resonated a fire within me as a mother, that my child, that Trevon, was calling me and saying ‘Mom, the time is now, people will listen, they will know.’”
Pastor Richardson prayed for the crowd and also read San Diego County guidelines for a protest to ensure the safety of the group and to
Trevon was described as a neighborly, Christian young man who was respectful of his elders, generous with his friends, a straight-A student and an athlete.
Tears ran down facemasks as individuals in the crowd cried while Tonia Harris spoke of how she had to find her son on the street, later telling the group that a woman who lay with her on the ground with Trevon and testified on camera that she helped him in his last moments had eventually changed her testimony.
Harris felt this was another suspicious act that suggested foul play on behalf of law enforcement’s involvement and investigation.
The group marched east on San Miguel, turned left on Massachusetts and right on Broadway.
Overall the group received positive feedback from passing drivers. One woman even came out of her house saying “I love you guys” with a sign.
However, two men in a pick-up truck driving south on Massachusetts held their middle fingers up at protesters. While they may have thought this was just another “black lives matter” protest, their lack of sensitivity toward a mother who lost her son was felt by many of the crowd who gasped in disappointment. Despite the adversity, the crowd stayed peaceful.
Four officers from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department followed the protest on bikes but did not interfere.
When the group neared the final destination of the recreation center, a nearby fight broke out among people who were not part of the protest. The officers on bikes rushed toward these individuals at a nearby skate park. Some of the protesters and bystanders immediately began filming to implement accountability and illustrating general mistrust in law enforcement.
After one protester remarked, “Let’s not forget why we are here,” the group reconvened and moved forward to the final destination.
The protest route ended at the Lemon Grove Recreation Center, which had previously hosted a memorial basketball tournament for Trevon.
Tables of complementary water and snacks were set up for the protesters and participants.
A stage was set up in front of the Lemon Grove Recreation Center where several speakers concluded the event.
“I’m a firm believer in live and let live,” said Coach James, one of the speakers and Trevon’s basketball coach, regarding both the black lives matter movement and the all lives matter movement, “So when Trevon was taken away from the Harris family, it struck a chord in me and it’s something that I preach to the boys at all times…nothing is promised…it’s just like basketball, there is a clock.”
Kamal Martin, who is running this year for Lemon Grove Mayor, also participated in the protest and addressed the audience. Martin was the first individual to present the Trevon Harris Memorial Award for Athletics and Leadership at Empower Charter School.
“I’m overwhelmed, I’m heartbroken, but I’m also hopeful,” said Martin. “As a father I can’t imagine losing a child, I don’t think there’s anything tougher for a human to deal with. It’s not the natural order of things, but like Mrs. Harris said God has a plan for each and every one of us and we may not see the wisdom of tragedy in that moment, but it will be revealed in time.”
Martin added, “In a city like Lemon Grove where 40 almost 50 percent of our budget is going to law enforcement, a budget is a statement of values, a budget is a statement of your priorities, and we have an opportunity now to continue to lift up that young man’s legacy, not just in our relentless fight and pursuit for truth and justice, but by demonstrating our values…and I hope that you all will take the opportunity to continue to think deeper about how we can care for one another as a community.”
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