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Story and photos by Kendra Sitton

May 30, 2020 (El Cajon) -- Around 100 protesters silently walked through an El Cajon neighborhood where organizers said La Mesa Police Officer Matt Dages lives. The group conducted a “Power Walk” this evening to let the officer know he is not invisible, according to organizer Covu.

East County Magazine could not independently verify that Dages lives at the residence.

“We want his community to know they have a rogue officer on their block,” former San Diego mayoral candidate and activist Tasha Williamson said. (Photo, left: Tasha Williams on phone)

La Mesa Police have not released the name of the police officer shown in a viral video this week arresting Amaurie Johnson, a black man, at a trolley station on charges of assaulting an officer. The department confirms that the officer, shown repeatedly pushing Johnson to a seated position before handcuffing and arresting him, is currently on leave pending an investigation.

Social media posts claim that the officer is Dages.  Tonight, organizers called for Dages to be immediately fired as well as to be charged for assaulting Johnson.

To keep their event legal and in line with COVID-19 guidelines, protesters wore masks and remained constantly moving on the sidewalk for the majority of the event. Exercising outside is allowed under the stay-at-home order. Organizers brought masks, water, and inhalers for anyone who had asthma during the event.

A few neighbors came out in support of the protesters and handed out water.

“I don’t think that’s what we expect of police officers in our community. I think that’s unfortunate that that’s what we’re experiencing and I was, frankly, embarrassed that one of my neighbors was behaving that way. They’re paid taxpayer dollars to protect all of us,” Kyra Greene said from her driveway.

She commended the protesters for bringing about a world she wants to live in. Greene also noted that the silent protest was making the neighborhood much quieter than a typical Saturday.

Other than a couple instances of organizers giving directions, the protest remained silent until the very end when they chanted “no justice, no peace” while preparing to leave. At that point, a man came from across the street and confronted protesters. The neighbor and protesters got into a verbal altercation, but protesters were able to de-escalate the situation and the man walked back to his home as protesters dispersed.

Protesters initially planned on walking through the neighborhood until 8 p.m. but called off the event early when news hit that the demonstrators in La Mesa were being hit with tear gas by the Sheriff’s Department.

This week’s arrest comes amid a national outcry over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and police violence in several other locales.

“We have plenty of George Floyds in San Diego County,” Williamson said.

Protester Brandon Turner came to the event after hearing about it less than an hour beforehand because of the many inequalities he sees.

“Slavery has not ended. We just live in a smarter, more under-the-radar version of racism —  voting, mortgage lending, racial disparities,” Turner said. “I’ve never gotten so emotional about it. Things aren’t changing.”

El Cajon Police Department vehicles drove through the residential streets the protesters route was on but parked a block away for the majority of the event.

El Cajon’s police department has its own history of police violence, including the 2016 killing of Alfred Olango which sparked protests across the region.

Williamson said that in another case this week, El Cajon police arrested Tyrah McGowen on May 26 when she refused to give a DNA sample while on her way home from work after she matched the description of a stabbing suspect. Activists indicated that they are  fundraising to pay bail so McGowen can be released. However a search of the Sheriff’s “Who’s in Jail” directory has no listing of Tyrah McGowen and ECM could not independently verify this arrest. 

Rebecca Jefferis Williamson  Is an award-winning freelance journalist and photographer who has covered a wide-variety of subjects ranging from civil protests, community news and features to health issues including Covid-19, PFAS toxins, and Newcastle disease. Besides being a part of the East County Magazine team, she has freelanced for the San Diego Community Newspaper Group, Local Web Media, the Chula Vista Star News, San Diego Family Magazine, Military Press, and a number of other newspapers.

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. 

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