“Why wasn’t I allowed in Chicano Park?” That was the question Kristopher Wyrick asked the San Diego City Council on Tuesday (November 14th). Wyrick and four others were driven out of Chicano Park by a large crowd on September 3 while attending the “patriot picnic,” an event organized by Roger Ogden.
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Ogden also spoke to the council about the event. He said it was not intended to be a protest or a rally, but to be a private discussion about the “anti-American and Chicano supremacist aspects of some of the murals.”
Ogden is the leader of the local political action group Patriot Fire. He has been publicly criticizing the Chicano Park murals for years through his website and social media pages, criticizing the Fidel Castro and Che Guevara murals in 2013, opposing National Historic Landmark status for the park a year ago, and urges his readers to help “topple” the “monument to communism” this August.
When members of the community surrounding Chicano Park heard Ogden was planning to have a picnic there, they decided to make plans of their own.
According to the Facebook page of Barrio Logan Community Planning Group vice chair Brent Beltrán, a spy had infiltrated Patriot Fire and revealed to him their plans to “reconnoiter” the park. To counter the patriot picnic, Barrio Logan community leaders planned a “solidarity rally” at the same time.
As word of the patriot picnic and solidarity rally spread, tempers became heated. Ogden told the city council that he was getting threats before the event and that people were trying to “whip up a mob against us.”
Public comment portion of 11/14/17 city-council meeting
Rumors were spread on social media and at the park that the picnic-goers were white supremacists who planned to vandalize the park.
As seen in videos taken at Chicano Park on September 3, hundreds of people gather peacefully at the solidarity rally to show support for the murals, but many become confrontational after they see the patriot picnic group.
Ogden’s group arrives at the park with two pizzas and water bottles and stop at a table across the street from the rally. Police arrive and approach the table where Ogden and four others are gathered. At about the same time, rally participants cross the street and approach the table.
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Some individuals in the crowd wave flags while others shout expletives and racist slurs at the five men, who were all white. As some from the crowd attempt to get closer to the picnic tables, more San Diego police officers arrive to help form a perimeter around the picnic group. As the crowd gradually grows bigger and more people try passing through the perimeter, one officer tells the five men, “This is going south pretty quick...I will get you out... I don’t want you to get hurt and I don’t want my officers to get hurt.”
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As the picnic-goers leave with a police escort, the crowd follows closely along, chanting “Afuera!” Some from the crowd yell threats of violence, including, “Your time has come, Roger, you piece of s*. We’re going to break your face.” No injuries or arrests were reported.
Rabbi Nachum Shifren traveled from Los Angeles to speak to the council on November 14th. He began his remarks by confronting what he saw as council indifference toward the comments they were hearing: “If these were whites...assaulting and intimidating Chicanos, I promise every one of you would be glued to me right now. As long as it’s whites being...intimidated it’s a business-as-usual attitude and I can see it on your faces right now,” Shifren stated.
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Wyrick rebutted the rumors about the group before the council: “Never once did we discuss tearing down the statue of Zapata or defacing the murals.” In Ogden’s August 19 article “Help ‘Topple’ the Monument to Communism in California,” the article made no mention of toppling statues or defacing murals but refers to Chicano Park itself as “this perverse monument.” The article readers to “e-mail the Mayor and City Council...and ask that the anti-American murals at Chicano Park be removed and the park renamed.”
Ogden and Wyrick have both stated they are not racists or white supremacists and their objection to Chicano Park is political in nature. They say they don’t believe the United States or the City of San Diego should be supporting a park that displays what they see as hostile depictions of both America and the San Diego Police Department.
San Diego State University professor emeritus of Chicano studies Richard Griswold Del Castillo said that Chicano Park is normally “not a place of exclusivity” and it is “open to everybody.” He pointed out that every year thousands of people of all backgrounds attend Chicano Park Day. Griswold stated that even critics of Chicano Park should be free to walk around the park and speak out.
Griswold called Ogden’s description of Chicano Park murals a “misinterpretation.” He described the Chicano movement as decentralized and elaborated that in many cases the murals do not reflect a “shared community value.” He explained that some muralists try to reflect community values but others reflect their own personal interests. And he believes that the messages of Chicano power in the park are meant to assert racial equality for Chicanos rather than the racial supremacy of Chicanos.
According to the website of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, “One of the original goals of Chicano Park...was to...mirror and showcase the beauty, culture, and spirit of the Chicano people...the murals in Chicano Park...constitute…the world’s largest outdoor art gallery.”
As of this writing, no city-council member has issued any response to the incident. Beltrán and the Chicano Park Steering Committee did not respond to a request for comment.