La Mesa police station on Saturday
More than a thousand protesters marched outside the La Mesa Police Department Saturday, May 30. Stretching down University Avenue and Baltimore Drive they held signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe,” words uttered by George Floyd, a black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer May 25. La Mesa was targeted because a white police officer was video-taped Wednesday (May 27) at the Grossmont Transit Station pushing a young black man before arresting him.
Close-up of the crowd
In La Mesa there was anarchist and anti-police messaging. As he walked past me one protester exclaimed, “There’s not going to be a government anymore. They’re all going down.”
There were car window smashing incidents along the way and a stampede through a police barricade, where the crowd was able to enter I-8 and block traffic. Michael Carl posted to Black Lives Matter: San Diego Facebook page: “…They are blocking ambulances. To protest the murder of an innocent man, you may kill other innocent people.”
The march to Interstate 8
By 5 pm most of the protesters were back at the police station, surrounding it from the front entrance to the ends of the parking lots. La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis told CBS News 8 the next day, "Yesterday started out as a peaceful protest. Civil discourse. Black Lives Matter. NAACP. They were following the model of peaceful protest. Somewhere in that timeline as nightfall came a different group of people was there.”
In front of police department
But the vandalism of the police station began in broad daylight, as the crowd of protesters gathered after the march. The odor of spray paint filled the air, the station walls covered with anti-police rhetoric. Nobody stopped it.
At 5:30 an elderly man walked through the crowd. I didn’t hear what he said but a protester told me he was counter-protesting. I saw heads turn toward him and heard a corporate gasp of displeasure. People started throwing things at him. A young woman at the head of the crowd turned around from the station porch and screamed at the crowd to stop throwing things.
After crowd is dispersed
As the man exited the crowd into open space a protester darted toward him. Then a chain reaction of protesters pursued and attacked the man, followed by another chain of protesters who ran to protect him. I heard another corporate gasp mixed with a cacophony of “No!”
A young black woman who helped protect him explained, “We didn’t come here for that. The last thing we need is more violence and hurt. He would not have made it out without people helping him. They were coming after him hard.”
Then violence broke out on the other side of the police station. A small group of protesters made use of softball-sized decorative rocks that surround the police station. They threw them at an armored police vehicle, smashing dents in the windows.
Chase Bank still on fire Sunday
After that, police from the station dispersed the crowd with tear gas and other projectiles. A protester named Leslie was hit between the eyes with a projectile that stuck to her forehead. A horrific bloody video of the incident circulated social media. According to a Go Fund Me page she is in intensive care.
Locals praying with business owner
Before dark, police announced from a helicopter the assembly was unlawful and many left. Others spread through downtown La Mesa vandalizing, looting and torching buildings. Stores in the La Mesa Springs shopping center and on La Mesa Blvd. were smashed to pieces. Chase Bank, Union Bank and the Randall Lamb building burned to the ground.
Volunteers join repair work Sunday.
Earlier in the day a masked white man waving a wooden stick walked around the police station yelling threats against police. Someone accused him of being a fake protester. On May 31 President Trump blamed Antifa for the post-protest rioting across the country and announced on Twitter they will be designated a terrorist organization.
On Sunday morning downtown La Mesa was visited again by more than a thousand people. Locals flocked to help clean up and comfort business owners. Hugs were given to a Mexican woman whose store was destroyed as she stood on La Mesa Blvd. sobbing and crying, "I don't understand. Why?"
Local pastors gathered in front of the devastated Vons store to pray and preach. They spoke against anti-police hatred and declared blessings on the police officers of La Mesa.
El Cajon city councilman and East County Chamber of Commerce board member Phil Ortiz set up a Go Fund Me for the afflicted businesses. It reached its goal of $50,000 in 13 hours and doubled it in a day.