People gathered at the San Diego County Administration Center on May 31.
“Be ready for the gas grenades!” yells a protester.
Seconds later: boom... boom... boom.
“The sun just went down and everyone’s getting violent out here,” says Arturo Gonzalez into his phone’s microphone. “Look at how much gas they are throwing at them, they can’t breathe.”
On May 31, a post-George Floyd protest in front of the San Diego County Administration Center becomes chaotic, leading to over 100 arrests the next morning. Gonzalez, 20, a local fashion model, takes to his phone and Facebook Live, and documents the events as they unfold.
Photograph by David Phillipich
“These are the people that need to be sprayed, ” Gonzalez says as he pans to a rowdy section of the crowd standing close to the kids’ playground before pointing his phone back to the North and South Terraces of the venue. “Not these people. These are the people that are being peaceful.”
The thump thump thump of a helicopter hovering above the crowd can be heard, then the term “unlawful assembly” is broadcast over the aircraft’s loudspeaker. What appears to be a firework is shot towards the county building, then a fire alarm goes off inside.
It’s unclear in Gonzalez’s footage how many police officers and military personnel are on scene protecting the 80-year-old-plus structure, but the crowd disperses. Some cross Harbor Drive and onto the Embarcadero by Star of India, while Arturo and most of his fellow protesters head into downtown along Kettner and Ash.
At about the 40-minute mark of Gonzalez’s three hour-plus clip, he approaches the Starbucks on the corner of Ash just as a person wearing a black ski mask smashes the coffee shop’s freshly tagged windows.
“Y’all seen that, right?” he asks his 13,000-plus viewers; then he followed the perp who was mobbed by the MetroWork Building.
“They’re fuckin’ his ass up,” Gonzalez says.
Arturo Gonzalez holds an “End Racism” sign at a San Diego BLM protest.
At this point, Gonzalez’s Facebook comment section blows up: “The actual protesters aren’t with this kinda behavior,” says Brandon, a protester. “All day we fought off opportunists trying to incite violence.”
“Do you think George [Floyd] wants this?” questions a Facebook viewer.
Gonzalez’s unscripted and repetitive commentary is raw and, at times, comedic. Some say their heartstrings are tugged by his concern and compassion for his fellow protesters. Others express disdain towards the rioters and looters. Some online question the 20 year-old’s motives by saying he is “clout chasing,” a derogatory label for would-be social media influencers who post with the obvious desire to gain notoriety and/or credibility, as infamously depicted in another viral video where two fashionistas are photographing and posing in fashionable attire as protesters march by.
But Gonzalez has been down with the anti-police brutality cause since before he was filmed being handcuffed as he sat on a bench last year. “I’m tired, I’ve been out recording everything that was going on all day, not for the clout but for everyone to see the TRUTH of what was actually going on in Downtown SD,” Gonzalez posts on his Facebook. He uploads a photo of himself holding a sign that reads #BLM, and captions it: “We will win this fight” followed by praying hands, peace, and flexing emojis, along with the tags #nojustice #nopeace, verbiage chanted at the protests this Sunday night.
“It’s violent out here, I’m telling you,” Gonzalez continues, as they march towards the Emerald Plaza buildings seen in the horizon. “It is not safe out here.”
“Better coverage than the news,” says Amy. “Thank you for live streaming the peaceful demonstrations,” comments JJ, “and for your added touches throughout — my husband called you a ‘hero.’”
At about the 40-minute mark of Gonzalez’s three hour-plus live clip, he approaches the Starbucks on the corner of Ash Street as a person wearing a black ski mask smashes the coffee shop’s freshly tagged windows.
About seven minutes after the Starbucks episode, someone from the crowd breaks the windows of All Pro Bail Bonds on C Street, around the corner from the San Diego County Jail on Front Street. “Y’all gonna be begging for them when y’all locked the fuck up,” Gonzalez says.
After the three-hour mark of the livestream, Gonzalez captures another person clad in all black, including a ski mask, scaling a tree above the G Street sidewalk with surprising nimbleness. He then pans to a person scoping out the inside of the Vase’s Nails & Spa storefront through its decimated glass door.
Gonzalez approaches the spa located in a building kitty corner to Horton Plaza, then people start running towards him as he maintains a steady hand filming. Multiple detonations pop off and Gonzalez bolts with the crowd but continues to look back and film the area where the loud booms are detonating. The footage at this point becomes shaky.
“Fuck, [I think] they are shooting,” he says, then stops and coughs. “Put your masks on.”
(M. Jones from North Park follows Gonzalez’s live videos. “He’s part of our LGBT community, and I admire his courage out there,” Jones says. “The fucked up thing is: Arturo’s Coach bag was jacked later that night, and I want to buy him one.”)
Gonzalez, at this point, still has the Coach fanny pack strapped on tight to his body (which would later become a story on its own) and continues to document the police cars pulling up on the right side of the frame, about 75-100 feet away.
"Get on the ground, now,” yells one of the police officers, “get on the ground on your face, now.”
“It’s crazy out here,” he continues. In the foreground of his footage appears to be a person wearing a black hoodie.
“That looked like a gat, bro,” Jones opines, “with a scope mounted on top.”
“Bro, there’s people shooting back,” Gonzalez yells into his phone.
Then, as the protesters walk past the police cars, Gonzalez nears a crowd surrounding a nearby building and the live video abruptly ends. Shortly after, the live video is deleted from Facebook altogether.
“I was like, ‘WTF happened to Arturo, bro?’” Jones says. On June 7, I speak to Gonzalez as he protests with hundreds of BLM supporters in Santee, and then Pacific Beach. “It’s because the cops shut it off,” Gonzalez says to me. “Every time they would move in on us [that night], it would literally shut off, it would just black out. It was like they were fuckin’ with the service towers.” At about 11:15 that night, Gonzalez comes back on Facebook Live. “Y’all, the cops deleted my [first Facebook] Live,” he says as he starts capturing his next video. “I had 20,000 views.”
By now, Gonzalez makes his way onto Broadway across the street from Emerald Plaza, home to the Westin San Diego hotel. Here, he captures a rioter chucking an object at a police car driving by, and a person taking a stick to the UPS Store’s window while another person rushes in to stop the window breaker.
“Look at all these looters, bro,” Gonzalez says as he runs up on a retail store littered with shards of glass throughout. “Y’all don’t see me looting … they’re looting a glasses store. Why the fuck y’all stealing glasses for, bro?”
Gonzalez walks away, picks up a box of Versace sunglasses left on the street, then throws it back down.
Three SDPD cars appear on the left of the frame at this point and Gonzalez yells at them: “Bro, they coming out here coming up on some Versace glasses.”
By the 25-minute mark of the video, detonation sounds similar to those on the first live video are heard popping off close by. Then Gonzalez and the people around him start running and screaming. The protester in front of Gonzalez is still holding a “don’t shoot” picket sign as they make their way into a building entryway. Smoke fills the screen, followed by people coughing. Gonzalez yells: “We need somewhere to go.”
Then about six police officers, with what appear to be military personnel behind them, walk into the frame.
“Get on the ground, now,” yells one of the police officers. “Get on the ground on your face, now.” Gonzalez and the others comply, but the video keeps rolling.
Gonzalez later explains to me “Ok, I gotta set up the phone, so I could have the viewers see us get arrested, you know. I tried to set it up correctly and I seen that the boy’s shoe was in the shot. So I got back up and moved the phone and I turned off the Live on accident.”
Gonzalez says that his hands were zip-tied and he and the others were hauled to the USS Midway parking lot. “They had a lot of vehicles there: cop cars everywhere, one prison bus taking women to Las Colinas, and another prison bus taking the men downtown. They just had me in a cop car for a while and they were asking me what I was doing out there and letting me know that it was an unlawful assembly and they took down my information, but they didn’t read me my Miranda rights. A lot of the people from my Live were calling the police station and they were talking about me on the police scanners — I mean, this is what I heard after. Then the police were like, ‘You can make a phone call,’ so I called [a friend] immediately to pick me up.”
Shortly after Gonzalez is released, the San Diego Police Department tweets “In total over 100 people were arrested & booked into jail for charges ranging from failure to disperse, burglary, assaulting officers & vandalism. Peaceful demonstrations will be facilitated. Violent and destructive acts will be addressed.”
As this story goes to print, Gonzalez has protested and marched almost every day. He says he’s fatigued and his feet are blistered. “My body may be weak, but my mind is strong and determined to keep going for you guys until we get the justice that we are asking for and fighting for. I’m trying my hardest to reply to everyone, but I am so drained from walking and talking for I don’t know how many days now. Like I’ve said before: don’t donate to me, donate to the reason I’m out there in the first place.”