Leslie Furcron addresses the press. The woman who kindly offered her a chair later said, “My chair is getting on TV."
A big white banner hangs on the La Mesa Police Department’s headquarters; the blue letters read, “We are one strong community.”
There is something to the claim of community. It was impressive to see people, apparently unbidden, up at dawn after the big protest turned riot, brooms in hand, cleaning up the previous evening’s mess. Otherwise, the line sounds mostly false.
We are not one, else we would not have had violent conflict between protesters and police. To the extent that we fought, we were divided. We are not strong, else we would not have allowed the burning of our buildings and looting of our stores. To the extent that we yielded to our own destruction, we were weak.
At best, the sentiments sound aspirational, like the claim of “Justice for all!” adorning one of the murals painted on a plywood window covering at the La Mesa Springs shopping center. We would like to think there is justice for all. We would like to think we are one and strong. But look at the cardboard sign among the bunches of flowers below the mural of George Floyd: “This is not a photo opportunity. It’s an opportunity for change.”
George Floyd mural at La Mesa Springs: “This is not a photo opportunity. It’s an opportunity for change."
I happened by Leslie Furcron’s press conference outside La Mesa’s City Hall last week. Ms. Furcron is the woman who took a police beanbag to the forehead during the May 30 protest, then spent nearly a week in intensive care. For a while, her Facebook page carried a video of the event. “They probably trying to burn the La Mesa Police Station,” she declares upon her arrival. “Burn that motherfucker down! San Diego’s stepping up! I wish the police would apprehend me today! I’m a mad black woman, too; I gotta represent. They ready to try to pop bullets off in some-motherfucking-body. What the fuck they doing, motherfucking killing like it’s the thing to do? Tear all this shit up! Punk-ass motherfuckers.” She then calls the police, all of them, murderers — 38 times — before turning the camera on herself, taking a swig from a can, and moving as if she is throwing it. Then she gets shot.
(But while the phone falls and the screen goes dark, the recording continues, and five minutes later, a man can be heard calling out his fellow protestors: “Hey, don’t run, n*ggers! If you’re going to throw something, be about it! Don’t throw something and run. Y’all nggers are fucking cowards. Y’all worse than the fucking police. Y’all throwing some shit and now an innocent woman just got killed because of you bitch-ass nggers.”)
Justice for All? Attorney Dante Pride says his client did not deserve to get shot while protesting, and should not “have to shoulder the burden of these injuries."
As I say, the video has been removed from public view. At the press conference, Dante Pride, Ms. Furcron’s attorney, offered his account — contra that of the LMPD. “I have talked to at least five witnesses who have said that Ms. Furcron was drinking a drink and she threw it at the ground. She littered. I believe the La Mesa Police Department has admitted through their self-serving timeline that the officer fired in retaliation for what he thought was Ms. Furcron throwing an object.” (The timeline does not say that Ms. Furcron threw an object, but there are many, many references to thrown rocks and bottles.) Pride declared, “Black Lives Matter means that we don’t have to justify the use of force upon our bodies. It is the police who must justify that use of force. And this type of force is just not appropriate. Nothing she could have done should have resulted in the injuries that she suffered. We’re here to say this is not okay.”
Also not okay, in Pride’s view: La Mesa Police Chief Walt Vasquez’s decision not to release the name of the officer who fired the shot. “We can’t have an investigation where one party can control the entire narrative. Knowing the officer’s name would allow us to start an investigation to see if this specific officer has other issues of use of force that we don’t know about. And by not telling us his name, the La Mesa Police Department is allowing this officer to go talk to people, to get a story together. He can make up a news story, a new timeline of events....We’ve made a Freedom of Information Act petition for his name to be released. We have to have accountability, and we have to have transparency.”
Ms. Furcron offered her own narrative — not of events, but of herself. “First and foremost, I need to thank God. I want to thank all of the Grossmont and Sharp Memorial trauma team. I’m a mother. I have four children, three living. I’m a grandmother of 13. I’m a productive member of society. I go to San Diego City College; I’m working on a Bachelor’s degree as a social service worker. I’m a law abiding citizen, and I never intended by being there that night for this to be part of my story. I live here in La Mesa. I take care of my Mom, who suffers paralysis on her right side. I’m a God-serving person.”
On Sunday, protesters gathered again in La Mesa, demanding, among other things, “the identification, termination, and arrest of the officer who shot Leslie Furcron.” Reports on the protest noted how peaceful it was; a Nextdoor poster called it uplifting and educational. But reports also noted that while Chief Vasquez hugged and shook hands with protesters, he did not comply with their demands. Instead, he said he was waiting for the results from independent investigators. “I’ll have to make some decisions, render some decisions after I review it…. It’s a process, and it’s due process.”
Last night, my son asked me what I thought would come of all this civil uprising. I told him I imagined the powers that be were banking on the outrage burning itself out and everything going back to the status quo — cities have burned before. But maybe not. I think Attorney Pride is right: a lot depends on who controls the narrative.