Protests continue across San Diego County

Kneeling to honor the life of George Floyd
Outside Escondido City Hall, members of the community take a knee in a moment of silence to honor the life of George Floyd on June 3, 2020.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Several demonstrations continue the call for police reform and racial justice


In the quiet of a Mira Mesa park on Wednesday, hundreds of protesters spent eight minutes and 46 seconds lying on the grass.

That’s how long Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pushed his knee into the neck of George Floyd, who later died.

“It’s really disappointing,” said organizer Diana Ilhuicatzi. “It’s heartbreaking to see that people can’t live their life.”

Diana, an incoming Scripps Ranch High School freshman, is 13 years old.

The protest was one of several demonstrations staged across San Diego County on Wednesday, each continuing the call for police reform and racial justice.

At Escondido City Hall, hundreds took a knee and bowed in silence as a bell rang nine times, symbolic of the minutes Chauvin pinned Floyd.

In La Mesa, leaders from across the county condemned recent rioting and looting, and implored residents to support the black community by writing letters to elected officials, demanding more public oversight and accountability of law enforcement agencies.

The appeals were made during a news conference held in front of the Chase bank that burned when a protest on Saturday devolved into violence.

In Mira Mesa, Diana and hundreds more marched up and down a suburban block, chanting familiar phrases including “I can’t breathe” and “Black lives matter.”

In Cardiff, a whimsical statue has taken on a more serious tone as a memorial to the black lives that have been lost to police violence continues to grow.

And in Point Loma, a protest attended by hundreds blocked usually busy city streets.

Wednesday marked the sixth day local residents have taken their grievances to the streets. The series of demonstrations began with a protest in La Mesa on Saturday that devolved to looting and vandalism and a protest the day after in downtown San Diego that also resulted in destruction. In response, several cities implemented curfews in an effort to deter similar actions.

On Wednesday, curfews remained in place in at least two cities. In La Mesa, a curfew will be in effect for the rest of the week between the hours of 7 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. El Cajon also chose to impose a curfew between 7 p.m. Wednesday and 5:30 a.m. Thursday.

Since Monday, however, the protests have been peaceful.

“We’re going to try to have a different kind of event today,” said Laura Hunter of Escondido Indivisible during the North County protest. “A solemn event where we can reflect on where we are and where we need to go as individuals and a society.”

Escondido police Chief Ed Varso, at least one other officer and Mayor Paul McNamara took a knee with protesters. In an address to the crowd, the mayor said he was appalled at seeing the video of Floyd’s death.

“I said to myself, ‘Was this the country I want to live in?’ And the answer was no, it’s not,” McNamara said. “And we need to do something about it.”

Yusef Miller from the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego was among those who spoke outside City Hall. He stressed that disparity in policing was not a new issue.

“We need you here constantly,” he said to the crowd. “There are things going on all the time. We need police reform.”

Miller added, however, that while police culture and practices needed to change, working together is the only route to a better future. He also condemned people who were twisting people’s outrage into an opportunity to loot.

“You can say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but what does Black Lives Matter have to do with you with a TV set in your hand?” Miller said. “We don’t want Escondido torn down. We don’t want Escondido burned up. We don’t want our officers attacked. We don’t want that here in Escondido.”

Rev. Shane Harris, president of the advocacy group The People’s Alliance for Justice, echoed those sentiments in La Mesa Wednesday afternoon.

“Looting and rioting in our name and trying to steal our message is going to divide this country more and make racism and bigotry go deeper and deeper and deeper, and we will never get to the problems being solved,” Harris said.

Harris was flanked by Francine Maxwell, president of San Diego’s NAACP chapter; Donna DeBerry, CEO of the
Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce; Al Abdallah, chief operating officer of the Urban League of San Diego County; and Apollo Olango.

Olango’s 38-year-old brother, Alfred Olango, was shot and killed by El Cajon police in 2016, sparking a series of local protests. Apollo Olango said when his brother died, he knew that responding with violence and destruction was not going to make him feel better or spark meaningful change.

And he said he still felt that way Wednesday.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen this behind me,” Olango said, gesturing to the charred skeleton of the burned bank. “I can’t say I’m satisfied that something got burned. I can’t. It doesn’t make me feel any better than when I was marching.”

Hours later in Cardiff, a nightly protest in front of the well-known Cardiff Kook statue continued to grow. People almost daily decorate the Kook in an outfit celebrating an occasion or holiday. This past week, he’s worn a mask that reads “I can’t breathe” and a T-shirt that says “Ignoring politics is a privilege, Black Lives Matter.”

Attached to his surfboard is a sign: “No excuse for abuse.”

Over the last few days, the statue has been flanked by tall black signs with the names of those who have died at the hands of police.

In the most solemn moment of Wednesday’s demonstration, people read those names aloud. Some were obscure, while others, such as Eric Garner, were well known. Garner died in 2014 while in a chokehold of an arresting officer in Staten Island, N.Y. Like Floyd, his last words were “I can’t breathe.”

The most recent name had just been added to the board. David McAtee, who operated a barbecue stand in Louisville, Ky., was fatally shot by police Monday night during an altercation that started when officers were breaking up a crowd violating the city’s curfew.

“There’s no more room here for any more lives,” said Mali Woods-Drake, who organized the event with fellow Encinitas resident Felicia Rawlins. “We have to put an end to what is happening.”

Speakers on Wednesday included Solana Beach resident and attorney Dante Pride, who is representing the family of Leslie Furcron. The 59-year-old grandmother was hospitalized after being shot in the head with a beanbag round by a La Mesa police officer Saturday during a protest outside the city’s police station.

“I don’t think you all understand how much this means to a person like me,” Pride, who is African American, told the mostly white group of protesters.

Pride said he grew up in San Diego, and continues to deal with systemic racism while operating a successful law practice and raising a family.

The demonstration ended with Woods-Drake leading a chant of “No justice, no peace” and “Black lives matter.”

“Now let’s go surf,” she said before heading off to change into her wetsuit.

Staff writers Kristen Taketa, Gary Warth and Morgan Cook contributed to this story.