Thousands march around county in peaceful demonstrations Saturday

Women hold signs during a protest while they walk through downtown San Diego on June 6, 2020.
Women hold signs during a protest while they walk through downtown San Diego on June 6, 2020.
(Ariana Drehsler for The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Peaceful marches and a car caravan were held throughout the county, including one that stopped in front of San Diego police headquarters


Thousands of protesters in San Diego County took to the streets Saturday in some of the largest demonstrations so far, marching, chanting and kneeling to oppose racial injustice in America.

The protests stretched from Vista to Santee to downtown San Diego, where the biggest group attracted thousands of participants in a march from Waterfront Park to Hillcrest. Police estimated the crowd at about 3,000, but at least one report from the scene put the crowd at thousands more.

“No justice; no peace,” protesters chanted, along with “Hands up; don’t shoot!”

The event’s organizers, led by San Diego residents Charlie Brown and Kelly Pierce, reportedly collaborated with the Police Department ahead of the protest and encouraged all participants to stay peaceful. Before leading the group toward Hillcrest, organizers asked protesters not to litter and to treat homeless residents “with kindness, dignity and respect.”

Protesters march in Hillcrest from downtown on June 6, 2020 in San Diego, California.
Protesters march in Hillcrest from downtown on June 6, 2020 in San Diego, California. Protesters have been marching nationwide against racism and over the killing of George Floyd.
(Ariana Drehsler for The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The well-choreographed protest began with an hour of speeches and testimonials at Waterfront Park, including a live performance of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” a song inspired by the civil rights movement.

“This is very emotional for me,” Brown said in an interview, choking back tears. “I’m just proud to live in a community that supports what we’re doing. I think it will lead to change. It’s starting, it’s going, it will lead to change.”

The demonstrations cap a week of mass protests that have spanned the county, from La Mesa and Carlsbad to Escondido and Chula Vista. The unrest comes after the in-custody death of 46-year-old black man George Floyd in Minneapolis, who gasped for air for nearly nine minutes while a white officer kneeled on his neck.

Earlier in the week, every major policing agency in San Diego County banned the use of the carotid restraint, a controversial hold in which the neck is intentionally compressed to cut off blood to the brain. On Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that officers statewide will no longer be taught to use the hold.

Protestors hold peaceful demonstration at the Embarcadero in San Diego.
Tyhara Tyrell was among the protestors who peacefully demonstrated near the San Diego County Administration building on Saturday, June 6, 2020.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“We got rid of the chokehold,” Henry Wallace, a member of the Black Panthers, exclaimed at the Waterfront march Saturday morning. The protesters roared in approval.

At least a dozen cop cars, an armored vehicle and officers on bicycles trailed the march. At the San Diego County Administration Center, where the march began, dozens of National Guard troops were spotted at building entrances. The deployment of the National Guard in San Diego County earlier in the week drew the ire of County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who called for the troops’ removal Saturday.

“These protests are peaceful, and the presence of the National Guard only escalates the situation,” Fletcher wrote in a statement.

“While there are times, particularly those around responding to natural disasters or humanitarian need, when the National Guard might be appropriate,” he added, “this is not one of them.”

The event ended near Hillcrest’s Pride flag, where most protesters kneeled in the street and on sidewalks in opposition to police brutality.

“I thought it was beautiful. There was no chaos,” said Nicholas Carpenter, who was handing people bottles of water at the end. “Everyone was united.”

Protesters march towards Hillcrest on June 6, 2020 in San Diego, California.
(Ariana Drehsler for The San Diego Union-Tribune)

By 2 p.m., a smaller crowd of some 500 people headed downtown for a separate afternoon protest organized by 15-year-old black activist Gabriella McField of Classical Academy High School in Escondido.

“I was really angry after seeing the George Floyd incident,” McField said about her decision to organize. “I had heard of the Black Lives Matter movement many years before, and I didn’t understand then why everyone was so angry. Now I understand.”

The group stopped in a parking lot at Ash Street and Fourth Ave, with many people spilling into the intersection. Across the street, a lineup of sheriff’s deputies and police officers stood guard at the County of San Diego Madge Bradley Building. Protesters collectively dropped to one knee, then moved on to San Diego police headquarters.

Dozens of officers wearing helmets and holding batons formed a defensive line around the block, while protesters moved in. Some protesters got in the faces of the motionless officers, yelling and pointing at them.

Protestors hold peaceful demonstration in Hillcrest and downtown San Diego.
Wearing full riot gear, officers from the San Diego Police Department stand ready just behind the line of officers in position on 14th and Broadway to stop protestors from advancing to the SDPD headquarters in downtown San Diego on June 6, 2020.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

McField said she stood at the front line of the protest and discouraged acts that were too confrontational. “I told them, ‘We don’t want anyone tear-gassed or shot with rubber bullets, so stay behind the line and don’t get up in their faces,’” McField said.

The stand-off, which grew tense at times, lasted for about an hour and ended suddenly when most protesters turned and left the area.

Black Lives Matter’s car protest in Torrey Pines

Alexis Horton watches as breakdancers perform at the corner of 50th Street and University Avenue.
Alexis Horton watches as breakdancers perform at the corner of 50th Street and University Avenue as a caravan of Black Lives Matter protesters drives along the thoroughfare on June 6, 2020 in San Diego, California.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Later Saturday, a car caravan protest had fewer participants but a far-reaching impact as it crawled through the county marking locations of past violence.

The demonstration, led by Black Lives Matter San Diego, included at least 300 cars as it set off from La Jolla, stretching at least 5 miles long.

Cars blared their horns as they inched along Judicial Drive en route to La Jolla Village Crossroads, a sprawling University City apartment complex where Monique Clark, a 35-year-old black woman, was shot dead by a white man at a 2017 pool party.

Amid the din was an unmistakable four-beep sequence — two long honks, followed by two quick ones. They chanted “Black lives matter” and held signs reading, “Defund the police” and “This system is broken” outside car windows.

Breakdancers perform as a caravan of Black Lives Matter protesters drives past.
Breakdancers perform at the corner of 50th Street and University Avenue as a caravan of Black Lives Matter protesters drives along the thoroughfare on June 6, 2020 in San Diego, California.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Residents stood by on the curb with improvised signs; fists raised in support. Shreya Ranganath, 19, and her mother heard the honking outside and scrambled to make signs and join the protests outside.

“It’s beautiful. It’s empowering,” Ranganath said. “The honking is so significant. It’s telling everyone around here who’s not listening to wake up.”

Later the caravan passed through San Diego’s uptown neighborhoods, where traffic grew so thick it effectively shut down University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard for parts of the afternoon.

At the corner of 50th Street and University, a group of break dancers took over a westbound lane, performing for the passing caravan as Ice Cube’s “Arrest the President” blared out of a small portable speaker.

Small Santee protests clash over approach

Small group holds demonstrations in Santee
More than two-dozen protestors held signs on the corner of Mission Gorge and Cuyamaca during a peaceful demonstration calling for police reform and racial justice on Saturday.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Smaller demonstrations spanned the rest of the county, from rallies in Oceanside and Carlsbad to a morning “Paddle out for Peace” at Tourmaline Beach.

In Santee, about 50 protesters, many of them black, chanted “Black lives matter” on three corners of the busy intersection at Cuyamaca Street and Mission Gorge Road.

Nathan Klein, a 28-year-old San Diego resident, who is black, said he chose to demonstrate in Santee “to show people I’m not afraid.” The city has had two recent incidents of men wearing white supremacy symbols in grocery stores.

“This is a part of town that needs to see that black lives matter,” said Klein.

On the fourth street corner, a group of 10 that included a mixture of races held a separate demonstration wearing yellow shirts declaring “Smile with me” and holding signs with the same phrase, as well as “Santee: Hate has no home here.”

Organizer Curtis Anderson, 35, a Santee resident, who is white, said he agrees with the Black Lives Matter message and wanted to show support in a different way.

“I’m just trying to bring joy,” he said. “We hear you, we see you. Let’s inspire each other.”

But the Black Lives Matter protesters were dismissive of the message. Klein said it urges the public to look away from what’s happening and “perpetuates an oppressive system.”

“There’s a rush to heal, a rush to forgive, but who benefits from that?” Klein asked. “I’m not ready to do that.”

Santee officials have ordered a curfew for Sunday starting at 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. Monday in anticipation of a larger protest expected Sunday afternoon. The curfew is for portions of Santee, starting at Magnolia Avenue and extending west to the boundary of the city. A curfew for Saturday has not been issued.

At the Mother’s March for Criminal Justice Reform in Vista, about 1,000 people gathered to chant, carry signs and shout the name of George Floyd.

“It was a nice experience … very peaceful, and everyone was united together,” said Valerie Hall, 20, who participated with her friend Odessa Guilford, 19.

The two Vista women share the bond of being biracial, half black, and both worried before the march that something might go wrong.

“Growing up, I was taught by my father I had to be careful around police,” Hall said. “I’m tired of feeling that way.”

Deadrian Coneley, who with her husband, Kirk Coneley, is a pastor at the Eternal Life Apostolic Church in Oceanside, was one of the organizers and main speakers.

“A mother for one is a mother for all,” Coneley told the crowd, inferring that she felt like a mother to Floyd. “When I saw my son, with his life slipping away, with a knee to his neck” she knew she had to do something, she explained.

“We did not start the fight, but we will finish it,” Coneley said. “We are standing against racism in America.”

Further south, church members with the Victory Outreach Church of San Ysidro prayed over a handful of police officers in Chula Vista during a peace rally in Memorial Park.

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas and the city’s police Chief Roxana Kennedy both spoke emotionally during the event, which ended with a moment of silence and knee down in Floyd’s honor.

“Each and every one of us has a role to play. Justice and peace begins with us,” said Salas, according to a video provided by OnScene TV.

Kennedy’s voice clogged with tears as she told the group “every Chula Vista officer who wears this uniform was horrified by what they saw in Minneapolis,” referring to the killing of George Floyd.

“We hear you,” she said, crying.

Staff writers Jonathan Wosen and Wendy Fry and staff photojournalist Sam Hodgson contributed to this report.