‘It’s been a whirlwind since then. We’ve dealt with so many trials and tribulations,’ Tony Abuka said of his brother’s death in El Cajon four years ago, which sparked protests against police-involved shootings
More than 100 people marched for about three hours Sunday night in El Cajon to remember Alfred Olango, who was fatally shot by police four years ago to the day in the East County city.
Many in the group wore black clothes, held candles and chanted Olango’s name as they walked down main city streets in what they called a “victory lap.”
They made a stop at the El Cajon police station, which was cornered off with yellow police tape, and at least twice stood in the middle of the intersection of Main Street and Magnolia Avenue.
More than once during the march, they encountered a group of demonstrators who showed support for law enforcement. That smaller group sounded air horns and flew U.S. and “Trump 2020" flags. They cheered on officers in patrol vehicles as they trailed protesters.
Tony Abuka, Olango’s brother, said the “victory lap” was meant to symbolize overcoming hardships. He wore a black T-shirt with his brother’s smiling face emblazoned on it.
“I remember being here on this exact same day (four years ago). It’s extremely painful,” said Abuka, who remembered his brother — a 38-year-old refugee from Uganda — as a man who “had a solid list of characteristics” and stuck to his core values.
“It’s been a whirlwind since then. We’ve dealt with so many trials and tribulations,” Abuka said of his family’s loss. He added that police shootings “destroy” the lives of victims’ families.
“Every time I’m seeing (shootings by police) happen over and over is like reliving what happened with my brother,” he said.
He and supporters started and ended the night behind the taco shop on Broadway where Olango was shot — police said at the time that they mistakenly thought Olango was armed with a weapon — and where, in the days after the shooting, protesters met before spilling into the streets to demand justice.
Olango’s death came in the wake of a series of shootings of Black men by police around the country — including the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., which sparked protests nationwide.
The day he was shot, Olango’s sister called police to ask for help, saying he wasn’t acting “like himself.” Other 911 callers reported a man acting erratically and walking in traffic.
Family members later said Olango, who had lived in the U.S. since 1991, had a mental breakdown over the suicide of a best friend.
Officers found Olango in the parking lot of Los Panchos taco shop. As the officers approached, Olango raised his hands together, shoulder high, clutching an object in his hands and standing in what authorities called a “shooting stance.” The object in his hands turned out to be a vaping device.
Police Officer Richard Gonsalves fired his gun at Olango. Another officer, Stephen Josh McDaniel, fired a Taser. Four rounds from Gonsalves’ gun hit Olango in the chest, upper back, neck and arm. He died at a hospital.
In January 2017, then-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis ruled that the shooting was legally justified.
Standing at the shooting site Sunday, Abuka said he feels justice was not served in his brother’s death. He said his family plans to “follow up and do whatever it takes to seek justice.”
He called the recent wave of police reforms — such as bans across the county on a neck hold known as the carotid restraint— small steps in the right direction but he said he believes that other areas, such police-community relations, particularly in El Cajon, need to improve.
Sunday’s walk also honored Nipsey Hussle, a rapper, activist and entrepreneur who was fatally shot in South Los Angeles on March 29, 2019. An acquaintance of Hussle’s, rapper Eric Holder, is charged in the killing.
The march in El Cajon was named after Hussle’s 2018 debut studio album, titled “Victory Lap.”
Earlier in the day Sunday, a few dozen protesters came together in El Cajon to demand racial justice. They, too, invoked Olango’s name, but it did not appear that the two events were connected.
The afternoon demonstration on downtown El Cajon’s Prescott Promenade also attracted a small crowd of people carrying Trump 2020 banners and American flags. A few tense standoffs between the two groups were resolved peacefully.
The protest, which was organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, started around 2 p.m. and focused on how socialism can boost racial justice by changing the economic structure of society.
Speakers at the protests referred to each other as “comrades” and said it was crucial for the country to adopt more socialist policies because of the unjust effects of unfettered capitalism.
Members of the crowd carried signs that read, “Justice for all victims of police terror,” “We need a new definition of justice because what we’ve been getting is trash,” and “Racism is the disease, revolution is the cure.”
The protest also focused on the decision last week by a grand jury in Louisville, Kentucky to charge only one of three officers in the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was fatally shot when police raided her home in Kentucky on March 13, and to only charge that officer with a low-level felony.
Protest organizer Jose Cortes said the Olango and Taylor cases have similarities.
“Four years have passed and we are still fighting the same struggle nonstop in our communities, whether that is here or in Kentucky or wherever,” he said. “We are fighting the same exact struggle against racist police, against the lack of accountability of what I’ll call the ‘injustice system’ in this country.”
During subsequent speeches, the protest became more intense with shouts of “Arrest the police” and “Fist out, fight back.”
A small group of people on the edge of the promenade along Main Street tried to shout over the protest on a few occasions, and they tried multiple times to bust into the middle of it.
But the two groups backed away peacefully each time they came to face-to-face.
There were other demonstrations in the county focused on policing, as well as racial and social justice on Sunday, including a morning gathering in Poway that began at the corner of Pomerado Road and Twin Peaks Road. A social media post shared in advance of the event had “Black Lives Matter” written on it and invited participants to “stand against injustice.”
At times, confrontations erupted between the demonstrators and others who showed up at the intersection, some of whom were wearing Trump shirts and holding Trump flags.
In downtown San Diego, a small group of protesters marched alongside a procession of motorcycles. They started at San Diego police headquarters and walked to the Hall of Justice and San Diego Central Jail, chanting “No justice, no peace,” “This is what democracy looks like” and other slogans.
The event was billed as a “unity demonstration” in support of criminal justice accountability.
Freelancer Kristian Carreon contributed to this report.
8:26 AM, Sep. 28, 2020: This story was updated with additional details.
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