La Mesa in east San Diego County will remain under curfew for the next several days as the unrest continues in the community rocked by looting, arson, and violence last weekend following peaceful protests.
The city of La Mesa said curfew would continue Thursday through the early morning hours of Monday (June 8), in effect from 7 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. each night. The curfew has been in effect for the past four nights.
The nearby city of Santee also issued a curfew for Sunday, June 7, from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. the following morning. The city also warned residents that, while no curfew was in effect on Saturday evening, if one became necessary it would begin at 9:30 p.m. A map of which areas would be under curfew can be found here.
La Mesa was the center of peaceful protests on May 30 where demonstrators gathered to call out racial injustice. Protestors were calling for justice in the case of George Floyd, a black man killed in Minnesota police custody on May 25 after an officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as Floyd pleaded for air.
Protestors in La Mesa on May 30 also voiced concern over the controversial arrest of Amaurie Johnson, a black man arrested by a white La Mesa Police Department officer last week in a manner many believe was rough and unfair.
At a news briefing Wednesday, Johnson, along with local activists, spoke about his arrest, demanding more action from the police department against the LMPD officers involved in the encounter.
On Friday, the LMPD recalled Johnson's charges of assault on an officer and resisting arrest.
Peaceful Protests, Followed by Violence
The protests in La Mesa Saturday first formed across the street from the La Mesa Police Department station. About 45 minutes later, the group split up and marched down the sidewalks of the city. Hundreds joined in on the march.
As the march progressed, demonstrators – many holding up signs – made their way to Baltimore Drive and tried to walk onto Interstate 8. California Highway Patrol officials blocked entry to the freeway, but the crowds broke through lines and walked on both sides of I-8. Police and CHP officers diverted traffic.
As night fell, the energy of the peaceful demonstration drastically shifted. Tension between officers and demonstrations escalated outside LMPD headquarters and police declared unlawful assembly.
Photos: La Mesa Protest on May 30, 2020
Some people began throwing rocks and bottles at officers. Police deployed tear gas, flashbangs, and what the department deemed “less lethal” projectiles at the crowd.
One woman, Leslie Furcron, 59, was struck in the head by a round of bean bags deployed by LMPD. She is now in a medically-induced coma, and her incident has also left local activists demanding answers and change in policing.
As the night unfolded, looters and vandals joined the gathering. They tagged buildings in La Mesa, smashed out windows, looted businesses and set fire to cars and buildings, including two banks.
The next day, the banks were still smoldering; shards of glass and trash littered the streets. Hundreds of La Mesa residents showed up with brooms and paint to clean up their community.
The mayor of La Mesa, Mark Araposthathis, said the city had become “ground zero (in San Diego) for the region’s outpouring and demands for change in law enforcement practices.”
Araposthathis said the looters and vandals hijacked the demonstration Saturday night “in a concerted effort to burn down the city.”
Since last weekend’s demonstrations in La Mesa, many other San Diego-area communities have seen peaceful protests. Some of those gatherings have shifted to unrest, but San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said this week that the “violent acts of a few” do not represent the overall peaceful protests across the city.
“San Diegans have an absolute right to peacefully assemble and speak out against systemic racism and to express their concerns,” said Faulconer. “People want change; they want to be heard. And I want to thank those San Diegans for their willingness to work with the San Diego Police Department to peacefully protest.”
In response to the unrest, other cities in the county have been issuing curfews this week, including Poway, Santee, parts of Spring Valley, parts of Lakeside, El Cajon, Lemon Grove, National City and Coronado. Those curfews are usually posted on each city’s website.
In addition to an extended curfew in La Mesa, U.S. National Guard soldiers were requested by San Diego County to go to La Mesa Wednesday night to help with security.
NBC 7 reporter Dave Summers captured video of National Guard vehicles arriving at city hall in La Mesa.
In a phone interview with NBC 7 Wednesday evening, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said California Governor Gavin Newsom had ordered 200 National Guard soldiers to deploy to the San Diego region to work alongside law enforcement to protect public buildings, courthouses and power grids during these periods of unrest, and to prevent looting and arson.