Organizers from the local Artful Activists San Diego group covered the sign for the Jeremy Henwood Memorial Park with a banner that made it read “Michael Brown Memorial Park.” Henwood was an SDPD officer who was gunned down in City Heights while on duty in 2011.
The group that hung the banner used Henwood Park as the meeting place for one of two protests in San Diego. The protests came after a grand jury decided not to indict white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black teen Michael Brown.
A number of San Diegans expressed outrage at the covering of the sign and an online debate ensued over Twitter. One comment called the banner "disgusting". Another asked, "Kind of out of line, no?"
Chris McKay of Artful Activists San Diego said the banner was not meant to disrespect Officer Henwood, but rather it was posted to make a statement.
"We didn't want to have a rally or a protest for a person who was killed by an officer at a park that was named after an officer," McKay told NBC7.
"We made sure to do it where nothing was damaged because this officer did care about the community."
Henwood was shot and killed while sitting in his patrol car by suspect Dejon Marquee, in an unprovoked attack. Marquee was later killed in a shootout with police officers in City Heights.
In his final act of kindness before his death, Henwood bought cookies for local teen Daveon Scott at a McDonald’s restaurant on Fairmount Avenue. Scott was short on change and Henwood, a total stranger, offered to buy him the cookies in a tender moment caught on surveillance tape. The fatal shooting happened just moments later.
A grand jury's decision not to indict Wilson Monday has triggered two nights of protests in Ferguson and in cities across the country. McKay said the group just wanted to remember the slain Ferguson teen.
"We wanted to make sure Michael Brown had a memorial for the day," McKay said. "[Henwood] has it for 365 days of the year...we still respect [Henwood] for what he did."
When asked why the rally wasn't just held in another location, McKay said it could have been, but for the purpose of symbolism, they opted for Henwood Park because the Mid City police station is across the street.
"That would have been nice, but the police station is right there."
The San Diego Police Officers Association responded to the banner in a statement Wednesday evening describing Officer Henwood's commitment to the community and asking protesters to remain peaceful and respectful.
"In the opinion of the SDPOA, change occurs best in environments where there is an atmosphere of mutual respect and committment of all parties to be partners in solutions. This partnership is not served well when our officers are assaulted with rocks and bottles, spat on, or their memories diminished," the statment read.
"As the protests continue and voices strive to be heard, the SDPOA stands ready to protect free speech and to enforce laws to protect lives and property."
Ed. Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the group responsible for covering the sign at Henwood Memorial Park. We regret the error.