As the day turned to night, tensions escalated Saturday between officers and demonstrators at a protest centered around the La Mesa Police Department -- and people began setting fire to vehicles and looting stores.
The protest, part of the nationwide demonstrations over the weekend, followed the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the controversial arrest of a black man by a white officer near a trolley stop in La Mesa.
As the protest developed, some people threw rocks and bottles while officers in tactical gear surrounded the police headquarters and deployed tear gas, flashbangs and rubber bullets. Someone also took down an American flag flying in front of the headquarters.
Law enforcement told protesters near the headquarters they could be arrested for unlawful assembly.
As the evening progressed, protesters turned to some non-peaceful demonstrations. La Mesa City Hall was briefly on fire during the protest but the flames were quickly put out and no one appeared to be injured.
Multiple vehicles, including a Heartland Fire & Rescue vehicle, were also set on fire. Looters also broke into the Vons at the La Mesa Springs Shopping Center, Walmart at the Grossmont Center and more.
Windows were smashed at many businesses, including a Goodwill store, a Sotheby’s real estate office and a popular bar. Around 11:30 p.m., the Chase Bank and the Union Bank on Spring Street were broken into and set on fire.
Farther west, San Diego Police blocked entrances to Mission Valley and Fashion Valley malls in anticipation of possible looting and rioting.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis and the city council released a video message that the city manager had declared a citywide curfew from 1:30-7 a.m.
"In light of ongoing events in the city of La Mesa, the entire city council is very upset and disheartened," said Arapostathis. "We are utilizing all available resources, and have reached out to the state for all additional aid to assist us in this emergency. We are committed to the safety and well-being of all our citizens. As of 1:30 this morning, the city manager is enacting a curfew that will last till 7 a.m. Please stay sheltered at home, and please stay safe."
San Diego police officers, aided by other law enforcement agencies, walked shoulder to shoulder through the streets after 2 a.m. Sunday, telling hundreds of protesters and observers that they would be arrested for unlawful assembly if they didn’t disperse.
The protesters initially gathered at the police headquarters in the early afternoon and soon made their way to the streets. By 3:30 p.m. the protesters were blocked on Baltimore Drive by the California Highway Patrol as they tried to make their way onto Interstate 8.
Crowds broke through multiple lines and walked on both sides of I-8 as police and CHP diverted traffic. The eastbound I-8 at Jackson Drive was closed, along with Spring Street and El Cajon Boulevard near the I-8 ramps. All eastbound and westbound I-8 lanes reopened to traffic around 11:30 p.m., according to Caltrans San Diego.
"This is an ongoing matter. This isn't just an isolated incident, so we're out here to let people know that black lives matter," said participant Fabian Gueye. "The only way it gets better is when we start to be heard. You got to take our opinion seriously."
Earlier in the day, a car caravan protest in Liberty Station organized by the Racial Justice Coalition made its way to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s house to urge him, police, and city council to ban all chokeholds.
"We've been talking to the mayor, the chief of police, and city council since 2017 about banning all neck restraints," said Yusef Miller, with the Racial Justice Coalition, I Can’t Breathe Campaign. "We understand that the neck restraint used in the Floyd case is not the neck restraint we do here, but that restraint is still dangerous to people."
Miller also hosted a zoom news conference Friday calling for a ban on the carotid restraint used by some law enforcement agencies.
SkyRanger 7 was there as a couple of dozen cars made their way to the mayor's house, some carrying signs such as "Back Lives Matter" and "I can't breathe." One car had "George" painted on its side.
Police were also at the scene and had barricaded some streets. Protesters then started circling around the block and left about an hour later.
"It was a peaceful protest," Miller said. "We told people not to get out of their cars. Many residents came out in support of us, cheering us on. It was just wonderful."
Please check back for the latest. This is a developing story.