In photos: Two years later, remembering a day of unrest at La Mesa

A crowd of protesters gather at the La Mesa Police Department during a protest, May 30, 2020.

Donald Bloodsworth

A crowd of protesters gather at the La Mesa Police Department during a protest, May 30, 2020.

Two years ago, the death of George Floyd, killed by a Minneapolis police officer, marked the start of a national movement with a series of demonstrations demanding justice.

In San Diego County that same week in May, the arrest of another black man, Amaurie Johnson, by white police officer Matthew Dages sparked a protest in La Mesa on May 30.

Johnson’s arrest was caught on video and shared on social media, garnering millions of views.

Social unrest fueled by Floyd’s death and Johnson’s arrest dragged on for days across San Diego.

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Matthew Bowler

A crowd gathers outside the La Mesa Police Department the afternoon before the May 2020 La Mesa Riot.

On the afternoon of May 30, hundreds of people gathered outside the La Mesa Police Department.

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Matthew Bowler

Protesters hold signs as they travel down Interstate 8 in San Diego in May 2020.

Protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter” and held up signs reading “No Justice, No Peace” as they marched down University Avenue.

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Matthew Bowler

Photo of a masked person overlooking Interstate 8 during the May 2020 protest in response to the killing of George Floyd.

The demonstration dragged around 1,000 protesters onto Interstate 8, blocking traffic in both directions.

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Matthew Bowler

This photo shows an unidentified individual in a cloud of smoke, May 30, 2020.

Around 6 p.m., according to a reporter at the scene, deputies fired tear gas and flash-bangs in an attempt to disperse protesters outside the La Mesa Police Department.

“They started shooting at us. They started shooting. We were peaceful at first. It boils down to this. Sometimes you have to fight back, shoot fire, if you really want change to happen. If it has to come to that, then that’s it. We demand change.

Manny Planes, San Diego resident who attended the protest

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Matthew Bowler

The man’s silhouette is shown in the light of a traffic light from a vehicle in La Mesa on May 30, 2020.

Hours later, two vehicles outside City Hall were set on fire. Another was ablaze a block away on University Avenue.

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Matthew Bowler

People rush in and out of Vons as protesters gather in La Mesa on May 30, 2020.
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Matthew Bowler

Undisclosed photo of an individual breaking into an ATM in La Mesa on May 30, 2020.

Some grocery stores and local businesses in La Mesa have been looted and vandalized.

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Matthew Bowler

The remains of Chase Bank burned down in La Mesa on May 30.

A Chase Bank branch was set on fire.

“Well, you know what, I can’t judge anyone else’s anger or how they’re going to protest, so that’s what it is. If that’s the way to get the world’s attention, so that’s how it’s going to have to be.

Mary Duty, who attended the protest and left before the riots started

Community members in downtown La Mesa pick up debris in front of the Randall Lamb Associates building that burned down inside, May 31, 2020.

Matthew Bowler

Community members in downtown La Mesa pick up debris in front of the Randall Lamb Associates building that burned down inside, May 31, 2020.

The next morning, community members began cleaning up broken storefronts and vandalized storefronts.

Police and protesters clash in downtown San Diego on May 31, 2020.

Shalina Chatlani

Police and protesters clash in downtown San Diego on May 31, 2020.

San Diego County officially declared a state of emergency on May 31 and several cities imposed overnight curfews as protests continued across the county in the following days.

Protesters raise their fists during a protest at San Diego's Waterfront Park on May 31, 2020.

Max Rivlin Nadler

Protesters raise their fists during a protest at San Diego’s Waterfront Park on May 31, 2020.

In the aftermath of the protests, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Police Chief Nisleit changed their stance on chokeholds, deciding to stop allowing its use as a method of restraint.

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Jacob Aere

Two years after being set on fire during a La Mesa riot, a vacant lot from a Chase bank branch occupies the space, May 20, 2022.

Two years later, there are still visual reminders of what happened.

Two years later, remembering a day of trouble in La Mesa

Looking back on the two-year anniversary, Pink Rose Cafe owner Nadia Zamora said her business was one of many businesses in La Mesa that had been damaged.

“I mean, that night of the riots, we came here to get some of the equipment out. … We were met with rioters and looters who literally ripped things from us. It looked like a scene from war. area.”

Nadia Zamora, owner of Pink Rose Café

Pink Rose Café owner Nadia Zamora is overwhelmed with emotion as she receives a $5,000 check for her business from Union Bank on November 18, 2020.

Jacob Aere

Pink Rose Café owner Nadia Zamora is overwhelmed with emotion as she receives a check for $5,000 for her business from Union Bank, November 18, 2020.

Zamora said the Pink Rose Cafe not only survived, but is now thriving. Its owner received a check for $5,000 from Union Bank to help her with her business in November 2020 and said she felt the community had come together in a way never before seen.

Community members clean the inside of a vandalized Play It Again Sports in La Mesa and mop up water after a fire started during protests triggered an emergency sprinkler system, May 31, 2020.

Matthew Bowler

Community members clean the inside of a vandalized Play It Again Sports in La Mesa and mop up water after a fire started during protests triggered an emergency sprinkler system, May 31, 2020.

Among the hardest hit businesses was Play It Again Sports in the La Mesa Springs mall. A staff member, Justin Wesley, said it took his store about six to seven months to get back up and running.

A mural covers shattered windows at Play It Again Sports in La Mesa on June 2, 2020.

Julia Dixon Evans

A mural covers shattered windows at Play It Again Sports in La Mesa on June 2, 2020.

“They had to take everything out of the store, the store was flooded. Inventory – 50% of it was lost. The community came, helped, cleaned up. And that’s when they started to put everything back together.”

Play It Again staff member Justin Wesley

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Jacob Aere

A construction fence surrounds land that was impacted by the 2020 La Mesa Riot, May 30, 2022.

Zamora said the two-year anniversary was a reminder of how the people of La Mesa have supported each other and healed together.

“Being the only Latin American company owned here in this block, I’m very proud to say that I feel very welcomed by all traders. I feel like this awareness has been brought to La Mesa, which was probably necessary. I’m not saying I’m justifying anything with what happened, but it was an opportunity for the community to grow.”

Nadia Zamora

Bench La Mesa

Jacob Aere / KPBS

A bench in La Mesa features the city’s logo, May 30, 2022.

In an email, La Mesa Vice Mayor Jack Shu said that as of 2020, an independent civilian police oversight board has been in place, along with other city services, including programs arts and culture focused on diversity.

“We still have a lot to do,” Shu said, “but progress is being made well beyond rebuilding buildings and painting over fire scars.”

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Matthew Bowler

A protester holds up a sign in May 2020.

Last Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to improve police accountability — a significant but limited action on the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death.

James C. Tibbs