In photos: Two years later, remembering a day of unrest at La Mesa
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.
On the afternoon of May 30, hundreds of people gathered outside the La Mesa Police Department.
Protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter” and held up signs reading “No Justice, No Peace” as they marched down University Avenue.
The demonstration dragged around 1,000 protesters onto Interstate 8, blocking traffic in both directions.
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
Hours later, two vehicles outside City Hall were set on fire. Another was ablaze a block away on University Avenue.
Some grocery stores and local businesses in La Mesa have been looted and vandalized.
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
The next morning, community members began cleaning up broken storefronts and vandalized storefronts.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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
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.”
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.”
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.