A protester presents a sign to a well-armored La Mesa police officer. Photo by Chris Stone
A protester presents a sign to a La Mesa police officer during a protest on May 30. Photo by Chris Stone

Thirty years ago, as I was preparing for college finals on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I heard a man’s cry for help. “No. No. Please! Somebody help me!”

Alarmed, I tried to track the voice down, going from window to window in my apartment to where I finally caught site of him. A skinny, late 30-year-old black man, being apprehended by La Mesa Police.

He was face down on the pavement, and the police officer on his back had handcuffed him. If felt like I was getting to see my own personal episode of “Cops” — law enforcement in action.

The man was still crying out when the police officer stood up. There were three officers at the scene, maybe four. I could see two police cars.

I witnessed one of the officers proceed to kick the defenseless man in the ribs. Not, once, not twice but over and over.

I dialed 911 and described the situation to the operator, who then asked me, “What do you want to do about that?”

“I want you to get a hold of a supervisor and get that officer under control!” I said in disbelief, just as another police car pulled up and that officer got out walked over to the man on the ground and started kicking him on the other side.

I described it as I was seeing it. The operator then informed that if I wanted to report it, I would have to give my name and address, then go down to the station and fill out a complaint.

Something in the way she said it, I couldn’t help but interpret that filling out that report would put a target on my back.

Then she hung up on me.

I had been prepared to report the one officer, but when she hung up, I knew it was much more widespread than just those that I could see. That this was not just tolerated, but protected.

For all those who try to defend this by saying it’s just a few bad apples, know that any bad apple in the bag will start the others to rot. It happens quickly. That’s why all the bad apples need to be disposed of the moment they’re discovered.

I regret not having the courage to report what I witnessed. I don’t know if it would have changed anything.  I do know that I did not act. Now, 30 years later, here we still are.

Fay Hamilton is a resident of Mira Mesa.  She lived in La Mesa while attending San Diego State University.

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