By Ken Stone
The clock is ticking for La Mesa, Black Lives Matter activists told a teach-in style rally Sunday near a boarded-up police station.
Event organizer Tasha Williamson repeated her demands that La Mesa fire and prosecute Officer Matt Dages and identify and arrest another officer for the beanbag shooting of Leslie Furcron two weeks ago at another police station protest.
But Police Chief Walt Vasquez, watching nearby, noted another deadline — July 1 for an independent investigation of the police arrest of Amaurie Johnson near the Grossmont trolley station.
Asked his message to the 400 protesters — one of whom carried a sign saying “Fire Chief Vasquez NOW” — Vasquez said: “Thank you. Please continue to work with us. Change occurs when people come together … when people peacefully communicate their views.”
Pressed for his thoughts on their “non-negotiable demands,” which include a La Mesa Town Hall meeting, he told Times of San Diego: “We are going to continue to work toward those.”
Nearly two hours into the protest, Furcron attorney Dante Pride told the multiracial crowd that La Mesa had until Monday to reveal the name of the officer who shot Furcron.
If not, he said, he’d file a request for a court injunction to force La Mesa to disclose the information. (Pride referred to it as a “Freedom of Information Act” request but confirmed it was actually a California Public Records Act action.)
Before the rally, La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis stood near the gathering crowd — but was harangued by Tareq Asfour, a self-styled journalist who cursed the police in video showing the aftermath of his own May 30 tear-gassing.
Asfour, again carrying a video camera, shouted at the mayor about La Mesa acquiring a racist reputation worldwide. Arapostathis was led into the police station by a man in civilian clothes. The mayor didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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More than 200 motorcycles, revving at ear-splitting levels, made a grand entrance from University Avenue about 1 p.m., representing biker clubs from Tijuana to North County. (Their Unity Ride from Oak Park joined what organizers called a Unity Protest.)
Two hours later, the group heard its last parking-lot speakers. But several dozen stuck around another half-hour to enjoy a jazz duo — a white saxophonist and a black trombonist.
The pair led the group in chants of “George Floyd,” “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe” but declined to give their names. (They said they were members of the San Diego-based group Boostive.)
In between, a succession of speakers including a native Minnesotan who called himself a street preacher denounced La Mesa police and called for action. One asked the group to phone the mayor and La Mesa City Council members.
Ismahan Abdullahi, wearing a hajib, led a chant of “Fists up, fight back.” Others took part in Muslim prayers on the asphalt parking lot.
Some declined to give their full names, such as Kovu and K.J.
Williamson, the recent San Diego mayor candidate, called the event “an informative protest,” and San Diego Black Lives Matter leader Christina Griffin-Jones made impassioned pleas as volunteers handed out water bottles on a warm but breezy day.
Pride, the social-justice lawyer, had another request: Report for jury duty when called (after registering to vote).
“We need your faces in the jury pool,” he said. He also called for more video of the May 30 rally, asking to be contacted via Instagram.
Minutes before the rally, a middle-aged white woman in the riot-torn La Mesa Springs Shopping Center recalled the mayhem of two weekends earlier. She said: “Keep La Mesa in your prayers. We just don’t want the agitators.”
Protest leaders seemed to agree — not having their message hijacked by violence. They repeatedly called for peaceful action. A man wearing a yellow-green vest — possibly a member of the La Mesa Civil Defense group — trained a smart phone on the crowd.
La Mesa police — aided by sheriff’s deputies under a shade tent atop the 10-year-old $14 million station — monitored the crowd. Sitting in their cruisers, El Cajon police kept an eye on Grossmont Center in east La Mesa.
About 4:30 p.m., the Police Department tweeted: “The protest at the La Mesa Police Department has ended. Our thanks go out to everyone that was involved that helped to ensure a safe and peaceful event.”
The protest at the La Mesa Police Department has ended. Our thanks go out to everyone that was involved that helped to ensure a safe and peaceful event. pic.twitter.com/JdDq35jOtN
— La Mesa PD (@LaMesaPD) June 14, 2020
And late Sunday night, a La Mesa police dispatcher confirmed that “nope, nothing happened” after the rally.
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