By Ken Stone
One counterprotester was arrested as demonstrators rallied Saturday across from La Mesa City Hall, marched around a hilly residential area and demanded justice for women of color.
With much of the civic center fenced off, the police station saw none of the clashes involving tear gas and beanbag shots police deemed necessary at a May 30 protest with a much larger crowd.
On Saturday, long lines of officers from agencies as far away as National City stood between heckling members of groups like Defend East County and boisterous but nonviolent BLM protesters. The mostly young, mask-wearing protesters were led in chants like “Don’t take the bait.”Scores of defenders, including 20 wearing the yellow-green vests of La Mesa Civil Defense on Facebook, turned out against as many as 300 marchers.
Counterprotesters, often without masks, held American flags and “Trump 2020” banners. They had a booth near the VFW/American Legion Hall on University Avenue where they sought signatures on a petition to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Arrested was 35-year-old Ryan McAdams of Jamul on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, vandalism and probation violation. He was booked into San Diego Central Jail, with no bail allowed.
McAdams is associated with white-supremacist groups such as Bordertown Patriots and American Guard. The Guard also had a presence Saturday.
The march began at Date and Allison avenues, went south uphill on Acacia Avenue and then met an even steeper climb up quiet Vista Drive.
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The group, trailed and escorted by motorcycle and other officers, wandered La Mesa’s back hills for more than a half-hour before emerging onto University Avenue from Maple Avenue, where they eventually blocked traffic at the La Mesa Boulevard intersection for about five minutes.
Men with megaphones led chants from atop a black van.
At 9:20 p.m., the protester group at Dale and Allison avenues appeared to be breaking up but a large “defender” group remained at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building.
“Over the past hour, there were several more scattered verbal altercations between the two groups with no further arrests,” police said at 8:30 p.m.
“Several physical altercations occurred between the groups as the march passed by the VFW,” police said. “At least one arrest has been made. No major injuries have been reported.”
The “We Demand Justice For Our Women Of Color” event — whose organizers remained a mystery — was promoted as a way to seek justice for Breonna Taylor, killed in March by police in Louisville, Ky., and Vanessa Guillen, a soldier at Fort Hood, in Texas, who was killed by another soldier in April, according to social media statements.
City officials also announced a temporary executive order Saturday banning weapons, boards, spray paint and other items within the downtown zone. The order took effect at noon Saturday and remained until 5:30 a.m. Sunday.
At 2:30 p.m. — an hour before the event’s advertised start — four Interstate 8 on and off ramps were closed to traffic, causing some misery to motorists who got caught up in protest traffic.
The protected zone was an area bounded by University and Allison avenues and Spring Street that includes the police department, City Hall and library.
La Mesa suffered a riot May 30-31 when a peaceful protest over police use of force turned into violent acts, including arson fires to businesses and looting.
The protest was advertised on social media as scheduled to take place at 3:30 p.m. at police headquarters, but was changed to the La Mesa Branch Library on Allison, and eventually beginning near La Mesa City Hall, also on Allison.
New fencing and concrete barriers were erected Saturday morning around police headquarters. Before the rally under a large tree began, unmarked vans disgorged La Mesa officers in military camouflage uniforms to help with order at the VFW hall.
Chief Vasquez and a group of local faith-based leaders were able to meet with leaders of both groups in the early stages of the event. He told both groups that law enforcement was there to support a safe and peaceful event, and asked for their cooperation.
Vasquez later said: “I would like to thank the organizers of all of the groups in attendance tonight for their efforts to ensure a successful event for all involved. I wholeheartedly support the citizens’ right to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights, and the men and women of the La Mesa Police Department are here to support that. I would also like to thank the numerous law enforcement partners from around the county, as well as Heartland Fire, for assisting us tonight.”
Members of the news media had their own challenges, with protesters shadowing them to prevent their shooting video of protesters, saying they feared being targeted by police.
George Rojas of Escondido did a Facebook livestream for nearly 3 1/2 hours, but was upset that protesters he called Ninja Turtles for their protective garb blocked his view with plastic trash can lids, even bumping into his Canon camera several times.
Award-winning photographer and videographer Tom Abbott argued with protesters and later said he’d never had as much trouble at a news scene in his 35-year career, adding that demonstrators wanted their rights to protest but denied someone their First Amendment right to cover it.
El Cajon’s Justin Haskins, administrator of the 20,000-member Defend East County group, posted his own video in which he showed exasperation with his allies crossing the street to clash with protesters.
“I want everyone back in the parking lot,” he yelled repeatedly, with frequent F-bombs. “We’re here to … help the cops. All we’re doing is taking resources away.”
Haskins was angered that dozens of officers were facing his side, and not toward the marchers.
“We’re acting like a bunch of … idiots right now,” he said at one point.
On Facebook, someone commented: “I know Justin’s trying; it’s tough to keep a bunch of East County knuckleheads in line.”
A little before midnight, Haskins signed off with a final post:
“It wasn’t always pretty, but great job East County. Thank you to everyone who showed up and supported us. The donations were greatly appreciated.”
Updated at 12:24 a.m. Aug. 4, 2020
— City News Service contributed to this report
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