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Protesters Allege Racism At El Cajon City Hall

Evening Edition

Aired 10/23/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Bill Wells, Mayor pro-tem, City of El Cajon

Mark Arabo, Lifelong El Cajon resident and Chaldean-American.


Aired 10/23/13 on KPBS News.

A rally was staged at the El Cajon Civic Center on Tuesday to call for equality and acceptance of minorities.

A rally was staged at the El Cajon Civic Center on Tuesday to call for equality and acceptance of minorities.

Protesters claim the mayor of El Cajon recently made racially insensitive comments and has excluded minorities from city politics. They say El Cajon council members, four Caucasian males, are also guilty because of their inaction.

In a May 2013 issue of The Progessive magazine, El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis was quoted as saying, some Chaldean schoolchildren who receive free lunches are “being picked up by Mercedes Benzes. First time, they come over here, it doesn’t take them too long to learn where all the freebies are at.”

El Cajon is one of the most diverse communities in the county with nearly 50 percent of its population made up of minorities, including 10,000 newly arrived Chaldean refugees from Iraq.

"Fifty years after King’s speech, racism is well alive in our community,” said Mark Arabo, a Chaldean American and president of the Neighborhood Market Association.

Arabo, a lifelong East County resident, said Chaldeans were unfairly singled out in a federal raid of a nightclub in 2011 and last year they were targeted in a card room ordinance.

"It’s a culture of the city council and the mayor of El Cajon not accepting diversity, not accepting minorities, and women and everyone in general. And we want a new El Cajon," Arabo said.

Lewis could not be reached for comment, but Mayor Pro Tem Bill Wells said they are not running an institution of racism.

“I can categorically tell you that is absolutely not true,” Wells said. "We have a city council, which is elected by the people. So we don’t choose the city council, the people choose the city council," Wells said.

"The places we do make choices is in our planning commission, our veterans commission, and I can tell you those commissions are very diverse," he added.

Wells said two of the five seats on the planning commission are Chaldeans, and one of those is a woman.

Arabo said they are in talks with the ACLU and they'll continue rallying until the issue is resolved.

"And we’re going to do it legally, whether it be a charter amendment, whether it be a lawsuit through the ACLU," Arabo said.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | October 23, 2013 at 11:46 a.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

What year?

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | October 23, 2013 at 1:13 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

the key to his rant is "some"

but all are taking offense .

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | October 23, 2013 at 3:03 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

It may come as a surprise to Mayor Lewis, but relatives who are doing okay for themselves may happen to drive their nephews, nieces or grandchildren to school in a Mercedes-Benz. I didn't know utter destitution for the entire extended family was a requirement for free school lunches. That's not to say fraud doesn't exist, but he has to be better than that. Had he made that statement about Jewish-Americans, his head would still be spinning.

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Avatar for user 'jenjen'

jenjen | October 23, 2013 at 4:27 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

San Diego's Craigslist site has dozens of used Mercedes available for less than 10K. Owning a beater Benz doesn't make you rich.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | October 24, 2013 at 3:59 p.m. ― 3 years, 5 months ago

Chaldeans are just as white as the Mayor of El Cajon. This is not racism.

This is just one ethnic group identifying more with their homeland than the place they have been transplanted to and feeling unhappy that they are no longer dominant.

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Avatar for user 'Concerned_Taxpayer'

Concerned_Taxpayer | November 12, 2013 at 9:01 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Another loss of our United States 1st amedment rights for Free Speech, which is now trumped by political correctness. What's the matter with a little finger pointing ?

How sad.

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