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City Heights Groups Take Different Approaches To Driving Social Change

At 5 p.m. Saturday, groups are scheduled to create signs and posters in a City Heights park. The visuals will be used for a rally planned that evening by a local organization to mark a national day of protest against police.

Catherine Mendonça with the organizing group United Against Police Terror said the event is a time to honor all those who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement.

"This event is going to be centering around almost a dozen families who have lost somebody by the hands of San Diego law enforcement officers in the county of San Diego," Mendonça said in a phone interview.

That includes Alfred Olango, who was fatally shot by El Cajon police last month.

Statement From SDPD Sgt. Lisa Mckean

“The San Diego Police Department supports every person’s First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech and their Right to Assemble. As part of our community policing philosophy we work closely with any party or group that wishes to express their views in a law abiding manner. However, we will not tolerate criminal behavior or the disruption of public safety at any time. It is important our department is prepared to respond to any situation to ensure the safety of our public who we so proudly serve.”

The rally and march recognizes the 21st Annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and Criminalization of a Generation. It is one of two events aimed at addressing criminal justice issues that day, but their approaches are not the same.

Mendonça said the protest, which she encourages to be peaceful and safe, will include speeches from relatives of people killed by local law enforcement agencies.

"Our only intention is to give a stage for all of the families to give their testimonies," she said.

The park where it will be held is across from the San Diego Police Department’s Mid-City Division and named in honor of Officer Jeremy Henwood, a slain cop often remembered for buying a kid some cookies minutes before he was shot and killed in his car. Mendonça said the location in not intended to be symbolic, but is an accessible public space.

That same day is the Youth Power Summit, a day of workshops and panels on many issues, including the over criminalization of youths of color. The conference is primarily organized by Mid-City CAN, a City Heights nonprofit. It falling on the same date of the national protest is a coincidence, an organizer said.

At the summit, college freshman Larissa Galeana will lead a session on restorative justice in schools, which emphasizes mediation over expulsion or suspension.

“I’ve seen it help many people,” Galeana said.

She said she has seen it improve relationships between teachers and students that were once labeled a problem. It could also help reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, the Crawford High School graduate added.

Galeana became involved with restorative practices when she still attended Crawford and is now co-chair of Mid-City CAN's Peace Promotion Momentum Team. She said the team is working on a school climate bill of rights to bring to the district.

Temple University Criminal Justice Professor Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve called the approaches of both groups complementary.

“You know, when we’re thinking of creating change, I was thinking the Mid-City CAN is sort of like, 'I’m going to work in the traditional infrastructure,' and the United Against Police Terror is more as ‘the infrastructure is already bias, so how can I work within that?,'" Van Cleve said in a Skype interview.

The author of "Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America's Largest Criminal Court" said policy changes can take time, and protests, particularly if they’re peaceful, are a more immediate driver.

“When we think about the social changes that have been happening right now, you know you can’t in some ways discount the protesters that have in some ways controlled the media narrative and forced the media to take a long, hard look at what was going on in a way that we’ve never seen before.”

Galeana says she too thinks protests help begin a conversation about the topic. But she also sees a place for restorative justice, which calls for affected parties to talk out issues while sitting in a circle.

“We could sit in a circle and we could be, ‘How do you feel about it? Do you think it affects San Diego? How do you feel it affects our neighborhood? Are you scared? Do you fear the police? Why? Why not? What are your personal stories?” she said. “And it’s also a place where, as a community, we can hold each other.”

The youth power summit, which is focused around those aged 13 to 24 years old, begins at 8 a.m at Lincoln High School. The protest begins at 6 p.m.

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