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Protesters Allege Racism At El Cajon City Hall

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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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