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San Diegans Protest Ferguson Decision, Briefly Block Interstate 5 North

Photo caption: Protesters shut down Interstate 5 North near Nobel Drive in San Diego, Nov. 2...

Photo credit: 10News

Protesters shut down Interstate 5 North near Nobel Drive in San Diego, Nov. 26, 2014.

San Diegans Protest In Solidarity With Ferguson

GUESTS:

Shelley Zimmerman, chief of police, San Diego

Matt Bowler, KPBS

Several dozen student protesters from UC San Diego lined up across a La Jolla stretch of Interstate 5 for about a half-hour Wednesday, causing a miles-long backup and angering motorists.

UPDATE: 10 a.m., Nov. 26, 2014

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was not available for an interview, but his communications director, Matt Awbrey, issued a statement following the unrest in the city overnight and Wednesday morning:

“Mayor Faulconer is in close communication with the Police Chief and other local law enforcement officials. The City is in complete support of people’s First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and protest. However, if these protests turn to violence, vandalism or other criminal acts, SDPD will take swift and immediate action.”

The protests in San Diego are spurred by the decision Monday to not file charges in Ferguson, Missouri, against a white police officer who killed an unarmed 18-year-old black man in August.

RELATED: San Diego Protests Captured In Photos, Videos

Another demonstration is planned at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the City Heights/Weingart Library and Performance Annex. According to the Facebook page for United Against Police Terror - San Diego, nearly 700 people by about 11:30 p.m. had said they would be at the protest.

Awbrey said that Tuesday night's protests were mostly peaceful, but six people were arrested.

"Thanks to SDPD’s work with the community, there was no reported vandalism," he said. "SDPD remains in close coordination with CHP and other local law enforcement agencies to make sure people’s first amendment rights are protected and criminal acts are quickly addressed."

UPDATE: 8:34 a.m., Nov. 26, 2014

Several dozen student protesters from UC San Diego lined up across a La Jolla stretch of Interstate 5 for about a half-hour Wednesday, causing a miles-long backup and angering motorists.

The protest on northbound I-5 near Nobel Drive began about 6:50 a.m., according to the California Highway Patrol. It ended peacefully around 7:20 a.m. with demonstrators walking off the freeway and continuing their march on city streets.

Protesters, led by an unidentified man with a bullhorn, held signs objecting to a Missouri grand jury's decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed but allegedly came at the officer and, at one point, tried to take his service weapon.

Before authorities arrived on the freeway, several stranded motorists exited their vehicles and yelled at the protesters to move. At least one frustrated motorist got into a brief physical confrontation with the man holding the bullhorn.

San Diego police continued to monitor the protesters movements as they marched on city streets.

UPDATE: 7:15 a.m., Nov. 26, 2014

Protesters briefly blocked Interstate 5 north near Nobel Drive in San Diego during the morning commute Wednesday before being escorted off the freeway by police.

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UPDATE: 6 a.m., Nov. 26, 2014

Hundreds of protesters in San Diego took to the streets Tuesday night, demonstrating in response to a Missouri grand jury's decision not to charge a white police officer for the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old black man.

There were two evening protests, one in City Heights and the second in downtown San Diego. The City Heights protesters began marching from the City Heights/Weingart Library and Performance Annex in the 3700 block of Fairmount Avenue and briefly made their way onto the northbound lanes of state Route 15 at University Avenue, where they blocked freeway traffic.

The California Highway Patrol closed the freeway at that location about 8:15 p.m. because of the demonstration. About half an hour later, the CHP said the lanes were open but the on- and off-ramps remained closed.

U-T San Diego reported that the protesters left the freeway, returning to University Avenue.

As the crowd grew near University and 41st Street, some began hurling water bottles at police, who declared an unlawful assembly. The U-T said demonstrators also threw rocks at police officers, and one CHP officer was spit on. Six protesters were arrested, according to the U-T.

The demonstrators returned to state Route 15 around 10 p.m. and blocked the northbound and southbound lanes near El Cajon Boulevard before police quickly cleared the freeway, the U-T said. A U.S. flag also was set afire.

After midnight, about 75 protesters marched from City Heights to downtown San Diego to the Hall of Justice on Broadway and held a rally before leaving around 1 a.m., according to the U-T.

Original post:

Hundreds of San Diegans protested in City Heights and downtown San Diego Tuesday night the decision by a Missouri grand jury not to charge white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man.

About 20 people attended the first demonstration that started at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Edward J. Schwartz Federal Building in downtown San Diego. The organizers used a Facebook page to promote the event.

The site is run by the group Uhuru Solidarity Movement. Before the grand jury announcement Monday night in Missouri, the group said it would hold a protest after the decision regardless of whether officer Wilson was indicted in the killing of Brown in August.

Photo by Matthew Bowler

United Against Police Terror - San Diego organizer Cathy Mendonca stands in front of the Mid-City Police Substation on Fairmount Avenue on Nov. 25, 2014.

Cathy Mendonca with the group United Against Police Terror - San Diego helped organize the protest at the City Heights/Weingart Library and Performance Annex at 3795 Fairmount Ave. More than 400 people had sent RSVPs on Facebook to attend the demonstration.

Interviewed before the demonstration, Mendonca said that unfortunately she was not surprised by the decision not to charge the Ferguson police officer in Brown's death. "But that’s why we want to mobilize the community,” she said.

She organized a local protest on Ferguson this past summer.

Xavier McGregor, an organizer with Uhuru, said in an interview before Tuesday night's protests that San Diego's minority community, like the one in Ferguson, has an adversarial relationship with the police.

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Uhuru Solidarity Movement organizer Xavier McGregor discusses a San Diego protest scheduled Nov. 25, 2014 in response to a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown.

“I think there is a much more repressive tradition of police terror in San Diego and brutality,” McGregor said. "Countless times this police department has tried to change its image with half-hearted attempts to reach out to the community to offer police hotlines, which the community has used. The community has gone out and had their voices heard, but again the issue isn’t being addressed."

The San Diego Police Department has been working to improve its relationship with minority communities this year after public outcry and the department's own data showed black and Latino drivers are subject to more traffic stops and searches than other racial and ethnic groups.

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman has been meeting with residents in southeastern San Diego, a predominantly black neighborhood. As a result, she's changed department policies so officers are less likely to ask everyone they stop whether they're on probation and less likely to sit those they detain on the curb — practices considered especially offensive in the black community — and rolled out police body cameras in the city's most diverse neighborhoods.

After the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Zimmerman issued the following statement:

The San Diego Police Department completely supports our public’s right to peacefully assemble and express their views. Our role will be to ensure everyone’s first amendment right to express themselves is respected in a safe and peaceful manner. Together we can set the national model for community trust and cooperation between all communities and our police department.

Despite a call from the Brown family for supporters to keep things civil, several violent protests that included fires and looting broke out in Ferguson on Monday night, shortly after the verdict was read in the case. But there were no such incidents in San Diego County, according to local authorities.

For more than three months, the officer-involved shooting death of Michael Brown has shined a national spotlight on the small Missouri town of Ferguson outside of St. Louis, and the issue of racism.

Brown was fatally shot on a residential street in broad daylight on Aug. 9 while allegedly trying to evade arrest by Wilson. At the time, Wilson, who had been with the Ferguson Police Department less than three years, was responding to a robbery call in the area and had stopped Brown and an another young man for questioning.

Don Dripps, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, told City News Service that an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice could bring far more change to Ferguson than the prosecution of one police officer.

Such an investigation could result in a "consent decree" that would place the police department under a federal monitor, tighten use-of-force restrictions and require reporting of interactions between officers and the public. The restrictions would be imposed if a pattern of civil rights violations was found, he said.

Police departments in Detroit, New Orleans and Pittsburgh are operating under consent decrees, he said.

Dripps said it was "extraordinary" for McCulloch to go through a grand jury and, even more so, to make the testimony and exhibits public.

"It didn't prevent violence in the community — it happened," Dripps said. "If that was the goal, it didn't work."

Justin Brooks, the director of the California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law in San Diego, said that based on similar cases in the past, he isn't sure if positive change will come from Brown's death.

"I don't see enough change that's occurred because people are polarized in their positions," Brooks said. He said some people believe police have no racial bias, while others are so angered by it that they set fires.

He called the grand jury decision an "extraordinary result" because it's rare that prosecutors are unable to obtain an indictment.

Brooks, who works to free wrongfully imprisoned inmates, criticized the decision to go through the secretive grand jury process. In a more public proceeding, the evidence would come out piece-by-piece, he said.

"The general public would have a greater acceptance of it," Brooks said.

He said he hopes the episode leads to greater training for police officers.

Tweets And Photos From San Diego's Ferguson Demonstrations

San Diegans demonstrated downtown and in City Heights Nov. 25, 2014 to express solidarity with Ferguson, Missouri, residents who feel a grand jury failed to bring to justice a white police officer who fatally shot a black teen there in August.

KPBS' Tom Fudge and Patty Lane contributed to the Midday Edition segment. Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.

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