Protests Erupt Into Rioting, Leaving La Mesa In Flames
Sunday, May 31, 2020
Photo by Matthew Bowler
A day of protests against a police officer who detained a black man earlier this week turned into rioting Saturday in downtown La Mesa that lasted through the night and into the early Sunday morning. Rioters looted stores and set fire to buildings and cars -- police responded by firing tear gas and flash bang grenades into the crowd.
The crowd initially took over the La Mesa Police Department parking lot at 2:30 p.m. Saturday to protest an officer who detained a man at the Grossmont Transit Center Wednesday. The man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer and the encounter was videotaped and appeared on social media.
The protesters chanted "Black lives matter" and carried signs such as "No justice, no peace," as they marched down University Avenue. By late afternoon an estimated 1,000 protesters blocked Interstate 8 in both directions.
At first, the group was stopped when they tried to get on I-8 at the Baltimore Drive entrance by California Highway Patrol officers. But soon after, the protesters broke through the CHP line and continued marching eastbound on the freeway.
The CHP then halted traffic on I-8 eastbound and when protesters began marching on the westbound side, traffic was then halted on that portion of the freeway.
About 4:30 p.m., CHP officers wearing face shields stood in a line across the freeway and squared off with protesters, some wearing face shields. A protester with a bullhorn appeared to be asking the crowd to back away from the officers, which they did. The protesters then left one side of the freeway and climbed over the center divider to get on the other side.
Protesters threw rocks and bottles at police cars and at police headquarters, and officers fired back with flash bang grenades and tear gas, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Footage from the scene showed at least one vehicle ablaze near La Mesa City Hall, in addition to looters smashing storefront windows at a nearby shopping center.
Looters hit several businesses inside a nearby Vons shopping center until 10:30 p.m. when officers cleared them out, the San Union-Tribune reported. The rioters set a Chase bank branch and Union Bank branch in downtown La Mesa on fire, the paper reported.
Saturday's protest followed a Memorial Day incident in Minneapolis when a police officer, Derek Chauvin, was videotaped pinning George Floyd to the ground with his knee on his neck, which eventually led to Floyd's death. Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday.
Outrage over Floyd's death has spread across the country, and many protests have evolved into rioting.
La Mesa officials said they are launching an outside investigation into the Wednesday incident at Grossmont Transit Center.
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