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San Diego Activist Reflects On Alfred Olango Protests

Wilnisha Sutton leading demonstrators as they block traffic in El Cajon Sept., 2016.
Eiji Fuller
Wilnisha Sutton leading demonstrators as they block traffic in El Cajon Sept., 2016.

During a time of heightened sensitivity over high-profile cases of police shootings of unarmed black men, San Diego activist Wilnisha Sutton said protesting for Alfred Olango had a major impact on her activism, making her more loving and able to work with others.

She found out about an officer who shot a man in El Cajon last September while working at San Diego City College. She said she raced from work to El Cajon as she would have had Olango been her own brother.

Sutton said she jumped out of her car in downtown El Cajon and started recording. She said she got to the Broadway Village shopping center, on Broadway and Magnolia Street, minutes after El Cajon Officer Richard Gonsalves shot 38-year-old Alfred Olango.


Sutton said Olango’s sister, Lucy Olango, was one of the first people she encountered.

San Diego Activist says Protesting for Alfred Olango Renewed

“I felt compelled that I have to report live what’s going on," Sutton explained. "I don’t want to wait for the news and the media to come up with their own narrative. I’m going to go and give the people the truth."

In fact, “Truth” is the moniker Sutton uses when performing. The 30-year-old San Diegan is a vocalist, mother and proud activist, who works with groups such as Pillars of the Community San Diego.

“Activism to me is to be free and vocal about what you believe in and stand up for those that don’t have voice," Sutton said.

She said she was in that parking lot to stand up for Olango, a man she didn’t know, and it didn’t take long for others to join her.


“When I got out there, there were probably 10 people there,” Sutton said. “Two hours later, there was over 400 to 500 people.”

Olango died at the hospital and by the next day, the gathering had swelled.

“A lot of the people who lived in that area were more so spectators and not really getting involved in the movement, but it didn’t matter,” Sutton said. “It was just amazing to see people out there and see that people that did come out there because there was people of every color, every religion, every sexual sense. It was just people of everything out there and it was the most beautiful thing that I have ever been apart of.”

When demonstrations spilled into the streets, Sutton found herself leading some of the marches.

Law enforcement took a stronger stance a few nights later.

“I think the third night is the night they tear gassed us and pepper sprayed us and shot pepper bullets at us, “ Sutton said.

According to officers in El Cajon, demonstrators blocked traffic, broke car windows, and assaulted officers. Police arrested five protesters.

“My mom was scared. My siblings would call me every night like you need to go home. I’m like I’m not going home,” Sutton said.

Sutton returned to El Cajon night after night, long after the crowd shrank and the news cameras went away.

“It was discouraging,” she said. “It was very discouraging.”

The remaining resistors dubbed the parking lot gathering “Olango Village,” where Sutton stayed. She recorded cell phone footage as authorities declared it an unlawful gathering and officers made more arrests.

She said she stayed for what she called more than 50 trying days.

“I lost myself in that,” Sutton said. “I was very depressed afterward … it’s making me emotional even talking about it. A lot of people didn’t know how depressed and how it affected me.”

Sutton said the days she spent in El Cajon made her more aware and more loving. She said it made her better prepared to advocate for communities of color.

“You can’t just kill people and expect people not to stand-up for our rights, “ Sutton said.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.