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La Mesa Protests Erupt Into Rioting

 June 1, 2020 at 2:00 AM PDT

Parts of downtown La Mesa looked like a war zone after peaceful protests turned violent on Saturday night. Crowds of people swarmed the streets, breaking windows, looting stores and starting fires. Vons supermarket and the Play It Again Sports were looted and set on fire in the La Mesa Springs Shopping Center. Like so many others out there, I was glued to the live streams of people who were right there filming with their phones...watching as mostly young folks walked out of vons with stolen bottles of booze, flowers and food. I even saw one man wheel out a huge steel grill, and another man walk out carrying five big boxes of diapers. People who saw the diaper guy applauded. A preacher showed up, got on his knees, and started praying in front of the Vons in the middle of the chaos. A few minutes later, law enforcement surrounded the strip mall and the crowd finally took off. Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, the Chase Bank on Spring Street was set on fire and so was the nearby Union Bank. Protesters also vandalized other small businesses downtown La Mesa, plus City Hall and the police headquarters. They broke windows and spray-painted on the buildings. Tensions here and across the country were already running high after the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. The officer is now facing murder charges after pressing his knee down on Floyd’s neck as Floyd said repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe. But the tension boiled over here, in part, because of this. A video, posted on social media last week shows a tense encounter between a La Mesa police officer and a young black man at the Grossmont Trolley Station. This video, which has now been viewed over 2 million times, shows Amaurie Johnson and the officer arguing while standing face to face. The officer then pushes Johnson into a sitting position on a concrete bench and holds onto his arm. A similar exchange happens again before the officer then puts him in handcuffs as other officers arrive. Johnson was later told on the video that he was being arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer. The La Mesa Police Department later announced that the police officer, whose name has not been released, has been put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. But that news wasn’t enough to quell the rising tide of anger. At first, the protest in La Mesa was peaceful. Protesters then marched onto Interstate 8, blocking the freeway in both directions around Jackson Drive. A crowd of protesters remained in front of the La mesa Police Department. Around 6 p.m. the crowd started throwing water bottles and rocks at law enforcement. That’s when deputies fired rounds of rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas into the crowd. And at around 8 p.m, according to KPBS reporters on the scene, authorities fired a barrage of tear gas and flashbangs at the crowd to clear the parking lot in front of the station. Dozens of law enforcement vehicles moved in right after to try to disperse the crowd. The crowd momentarily dispersed but many returned to the parking lot in front of the building. Moments later, the looting and fires and chaos began. Longtime La Mesa resident Adam Cook spent part of the chaotic night guarding a lumber business on Spring Street. He’s been a customer of the business for years. I was crying. It's sad. My wife and baby are coming down and I'm going to go take care of them. And hopefully it's not going to get any worse. Hopefully this is a one and done, that's all we can hope for right now. Mary Duty is a former educator living in Spring Valley. She attended the protest, but left before the vandalism began. As an African American with a son who's been in police custody, she said she understands why it had come to this. Well you know what, I can't judge somebody else's anger or how they're gonna protest, so it is what it is. If this is the way to get the world's attention, then that's how it's gonna have to be. First thing Sunday morning, people from the community just started showing up to help clean up the mess. Sarah Benchekroun (BENCH-uh-krun) showed up at La Mesa City Hall to clean up some of the damage there. As far as I can see, the damage that was done isn’t as bad as the issue at hand. Obviously, it’s upsetting, there’s a burnt car in front of me….but on the grand scheme of things it’s not as bad as it could have been with people as upset as they are. Jerry Jones, who lives just a few blocks away from downtown La Mesa, says he was blown away by the amount of people who showed up to help. I have a set of mixed emotions, bad because of all the destruction and chaos, but good because I was amazed at the community response...i’ve never been prouder to be a resident of La mesa, this community has really impressed me this last 24 hours. Another protest against Floyd's killing and police brutality happened in downtown San Diego on Sunday. Black lives matter! Black Lives matter! Black Lives Matter San Diego, by the way, has condemned the looting in a public facebook post. The protest was mostly peaceful. Protesters ended up shutting down the I-5 freeway in both directions for a short time. By Sunday afternoon, though, The San Diego Police Department again used tear gas and flash-bang grenades against protesters. They issued an unlawful assembly order in the area of Broadway downtown because of escalating violence. The police made a number of arrests in the wake of the violence against officers, who were hit with rocks and water bottles. Meanwhile, in Poway, hundreds of demonstrators gathered there to protest the death of Floyd and the city issued a curfew that began at 8 p.m. last night and ended at 5:30 a.m. this morning. Several businesses in Poway boarded up windows and closed early. San Diego County declared a state of emergency on Sunday and numerous cities, including La Mesa, Poway and Santee issued curfews to take effect last night. To see if your city has a curfew check out the live blog at kpbs dot org. As we put this podcast to bed Sunday evening a candlelight vigil was planned for downtown San Diego’s waterfront park. Organizers said the vigil would be a peaceful event that would allow the community to collectively mourn and hope for the victims of police brutality and their families. *** From KPBS, I’m Kinsee Morlan, and you’re listening to San Diego News Matters. It’s Monday, June 1. The sound and stories you hear in this podcast come from KPBS reporters, producers and editors, many worked long hours covering the protests all weekend. Stay with me for more of the local news you need. People with underlying health conditions face a greater risk of death from COVID-19. KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento says a review of local data shows the most common condition among deaths in San Diego County is hypertension. More than 260 San Diegans have died from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus -- and more than half of those suffered from high blood pressure. Data from the county shows at least 152 people had the condition — but most of them also had at least 1 other ailment. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Christian Ramers is an assistant medical director at Family Health Centers of San Diego. He says the virus infiltrates the body through a human cell receptor that is also the target of medication to treat hypertension. "So that may be one reason why hypertension is at the top of the list. There may be a relationship between people that have hypertension and the density of these receptors in certain parts of the body" The county would only provide aggregate data on underlying health conditions and people may have had more than one condition. Other top conditions among those who died include diabetes, dementia or Alzheimer's and heart disease. A Chula Vista church is thinking about its next move after losing an appeal at the United States Supreme Court. The appeal sought to overturn Governor Newsom's order directing churches to follow social distancing rules to help stop the spread of COVID-19. KPBS reporter John Carroll has details. A Chula Vista church is considering its options after losing their appeal at the United States Supreme Court. Pastor Arthur Hodges, who leads the South Bay United Pentecostal Church tells KPBS that he's very disappointed in the Court's five-to-four vote. After losing their bid to reopen their church beyond what state regulations currently allow, the church sued Governor Newsom. They lost that case and appealed to the 9th circuit court of appeals. After losing there, the case ended up at the Supreme Court. Pastor Hodges says the church is currently in discussions with their lawyers about options to move forward. He says they'll follow the state guidelines on this Pentecost Sunday while another similar case of theirs works its way through the 9th Circuit. The coronavirus pandemic is hitting low-income communities of color the hardest. That’s according to national and local data. KPBS science and technology reporter Shalina Chatlani says stemming new outbreaks of the virus means we have to start testing and then tracing all contacts of people infected.. But working in at-risk populations will be challenging without BUILDING something very basic…trust. AMBI: OUTSIDE/BIRDS Johanna Bernal greets pet birds in the courtyard of her housing complex in Sherman Heights. BERNAL: I see the birds, and I whistle to them everyday and they whistle back. Bernal talks to the birds a lot now. Bernal is a single mother and she had to leave her job 2 months ago to have a baby. Now she's taking care of 3 children. Bernal immigrated to the U.S. about two decades ago from Mexico, and since then she's worked as a janitor. She says now her income is very low now. She works multiple jobs to pay bills, but many of them fell through with coronavirus. And she didn't get a stimulus check, because she's undocumented. So, additionally, he says government leaders need to provide more economic support to allow these communities to weather the storm. That’s all for today. Stay safe out there. Thanks as always for listening. If you’re listening and not already subscribed, do me a favor and take a minute to open up your favorite podcast player and search and subscribe to San Diego News Matters there so you never miss an episode.

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.