By Mario A. Cortez
Community leaders held a press conference this past Tuesday, May 31, condemning the excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies against peaceful protesters demonstrating against Donald Trump’s visit to San Diego on Friday, May 27.
The press conference, held curbside on the Mercado del Barrio development on Cesar Chavez Parkway, served as an opportunity to openly call out Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman on their choice to deploy a large contingent of officers in riot and paramilitary gear, as well as the use of small tanks and pepper balls.
The overzealous deployment of police force has lead to an erosion of the trust that the community has had in law enforcement and is also seen as a violation of the First Amendment right of the community to express their stance and peacefully congregate, the group said.
“It is outrageous that Mayor Faulconer decided to send riot police and small tanks into our neighborhood, on the residents of Logan Heights,” said Christian Alvarez, Human Rights Director for Alliance San Diego, who opened the conference.
“To have riot police and small tanks in my neighborhood, after our long tradition of organizing peacefully, speaks of the huge disconnect Mayor Faulconer has with our community and the huge disconnect Chief Zimmerman has with [groups] that have gathered here today,” added Alvarez.
On said Friday, approximately 1,000 people gathered at Chicano Park at around noon. This group then marched peacefully towards the San Diego Convention Center to demonstrate outside the San Diego Convention Center during Donald Trump’s address to his supporters, which was hosted inside the Convention Center.
The demonstrators were present outside of the Convention Center until about 4:30 p.m., when hostilities towards the group of demonstrators were beginning to surface. At this time, the contingent from Barrio Logan returned to Chicano Park to debrief.
Pedro Rios, Director of the American Friends Service Committee, described the exit of the demonstrators from the Gaslamp Quarter back to Barrio Logan, which occurred after there was a threat to their group.
“When security and organizers [of the march] realized that there was a threat from armed plain clothes individuals at the Convention Center, the decision was made to return to Chicano Park to keep with that promise of ensuring that a peaceful march would sustain itself,” stated Rios.
At about 4:45 p.m., San Diego Police declared the situation to be an unlawful assembly. The mass of people was made up of Trump supporters, groups protesting against Trump, and bystanders within the police line at the foot of 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter. Police then mobilized down Harbor drive and into Barrio Logan.
“When these rounds were taking place, it was beyond the time that the speaking engagement had concluded at the Convention Center,” Rios said. “There absolutely was no need to have such a high militarized presence of paratrooper police agents as well as small tanks. We question the mayor, we demand an explanation, we demand accountability, and we are not going to stop until we get that,” Rios added.
Kiki Ochoa of Union del Barrio also called for answers from the City and the SDPD about the decisions made last Friday.
“We have to demand that there be accountability and that these types of tactics do not take place. The police dressed up in militarized gear, paratrooper gear, and felt the need to use what they wore,” Ochoa said. “It was us who was affected by their use of violence. The only violence that was portrayed here in the Latino community of Barrio Logan came from the State and police departments. This is unacceptable,” Ochoa concluded.
Norma Chavez-Peterson, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, invited the public to come forth with their testimony of last Friday’s events.
“We will be working with our partners to continue to document people’s first-hand accounts of what occurred last Friday,” said Chavez-Peterson. “Not only do we want to document these experiences, but we want the community to file official formal complaints through the Police Department process as well as the Civilian Review Board. We’re encouraging the public to please come forward and share your stories.”
People looking to share their testimony with the regional ACLU chapter can call (619) 232-2121 or visit aclusandiego.org.