El Cajon City police officer Richard Gonsalves killed 38-year-old Alfred Olango, a Black man who was distraught after hearing a friend had died, three days ago. Since then, September 27, a memorial lies where he once did, with candles glowing at the scene near N. Mollison Avenue and Broadway. Protestors have gathered on the street every night since his killing, chanting “No justice! No peace! No racist police!” Officers in riot gear have been present for each of the protests but they didn’t use their weapons—until last night.
“There was a different vibe, a different crowd,” says a 29-year-old Black organizer from southeast San Diego who goes by Tru7h (pronounced “Truth”). “The vibe wasn’t for the cause.”
Tru7h says she arrived at the site around 6 p.m. to a crowd much younger than the group in their late 20s, 30s and 40s who gathered the first two days. Some of the kids, she says, were riding around on their bikes, throwing glass bottles at police officers, hitting cars and breaking car windows. One motorcyclist was knocked off his bike.
“Some people I could tell were just out there to antagonize. There was this one in particular guy out there in a full-on suit—cheesy as hell, like polka dots on the shirt. It was so fucking cheesy. I was like ‘He’s an agent or something.’ He claimed to be a police officer before and he was saying that this was ‘crazy.’”
Continues Tru7h: “There was this White guy that had on all black and he was just standing around looking and he would get in conversations and then get all heated up and get people mad. I was paying attention and conversed with him a little bit, but I was just telling everyone else to be mindful. [I said] ‘There are people out here that want us to get riled up so that they can send the police back over here. Don’t allow them to get you riled up.”
Last night’s crowd was also much smaller than those at earlier protests, according to Jeff Provenzano, who was filming the scene on behalf of the anti-police violence organization United Against Police Terror San Diego. Up to 300 people showed up on previous nights, but only about 50 to 75 people showed up last night.
Officers entered the scene around 6:30 p.m. and shot pepper balls and beanbag rounds at protesters. Pepper-ball pellets contain a powdered chemical similar to the one in pepper spray, and in several bystander videos posted on Facebook you can see people coughing and in obvious pain. Police also threw at least five tear gas canisters in the area to disperse protestors who wouldn’t move when the police formation began closing in on them.
Though the El Cajon Police Department statement didn’t mention beanbag rounds, Provenzano says he recovered some from the scene after police left.
Richelle Washabaugh, a 28-year-old who was on her way home from a date, says she was hit in the face with a round that barely missed her eye last night. She wasn’t protesting; she got caught up in the chaos, which was difficult to avoid after police officers blocked off select streets to corral the crowd into an alleyway. ”I can use my face to try and get some justice out of this whole thing, try and make people see what’s going on,” she says in a video Provenzano posted to Facebook. “[Even] a White girl got hit in the face by the cops. What does that say?”
Ultimately, police arrested two people: a 19-year-old and 28-year-old, both male.
Tru7h says she’s never seen anything like yesterday’s events. “It was unreal, scary like I was in a whole different country,” she wrote in a text message to a Colorlines reporter.
Tonight (September 30), organizers are planning a know-your-rights training in preparation for a rally they’re holding tomorrow (October 1). For more information, readers can follow the United Against Police Terror San Diego Facebook page and Reclaiming the Communty, a San Diego community group with which Tru7h organizes.
The El Cajon Police Department did not respond to a call for comment by publication time.