By Frank Gormlie
It wasn’t a massive turnout here in San Diego Monday for the 4 Mile March – far from it – but you can’t get away from the fact that one hundred San Diegans did march four miles for social justice in an effort to rekindle Martin Luther King’s militancy on his celebrated birthday.
San Diego joined a list of at least 30 other cities nationwide that also had “4MileMarches”. A small crowd of around 140 gathered at the City Heights park next to its library – about a quarter African-Americans – , and listened to a few speeches from the organizers of the different groups that set up the event. The event had been planned by United Against Police Terror – San Diego, Activist San Diego, the local branch of the International Socialist Organization, and the Coalition Against Police Violence.
The speakers spoke of institutional racism, the killings by police of young Black men – and in San Diego – of young Latino men, of the connections between the days of Martin Luther King with today. They spoke of the need to strengthen an independent civilian police review board, of how leaders such as Mayor Faulconer and District Attorney Dumanis have failed the African-American community.
About 2 pm, the crowd marched out of the park and headed for the Malcolm X Library, south of there. As soon as the hit asphalt, it immediately took over one lane of Fairmount Avenue, and as they chanted, began the journey south, escorted by police officers on motorcycles. This scenario remained as the marchers paraded down to the other library, blocking a long line of traffic along Fairmount as they proceeded. The police did nothing to assist those drivers lining up behind the march. The marchers themselves were well-organized, disciplined, not un-ruly, and stayed bunched up the entire length of the march ( a little too bunched up for my tastes).
The route of the march went through quiet residential neighborhoods,along vacant areas, attracting the attention of locals as it plodded along. But there was little if any outpouring of support from the communities as the marchers walked through, and as the march ended there was no one waiting for them.
An African-American woman standing next to me as a few of us waited in the parking lot of a fastfood place, commented upon seeing the marchers, “There’s such a small group of them.” It was true. You couldn’t get away from it. It was a relatively small number of people who had been mobilized by the narrow array of groups that had sponsored it. It was even a smaller turnout then a recent rally and die-in at Balboa Park and smaller than the angry crowds that had gathered in City Heights after Ferguson and who had taken over a nearby freeway.
Yet it would be safe to say that most African-Americans who were celebrated MLK Day were at the downtown Parade on Sunday. And on Monday, dare say, most of San Diego’s politicized African-American community was over at Balboa Park listening to the NAACP speaker.
So the 4 Mile March was a leftist effort to make a statement and to show support for the nation-wide rallies and marches occurring Monday. There’s a variety of factors that could explain why San Diego’s turnout was different from, say, Boston’s, or Minneapolis’. Some of those could be: San Diego’s historic small African-American community relative to other cities of comparable size, the small and usually weak progressive community in San Diego, an historically weak labor movement here, the co-optation of the traditional MLK Parade by establishment groups and government – it goes on.
But despite all of this, you can’t get past the fact that on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, one hundred San Diegans marched four miles between major minority communities for social justice. This – in itself – is historic.