Is it true that San Diego Police overreacted during the anti-Trump protests in downtown last Friday, May 27th, or did they simply follow Chief Zimmerman’s plan to corral demonstrators and push them into Barrio Logan where they could make arrests – arrests made out of the lens of the national media?
I attended the protests and was downtown for about 6 hours that day a week ago. The following observations and opinions are my own. What I did see and experience has led me to believe that the police manipulated the anti-Trump protesters in order to declare an illegal assembly – which then gave them the authority to make mass arrests – arrests police made largely out of sight – and in the ethnic Chicano- Mexican-American community of Barrio Logan.
Knowing that the police had earlier announced that they were setting up two separate “free speech zones” – one for the Trump supporters and one for the anti-Trump protesters – and both away from the front of the Convention Center, on the grassy areas, separated by Fifth Avenue, – upon my arrival I was mildly surprised to see that the demonstrators were in both lanes of Harbor Drive and were right up next to the small rise and fences directly in front of the Center.
Also, I noticed that there weren’t any pro-Trump supporters – but there was a long line extending west from the front doors of the Center of people waiting to enter the Trump event.
Plus, I couldn’t help but notice all the cops – cops in blue, cops in fatigues, cops in tan, so many that at places they stood nearly shoulder to shoulder forming human barricades around part of the protest site.
The whole issue of these so-called “free speech zones” is quite controversial – as some Federal courts have declared them to be un-constitutional. And when SDPD Chief Shelly Zimmerman first announced that she was creating these zones, she also added that any demonstrator outside these zones would be subject to arrest.
This was an incredible threat – and doubtless, some potential protesters stayed home because of it. But there was so much push-back from the liberal community of San Diego and the media, that Zimmerman backed off at the last moment, and said that it was okay to demonstrate outside the zones as long as laws were obeyed.
For the first couple of hours, the scene in front of the San Diego Convention Center was a scene of peaceful protests, chants, signs and flag waving, Rap songs blaring from a mobile speaker system and people dancing, – and mainly people who showed up to protest the Donald were just hanging out, milling about.
Meanwhile, true to capitalist form, several tables had been set up in the Trump areas to sell Trump t-shirts and hats to his crowd.
Sure, there were chants of “Fuck Donad Trump!” every now and then – but police stood in their lines with helmets and face shields off. Everything was fairly peaceful. Some religious-nuts began haranguing the crowd and a few shouted back at them.
The Democrats arrived and held their press conference. Most of them departed after the speeches.
Excitement then grew when hundreds of janitors and their SEIU supporters marched down Fifth Avenue to the rally site.
And the peak of the entire event occurred when hundreds of Chicanos and Mexican-Americans marched over the bridge from Barrio Logan right into the heart of the scene in front of the Convention Center. Between the two groups coming to the protest site, and combined with the hundreds already there, the anti-Trump crowd rose to nearly 2,000.
I did notice a half dozen undercover cops also milling about in my area of the crowd. I watched them as they watched us. Finally, after a couple of hours of this, I commented to one of them, “At least, you’re getting over-time,” and he responded rather glibly, “well, not really.”
Much of the crowd had grown close to the fenced area just in front of the Center – in front of several lines of police and media. Suddenly a roar went up from part of the crowd closest to the Center – two young high schoolers had gotten involved in a shouting match with police as they climbed up on the metal fence, then were violently pulled over the fence by cops. In response a few in the immediate crowd threw water on the officers, spraying a few in the media as well.
This did it, apparently. This small, isolated incident was enough for the order to go out for every cop to put on their helmets and lower their face-shields. So, within a few minutes then, every officer had their tactical gear in place. This raised the tension throughout the entire area. Now, police officers were no longer individuals with whom one could possibly converse with, but now wore their helmets and their faces were concealed – and they all looked like robo-cops, unapproachable.
It was not obvious when Trump arrived, as he had been ushered into the Center without fanfare outside. Same with his departure. It was not apparent.
But what came apparent was the stream of Trump supporters leaving the Convention Center and the police simply allowing them to either walk through the crowd of demonstrators or right along their edge. There was no real police attempt to block off or barricade the anti-Trump people from the Trump people, as they originally announced.
A few small skirmishes broke out between individuals of both opposing groups. A few fists were thrown, and as the clock ticked on, the intensity of these incidents increased. Signs and hats were grabbed, some paper was thrown back and forth – some water bottles, a shoe, a couple of eggs. But the police could have prevented a lot of that from happening.
There was one group of noticeably Trump guys moving about in the anti-Trump crowd, provoking several yelling matches and threats. It was clear they were there to cause trouble – but being outnumbered had to pull back from the protesters.
As this was going on, a group of mainly Mexican-Americans sat down in the plaza area near the foot of Fifth Street – with many prepared to be non-violently arrested. Later, things changed, and they moved when the police marched in.
Yet, despite the proclivity of some in the protest crowd to rush to any perceived incident along the lines – a rush they were in competition with the media for – by far, the vast majority of the protest and the demonstrators were there in peaceful display – if not quiet- of their opposition to Trump. The signs and some shirts had creative messages or images for the pre-eminent Republican designate.
Finally, after a few incidents – and nothing like the national media portrayed – a top officer announced around 4:30 that police were declaring the site an “illegal assembly” and ordered everyone to leave. This was repeated in Spanish several times. Some people did leave. And at this point, only 3 or 4 arrests had been made.
But this observer noticed that police lines were forming all around the site, and actually had by this time formed a corral surrounding the protesters. The only avenue away from the site and the Center was south on Harbor Drive.
The numbers of demonstrators had fallen, but there was still several hundred people chanting and yelling and milling about.
On orders, the police officers then began their own chant: “Move! Move! Move!” as they literally marched into the protest site, pushing everyone back onto Harbor Drive and the grassy area on the other side of the trolley tracks.
Believing the rally basically over, yours truly took my bicycle and reluctantly pedaled the mile over to Barrio Logan, while dozens of others were likewise forced to make the trek – including a handful of Trump supporters.
After returning to my car, exhausted, I drove home. It was only later that I learned about all the arrests – up to 33 – for mainly failure to disperse once the line of militarized police had marched into Barrio Logan.
What I don’t understand is ‘where was the media when all these arrests were taking place?’ There is the video of City Attorney candidate Bryan Pease being arrested – which was completely unnecessary. (But what was he thinking standing in front of a moving line of police? Appears to have been a PR stunt maybe?)
Yet, the controversy over the overreaction of the police – of their totally over-the-top show of force in military gear still simmers within San Diego. Barrio Logan community leaders are outraged. Civil rights activists are simply beside themselves with how the police responded and acted. The ACLU and Alliance San Diego are taking up the issue.
Looking back over the event, however, it seems apparent that the police did not indeed overreact, they simply followed orders and The Plan put in place by Chief Zimmerman. The plan – as best as can be observed – and is not verified by official denial – was to have a heavy, overwhelming and militarized presence surround the anti-Trump protesters. There was no “free speech zone” for the Trump people as they weren’t demonstrating. The only zone set up was to control and corral the demonstrators.
And once the Trump people left the Convention Center, there was no police effort to corral them into a zone away from their opponents. To the contrary, the Trump people were allowed to filter through and file right alongside of or across the street from the anti-Trump demonstrators. This caused a foreseeable friction – and was part of The Plan.
By not keeping separate the two opposing camps, police were able to set up a situation where a few skirmishers did break out. And once the very first nasty incident occurred – where 2 highschoolers were hauled off the fence into the arms and batons of police – police donned their gear.
These very few incidents were enough for police to call the demonstration against one of the major presidential candidates an illegal assembly and threaten mass arrests.
And as, according to The Zimmerman Plan, shoulder-to-shoulder police officers roughly moved the crowd back onto Harbor Drive and then over the bridge to Barrio Logan – with the goal of clearing the GasLamp District of massive numbers of Latinos and others. The final chapter of The Plan was unleashed – mass arrests of mainly young Mexican-Americans and Chicanos out of range and view of the national press.
Was it all a set-up? Was it just The Zimmerman Plan all along?
Clearly, the police manipulated the anti-Trump crowd, allowed for incidents with the Trump people, and finally looked for excuses – which they helped cause – to declare it all unlawful. And then made grabs of sufficient numbers of people to justify all the militarization and all the expenses incurred for The Donald.
The images of the massive numbers of police, their military gear will stay with San Diegans for a long time. Their memory gives pause to all those touristy slogans and PR campaigns of how great San Diego is.
One last note: mainstream media was terrible in reporting this event. The LA Times barely mentioned it – the San Diego U-T gave police glowing marks and parroted officialdom in how great it all turned out.
Yet, what happened a week ago is still simmering, is still causing controversy. This isn’t over yet, San Diego.