California State lawmakers respond to La Mesa protests

LA MESA (KUSI) – State Senator Brian Jones and State Assemlywomen Shirley Weber who represent La Mesa in the California State Legislature responded Sunday to a day of mostly peaceful protest against police Saturday that devolved into a night of looting and arson early Sunday in La Mesa, with roving bands of young men smashing windows, torching banks and eluding police.

An estimated 1,000 protesters blocked Interstate 8 in both directions, and the demonstration escalated to vandalism and looting by nightfall, authorities said Sunday.

The crowd initially took over the La Mesa Police Department parking lot at 2:30 p.m. Saturday to protest an officer who detained a man at the Grossmont Transit Center on Wednesday. The man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer and the encounter was videotaped and appeared on social media.

La Mesa officials said they are launching an outside investigation into the Wednesday incident.

Saturday’s protesters chanted “Black lives matter” and carried signs such as “No justice, no peace,” as they marched down University Avenue.

At first, the group was stopped when they tried to get on I-8 at the Baltimore Drive entrance by California Highway Patrol officers. But soon after, the protesters broke through the CHP line and continued marching eastbound on the freeway.

The CHP then halted traffic on I-8 eastbound and when protesters began marching on the westbound side, traffic was then halted on that portion of the freeway.

About 4:30 p.m., CHP officers wearing face shields stood in a line across the freeway and squared off with protesters, some wearing face shields. A protester with a bullhorn appeared to be asking the crowd to back away from the officers, which they did. The protesters then left one side of the freeway and climbed over the center divider to get on the other side.

Protesters threw rocks and bottles at police cars and at police headquarters, and officers fired back with flash bang grenades and tear gas.

Footage from the scene showed at least one vehicle ablaze near La Mesa City Hall, in addition to looters smashing storefront windows at a nearby shopping center.

The La Mesa Springs Vons market — closed at 8 p.m. — was looted and set ablaze. Nearby businesses were burgled as well, their windows smashed in a long night of vandalism throughout the city’s commercial areas.

After 11 p.m., two banks — a Chase branch and a Union Bank branch — were engulfed in flames on Spring Street. A nearby Goodwill store was broken into. The Sprouts further south was looted, but police kept it from burning.

Earlier, police and sheriff’s deputies used tear gas to disperse a crowd of mostly young protesters surrounding the police station. Flash-bang devices caused hundreds to retreat.

Saturday’s protest followed a Memorial Day incident in Minneapolis when a police officer, Derek Chauvin, was videotaped pinning George Floyd to the ground with his knee on his neck, which eventually led to Floyd’s death. Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday.

Outrage over Floyd’s death has spread across the country, and many protests have evolved into rioting.

“We are committed to the safety and well-being of all of our citizens,” Mayor Mark Arapostathis said early Sunday, with four other council members standing behind him as he announced a stay-at-home curfew from 1:30 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Hundreds ignored it.

Footage showed the Grossmont Center Walmart being looted, TVs being carted off before police formed a protective line. Former La Mesa Councilman Barry Jantz reported that the Target on the opposite site of Grossmont Center also was looted.

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