Escondido took a knee at high noon Wednesday, June 3, 2020. That’s when Mayor Paul “Mac” McNamara, Council member Mike Morasco, Escondido Police Chief Varso, Yusef Miller of Racial Justice Coalition San Diego, Rev. Meg Decker of Escondido Together and other leaders and community members held a peaceful vigil in honor of George Floyd at City Hall. An estimated 200 people attended.
With the coronavirus devil still in the air, invisible, but not forgotten, participants wore masks and took their poses while many tried to socially distance six feet apart. Speakers offered reflections and statements at the event.
Escondido City Councilmember Olga Diaz listed a series of police reforms that she hoped would come out of these events.
“Require citizen input on the hire and recruitment of police chief captains, the community should have input on this job,” she said.
Diaz called for the collection and study of racial statistics in traffic stops, hiring of more women and diverse applicants in law enforcement, requirements of police to have a degree in sociology or psychology, city input in hiring police chiefs and captains and fewer hires with military backgrounds.
“This is not a war zone,” she said, adding that first-responders should be trained in de-escalation techniques.
McNamara addressed the crowd and said he was appalled at seeing video of Floyd’s death.
“I said to myself, ‘Was this the country I want to live in?’ And the answer was no, it’s not,” he said. “And we need to do something about it.”
McNamara said more social justice rallies should be held until things change. “Enough is enough,” he said. “We have good police officers here. We have a good community. And we’re not going to let outsiders ruin it. We’re going to stay together.”
Laura Hunter of Escondido Indivisible said: “We’re going to try to have a different kind of event today,. A solemn event where we can reflect on where we are and where we need to go as individuals and a society.
“We kneel today in solidarity to remember Mr. George Floyd who was brutally murdered last week,” Hunter continued.. We kneel today to recognize that tragically, this was not an isolated incident, and we desperately need systemic changes in how our society works. We must recognize that we all play a part in this broken system, and we have to change.”
Organizers then asked the crowd to write down what they would like to see and place the post-it notes on the doors to city hall. The rally was organized by a coalition of groups, including Yusef Miller of Racial Justice Coalition San Diego, Rev. Meg Decker of Escondido Together.
Powerful moment as entire crowd in Escondido takes a knee in honor of #GeorgeFloyd @CBS8 pic.twitter.com/rjZQuxcRAZ
— Kelly Hessedal (@KellyNews8) June 3, 2020
They knelt through nine bells, according to news reports. One bell for each minute that Floyd was held on the ground by police. The crowd included Latoya Emanuel who has lived in Escondido most of her life. This was her first opportunity to attend one of the protests in person, though she had watched the video of Floyd on social media.
“I actually saw it on Facebook,” she said. “And I’ve cried since. Like I’m still waking up out of my sleep crying about it. And it just shouldn’t have happened.”
“We will build a better Escondido and we must do it together,” organizers from Together We Will and Indivisible Escondido said in a written statement. “We ask that all people of good will who are committed to a better, more just future, to please join us.”
Organizers added: “The death of Mr. George Floyd is just the most recent example of the tragic, unnecessary, unspeakable loss of black lives. As members of the human community, we are called to respond. Our community will respond to the unacceptable loss of life of Black Americans and reaffirm our commitment to racial justice, systemic change, fair treatment, and community unity. ”
After pushing back on banning the practice of using carotid restraints, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore on Wednesday said his department will immediately stop using the controversial technique.
In a carotid restraint, an officer compresses a person’s carotid arteries, which are on either side of the neck, causing a person to lose consciousness.
“In light of community concerns, and after consultation with many elected officials throughout the county, I am stopping the use of the carotid restraint by my deputies effective immediately,” Gore said in a statement. “I have and always will listen to any feedback about the public safety services we provide.”
On Monday, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and San Diego police Chief David Nisleit announced that the San Diego Police Department would immediately stop using the hold.
Escondido police take a knee on Monday
The Wednesday display of solidarity with protesters followed a poignant scene earlier this week when Escondido officers were seen taking a knee with protesters during demonstration against police violence on Monday.
Photos showed the officers alongside protesters demonstrating against racism, police brutality, and calling for justice for George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
What made the Monday scene even more impactful was Escondido history through the early 2000s as one of the most racist and anti-immigrant political leadership and police presences in the nation.
Long-time resident Vanessa Reyes attended the demonstration which happened outside of Escondido Police Department headquarters. She captured the profound moment in a series of photos she later shared with KGTV 10News.
“It was very emotional, it was very eye opening for me.”
The mother of four said she wanted to document the protests for her children, ages 7- to 22-years-old. Not knowing what to expect, she decided to keep her children home while she snapped images of the demonstration.
“I went out there to support the black community and take pictures because I really want to have pictures for my kids to show them this is going to be history, this is real, this is what’s going on.”
Reyes described the demonstration as peaceful and emotional, though some times rowdy.
“The younger kids, maybe like the 20-25 year old’s, they were very, very involved and wanted to be heard, and the chief of police was willing to let them be heard,” said Reyes. “Everybody just wanted to be heard and there was so much emotion and the Escondido Police sat there and listened.”
At one point during the protest, Reyes said the crowd, comprised of people of various races, moved towards the police skirmish line.
“When we first got there all the officers were across the street, then all of a sudden the protesters moved towards the officers,” said Reyes.
The tense situation was de-escalated when demonstrators struck a conversation with an officer.
“A group of protesters got together and asked the officers if they wanted to take a knee and have a moment of silence for George Floyd and they didn’t hesitate.”
Reyes began taking photos to capture one of San Diego’s most powerful moments of these demonstrations that saw a weekend marred by violence and riots across the county.
The officers, dressed only in their regular uniforms, joined the crowd.
“That moment was extremely emotional. You could tell that they [officers] were very genuine and you could tell they really want to make peace and everything better for us.”
Unlike some of the chaotic confrontations witnessed in other parts of the country, Reyes said demonstrators and police officers were respectful of each other, and that the police chief was actively encouraging the crowd to share their voice.
“Officers tried to ask everybody what could they do.”
The scene was similar to a display caught on Sunday in downtown San Diego, where protesters exchanged fist bumps and handshakes with officers. Other moments of unity between police and demonstratorshave been captured around the nation.
Join us this Friday at 10am for a livestream Q&A session with Chief Varso. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or via the chat box during the event. #escondidopolice #ourescondido pic.twitter.com/ymr5EJ2AkU
— Escondido Police (@EscondidoPolice) June 3, 2020
In a statement, an Escondido Police officer said:
“Last night I, as well the citizens of Escondido were witness to a peaceful, passionate, justified protest. I want to thank our community for your powerful display of protest, in the peaceful yet profound manner it was delivered.
I witnessed ‘the few’ agitators that attempted to hijack the event with violent and destructive means, met by ‘the many’ of our community members, protest groups and participants, who thwarted all efforts demanding peace and civility.
For this I extend my deepest gratitude. Thank you for supporting us as we were doing our best to support you. We hear you, we stand and or kneel with you and through these difficult times we will not wavier in our mission to serve and protect you.
I truly believe it is you, the people, that make this the City Of Choice.”
Protests across the county and around the nation began this week after video surfaced showing a Minneapolis officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes. Floyd’s death while in-custody sparked nationwide calls for police reform.
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