SAN DIEGO (CN) — Dozens of San Diego activists gathered Tuesday to denounce use-of-force tactics employed by San Diego police officers to disperse protesters after Donald Trump’s downtown rally.
Members from Alliance San Diego, a social justice organization, joined representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties and other organizations and activists who were angered over police tactics at last Friday’s campaign stump by Trump.
Thousands of protesters gathered outside the San Diego Convention Center where Trump spoke. About 1,000 of those protestors gathered Friday morning in the Barrio Logan neighborhood, about a mile away from the convention center.
They later marched downtown to shown their disdain for the Republican presidential candidate who has called Mexican Americans “rapists” and called the Latino judge in one of two San Diego class actions against his now-defunct Trump University “a hater of Donald Trump.”
Things did not get ugly until hours after Trump left the stage, when San Diego police clad in riot gear declared the designated “Free Speech Zone” outside the convention center an unlawful assembly, started making arrests, and moved the last remaining protesters toward the Barrio Logan neighborhood.
Police said the crowd behavior became unlawful when several protestors tried to breach a secured area and other protestors became violent and physically confrontational.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer directed Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman to deploy small tanks and police officers to drive the last straggling protestors from downtown into Barrio Logan, the activists claimed.
Christian Ramirez, human rights director for Alliance, called the police conduct “outrageous” and said it “violated” the tradition of San Diego activists and police working together to ensure the safety of residents.
“I brought my child with me and to have riot police and small tanks in my neighborhood shows the huge disconnect between Mayor Faulconer and Police Chief Zimmerman and the impact of the militarization of police in America’s finest city,” Ramirez told the crowd.
Ramirez said the arrests and use of force was “an act of provocation” and could have been potentially “devastating” had the police clashed with residents in the neighborhood.
Organizer Kiki Ochoa said leaders of the protest told participants beforehand to be careful about their behavior so children, disabled people and elderly “abuelitas” could participate in the march safely.
The marchers made their way over to the convention center at about 1:30 p.m. Friday, Ochoa said, and peacefully protested outside the venue until police declared an unlawful assembly.
The activist groups hired their own security guards to keep people safe, but that still didn’t stop the police from using excessive force on minors and other residents of the heavily Latino-populated neighborhood, Ochoa said.
“What kind of training does the police have and what do they not have and desperately need?” Ochoa said. “Why is it so easy to bring militarized police into the Latino community, but not go into the Gaslamp?”
None of the protest organizers were arrested. At least 20 people in Barrio Logan were detained but not arrested, while three others were arrested in the neighborhood, Ramirez said. Minors under 18 were among those detained and arrested, according to Ramirez.
According to the SDPD’s Twitter page, 35 arrests were made during the Trump protest, with no property damage or injuries reported.
ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties Director Norma Chavez-Peterson said many San Diego residents are “completely shocked and outraged” at the police presence at Trump’s rally.
Chavez-Peterson pointed out that, when she helped organize the biggest protest ever held in San Diego in 2006, which drew more than 100,000 people, there was no “para-military” force by SDPD officers.
She also speculated that based on first-hand accounts of police officers moving pro-Trump supporters closer to protestors, it may have caused tension and “didn’t seem like an effective tactic.”
“Organizing peaceful protests has been part of our DNA for a long time, but something went wrong Friday. We can do better. We have done better,” Chavez-Peterson said.
The ACLU is working to document first-hand accounts of what happened and will help guide protestors who want to file complaints with the SDPD or file court complaints, according to Chavez-Peterson.
SDPD Public Information Officer Scott Wahl said the department is “proud of the professionalism, restraint and patience” displayed by officers he said “provided a safe environment to allow for the freedom of speech.”
“Our decision to declare an unlawful assembly came as a result of violent behavior and unlawful acts within the crowd of protestors. We are very pleased with the outcome of Friday’s event,” he said.
Wahl did not return phone and email requests to confirm the number of people arrested in the Barrio Logan neighborhood or other details of what instructions officers were given.
The mayor’s office did not return an email request for comment.
Photo courtesy of Gabriela Martinez Cordova/Alliance San Diego.