Community rallies to clean up streets after La Mesa riots

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LA MESA, Calif. (CNS) – The La Mesa community joined Sunday to help clean up La Mesa Village downtown after a night of looting and arson, with roving bands of looters smashing windows, torching businesses and eluding police.

A crowd of rioters estimated to number as high as a thousand blocked Interstate 8 in both directions. What began as a demonstration escalated to vandalism and looting by nightfall, authorities said Sunday.

Complete coverage of unrest around the nation here

A cleanup of downtown, organized by the Public Square Coffee House at 8278 La Mesa Blvd., began at about 9 a.m. Sunday with hundreds of La Mesa residents arriving with brooms and paint, owner Aaron Henderson said.

“They cleaned up in about an hour,” Henderson said. “It was overwhelming to see this community come together.”

All the graffiti was cleaned up and store windows were boarded up, Henderson said.

An official GoFundMe page has been set up to help rebuild businesses affected by the riots. All proceeds from the fundraiser, organized on behalf of the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce Foundation, will go directly to small businesses that were destroyed or damaged.

On Saturday, a crowd took over the La Mesa Police Department parking lot at 2:30 p.m. to protest the Wednesday detainment of a man at the Grossmont Transit Center.

The man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer.

The encounter was videotaped and appeared on social media.

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