LA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Neighboring banks and a sleek, modern office building were burned to the ground by protesters in a San Diego suburb that was roiled last week by the arrest of a black man suspected of assaulting a police officer.
Windows were smashed at businesses in La Mesa's quaint, gentrifying downtown, including a jewelry shop, a Goodwill store, a Sotheby's real estate office and a popular bar. Television video showed people using baseball bats to smash windows and people running into stores and stealing items.
Chase and Union Bank branches across the street from the city's downtown trolley stop went up in flames. Two cars burned near City Hall.
City officials announced a curfew for Sunday night to try to head off more violence,
What began as a peaceful protest Saturday afternoon over George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police turned increasingly hostile as night fell. With buildings burning, San Diego police officers, aided by other local law enforcement agencies, walked shoulder to shoulder down La Mesa Boulevard around 2 a.m. Sunday.
They threatened arrest for unlawful assembly for anyone who didn't leave and the crowd ultimately dispersed.
La Mesa, a city of 60,000 that borders San Diego, was the location for the protest because of an incident Wednesday that saw an officer repeatedly push a black man onto a bench at the trolley station after saying the man had slapped his hand, according to citizen video of the incident posted on social media. The man is argumentative and at one point tells the officer to “shut the (expletive) up."
Other officers arrive and the man is handcuffed. At one point the man tells an officer he's being arrested because he's black. “That's what the issue is," he said.
The video doesn't show the alleged incident that preceded the arrest.
La Mesa police have not released details and said the officer is on leave while it's investigated.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the incident at the start of his coronavirus briefing Friday.
“We've made a lot of progress in this state but, my gosh, I was reminded again even this morning, incident down in San Diego — young man on a bench,” Newsom said. “Details of that are insignificant in the context of ... the magnitude of incidents of that kind that persist all across this county, that are not part of the conversation on the nightly news.”
Saturday's protest drew hundreds. It started at the police department and moved through downtown. At one point demonstrators briefly blocked traffic on Interstate 8. As day turned to night it became increasingly chaotic and stores were vandalized and looted. The Chase bank went up in flames around midnight.
Ally Kaiahua said she was exposed to tear gas as police attempted to disperse crowds.
“I think people are hurting and they’re angry and they’re trying to be heard because there’s no other way to get anyone’s attention,” Kaiahua, a 35-year-old white San Diego resident, said of the property damage. “It’s unfortunate but this has been part of our history and how things get done because they don’t listen any other way.”
Hundreds of volunteers with brooms filled the streets Sunday morning to clean up shattered glass and debris. Some painted over storefront graffiti, even though the colors didn't match.
La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis said Saturday night he and the City Council were "very upset and disheartened" and asked state officials for emergency assistance.
La Mesa borders El Cajon, where the fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer triggered days of unrest in 2016.
This story has been updated with the correct spelling of George Floyd's first name.
Associated Press writers Gregory Bull and Julie Watson contributed to this report.