SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. —
Following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, nationwide protests spread to San Diego County the last weekend of May.
That weekend was also rife with vandalism, police confrontation and more than a hundred arrests in La Mesa and downtown.
Since then, protests have remained relatively peaceful with only a few arrests made. One woman notably, arrested by plainclothes detectives and taken away in an unmarked van, resulted in an investigation announced by San Diego Police Department Chief David Nisleit.
Despite these isolated instances of confrontation, police and demonstrator tensions have remained low. There have even been recorded instances of demonstrators self-policing themselves in order to keep the protest peaceful.
The decline in confrontations between authority and protesters is no coincidence.
Organizers have seemingly come out of the woodwork, mobilized on Twitter and Instagram - making the entire protest-organizing process expeditiously efficient while their organizing methods have brought safety to protests.
Rashanna Lee was one of the first demonstrators on the ground at the La Mesa protest, when she and an acquaintance said they were gunned down with rubber bullets and tear-gassed.
Lee and that same acquaintance showed up to downtown the next day. At sundown, the protest turned violent with police advancing with tear-gas and rubber bullets on aggravated protestors. It was at that moment that Lee knew there had to be a better way to mobilize this movement.
“We did not want people to have to go through that, so we figured, ‘hey if we create a central location where our team is able to vet these protests that come out,’” Lee said.
From violence following protests in La Mesa and downtown, came the Twitter account, SD PEACEFUL PROTESTS #BLACKLIVESMATTER.
Lee, along with 13-15 volunteers, started the twitter account to filter the influx of demonstrations being planned all throughout the county and vet them for legitimacy.
The volunteers come from all backgrounds, according to Lee, who is now the lead organizer of the group. They are law professionals, public relations experts and people with local protesting experience.
The purpose of this group, according to Lee, is to make sure organizers have everything they need. From permits to police contacts, supplies and medical supervision, to just people on the ground to help get the word out — anything to keep people “COVID safe but also see what their plan is for keeping people safe otherwise.”
“We know what happens when things don’t go peaceful and we’re trying to shield people from that as much as we can,” Lee said.
Sometimes this team will have to take on the position of the organizer if a planned demonstration seems like it needs that kind of support.
Lee said she doesn’t have a lot of protest organizing experience. Yet, her and the SD PEACEFUL PROTEST #BLACKLIVESMATTER Twitter account team took a lead role in the June 6 protest that saw thousands of people march from downtown to North Park and back — something Lee said was “insane to even pull off.”
According to Lee, that protest was originally planned by one person and needed the support from the SD PEACEFUL PROTEST #BLACKLIVESMATTER team to make sure thousands of people could march successfully.
Sometimes if a planned protest does not supply enough information, it can raise red flags to the SD PEACEFUL PROTEST #BLACKLIVESMATTER team. And because most of these protests come from random organizers, according to Lee, it is important to make sure these demonstrations are legitimate and not a set up for disaster.
When flyers were sent out for a protest in Point Loma near Pechanga Arena, the twitter team went to work to verify the demonstration.
When Lee and her team heard rumors about the Point Loma protest being a setup for violence, they did not take it lightly.
“We were worried because Point Loma has a history of harboring white supremacists and members of the KKK,” Lee said.
That Point Loma protest, though discouraged on social media, turned out to have a few hundred people and was peaceful according to Leila, a high schooler who organized the event.
Leila, who requested News 8 not to use her last name, is a student at Point Loma High School. She said that racism from other students at her school prompted her to create the Instagram account, pointlomablacklivesmatter619.
Leila said that because of their inexperience in holding demonstrations, there was a miscommunication as to the validity of their protest.
“People were DMing me left and right saying that we have no proof we are actual kids," she said.
Getting a permit, according to Leila, was troublesome as there were miscommunications among the organizing group — leading to more confusion among potential protesters.
Not having a protesting permit, according to Lee, is a red flag.
Still, Lee and her team wanted to make sure the protest organized by Leila went smoothly.
“I was there and we sent a few medics,” Lee said. “We were worried about that one… we got there and everything turned out to be fine.”
Leila said she has received numerous requests to host another protest, and Lee said she and her team hope to organize more protests in addition to vetting the already existing ones.