A protest that started peacefully Saturday afternoon ended in violence in La Mesa by early evening, with buildings and vehicles burned.
Police used tear gas and other non-lethal measure to prevent protesters from storming the La Mesa police headquarters.
The afternoon started with an estimated 1,000 people gathering outside the La Mesa police department, holding signs and demanding justice for George Floyd, the 46 year old black man who died when a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee against his neck, an incident that has sparked violent protests in major cities all across the country. The protest also followed a viral video a few days earlier of a white La Mesa police officer in a confrontation with a young black man at the Grossmont Trolley station. The man was not injured. The officer was placed on administrative leave.
The protesters walked from the La Mesa police department along University Avenue and pushed their way through a line of police officers to get to the on ramp to I-8 at Baltimore Drive and onto the freeway, forcing the closure of all the eastbound lanes and then after some marchers cross over the westbound side, those lanes were closed leading to miles of backed up traffic in both directions. Eventually, a line of law enforcement officers and vehicles forced them off the freeway
By late afternoon, many of the protesters began to leave, but several hundred headed back to the La Mesa Police Department building, About 6 p.m rocks started to be thrown at windows of the building and law enforcement officers used tear gas canisters and other non lethal measures to push the protesters away from the building. About an hour later, reports started coming in of violence and it turned into a riot..
Several vehicles, including a fire truck, were set on fire. Some rioters moved on to a Chase bank in downtown La Mesa, setting the building on fire inside and then the Union Bank next door was engulfed There also was a report of a fire inside a city building.
Looters and vandals smashed windows and went in and out of the Vons store and the Play It Again sporting goods store at the La Mesa Springs shopping center, carrying out items from diapers and baby formula to liquor and baseball bats. In a video of looters running in and out of the Vons, the walls outside could be seen covered with profane language. At Grossmont Center, the Walmart and Target stores had windows smashed with looting as well. It also happened at smaller stores in La Mesa.
At one point, dozens of San Diego police officers surrounded the Fashion Valley mall after posts on social media threatening to smash store fronts to steal merchandise.
WATCH BELOW: Outside of La Mesa’s American Legion Post 282, protesters lit an American flag on fire and ran it up the pole.
There was no immediate report on the number of arrests or whether any police officers were injured during the protest and violence.
(Photo credit reporting partner 10News)