Protesters who assembled in downtown San Diego Sunday to call for justice in the death of George Floyd -- a black man who died Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck -- clashed with police officers who deployed tear gas to disperse what they called an "aggressive crowd."
"Unlawful assembly order being given in the area of Broadway. We are asking everyone to disperse immediately due to the escalation of violence by the protestors," the San Diego Police Department said on Twitter just before 3:30 p.m.
SDPD said tear gas was deployed to disband what remained of several hundred demonstrators that had gathered for the local "Justice for George" event. Flashbangs and pepper balls were also used, according to SDPD.
While the majority of demonstrators began to disperse throughout the streets of San Diego by mid-afternoon, a few defiant protestors sat or took a knee in front of a line of armored officers. Some threw rocks and bottles and vandalized police vehicles, according to SDPD.
The crowd from Broadway also made their way to the County Administration Building area and participated in an 8-minute moment of silence for George Floyd around 7 p.m. About 1,000 people were gathered in the field surrounding the waterfront building.
As the day turned to night, some people began breaking into stores and looting downtown. SDPD told people to clear the area, calling it an unlawful assembly due to acts of violence and vandalism.
Four people involved in the protest were arrested, said SDPD Lt. Shawn Takeuchi around 5:40 p.m. The arrests included two for failure to disperse and two for battery on a police officer. No officers were reported injured.
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After rocks and bottles were thrown at officers around 11:30 p.m., NBC 7's Joe Little counted at least 13 people being arrested at the intersection of First Avenue and G Street.
Earlier in the day, the demonstration started at the Hall of Justice on Broadway. At first, the crowd was peaceful, police said, as the protest moved through the streets of San Diego, with some members carrying "Black Lives Matter" signs. They headed towards SDPD headquarters at 15th and Broadway with a large contingent of police behind them.
"Crowd remains peaceful and are now at our headquarters. We will facilitate peaceful voices not violent acts," tweeted the San Diego Police Department.
Officials said the group then divided with a large crowd remaining at police headquarters while hundreds of protesters made their way to Interstate 5 via the E Street onramp.
Law enforcement blocked traffic to adjoining streets as the protest spread and the California Highway Patrol shut down the freeway.
After the marchers headed onto the freeway, police in Coronado announced that traffic on the Coronado Bay Bridge had been halted in both directions, though it was not clear if marchers were going to head toward Coronado Island.
There was tension in the air outside the police station where protesters chanted, "Don't shoot," and officers outfitted in riot helmets took up positions blocking three of the four entrances to the building.
NBC 7's Allison Ash heard one protester shouting, "Let's tear the b---- down," while others urged restraint, countering that they wanted an end to the violence of recent days.
Some were heard saying, "Keep it peaceful! Keep it peaceful!"
"There's no math to protest. There's no recipe to protest. Everyone's tried peacefully over decades and it was ridiculed,” Alexandra Scott told NBC 7. “What can you do? We pray that it stays peaceful, but a lot of people are angry.”
Bryan Scott of La Mesa was at Sunday’s demonstration in downtown San Diego and said they wanted their voices heard.
"We've been needing something like this and we're here to speak in peace," Scott told NBC 7. "Our voices are being heard. It's being heard in every state. If we just take a stand in a peaceful way, I think we'll get some answers at the end of the day."
San Diego resident Azikiwe Franklin said, for him, the demonstration represented a long history of injustice.
"Since 1619 to 2020, we are still being lynched by the hands of either white supremacy, police brutality and the justice system,” Franklin told NBC 7, holding back emotions. "Too many police have been getting off and we're upset. I'm doing my best to keep it calm, to keep it peaceful but at the same time you gotta understand our position and situation."
San Diego resident J’mani Vendely, only 10 years old, was also at the protest.
"They're doing this for black lives, for George Floyd, Martin Luther King, all the black people that have died and they're done,” the boy said. “They want justice."
There was a heavy police presence at the Hall of Justice on Sunday, a not-surprising development in the wake of unrest in La Mesa overnight, where the Union and Chase banks on Spring Street were burned. Other businesses were also looted Saturday night, including a Wal-Mart at Grossmont Center mall.
La Mesa residents were among thousands of Americans who began cleaning up charred and glass-strewn streets Sunday after a night of unrest fueled by rage over police mistreatment of African Americans destroyed businesses, damaged landmarks and raised tensions across a divided nation to the boiling point.
The chaos reached into every corner of the country, from Detroit to Atlanta to Los Angeles to Seattle, and the scars extended even to buildings near the White House. Some elected officials prepared to deploy additional National Guard troops, which were activated nationwide overnight, in anticipation of more turmoil.
Tens of thousands of people marched peacefully to protest Floyd's death. But many demonstrations sank into violence as night fell: Cars and stores were torched. The words "I can't breathe" were spray-painted all over buildings. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
The scale of the protests, including nearly every part of the country and unfolding on a single night, rivaled the historic demonstrations of the civil rights and Vietnam eras. And by Sunday morning, the fury had spread to Europe, where thousands gathered in London's Trafalgar Square, clapping and waving placards despite government rules barring crowds because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back in San Diego County, a curfew order was issued in La Mesa, effective from 7 p.m. Sunday to 7 a.m. Monday.
Over in east San Diego County, in Santee, city leaders issued a curfew order effective from 8 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday. No protests were planned in Santee, but a press release sent to NBC 7 by the city just before 5 p.m. said the curfew was a precaution, in direct response to what had happened in neighboring La Mesa the night before.
“On behalf of the City of Santee we are extremely saddened by the recent events that occurred in La Mesa and our deepest condolences go out to our neighbors,” the news release said. “We want to assure the Santee community, we are monitoring the situation. We have been working closely throughout the evening and today with the Santee Sheriff’s Station and the City’s emergency personnel, and we are prepared for any incidents that may arise in Santee.”
Over in Poway, demonstrators also gathered Sunday. The city of Poway issued an emergency curfew order, in effect from 8 p.m. Sunday until 5:30 a.m. Monday.
Curfews were also ordered by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department in unincorporated parts of the county, including Spring Valley, Lakeside, and parts of El Cajon.
By 4:35 a.m. Monday, the Coronado Bridge had reopened to traffic.