The arrest of two political activists from San Diego sparked outrage and protests the night of July 27 when video of a violent encounter with local police officers was released online. One of the activists, Georgina Mercado, was arrested when she attempted to film an interaction with police; the officers accused her of interfering with their duties (misdemeanor obstruction) and arrested her when she continued recording. The other activist, Eddie Alvarez, arrived on scene and was arrested, and was also charged with felony obstruction for attempting to record the interaction. Videos from multiple sources show San Diego Police Department officers surrounding Alvarez as he was filming, chasing him, wrestling him to the ground and brutally beating him as he was held down by several officers. Alvarez was also charged with resisting arrest.
Shortly after the activists were taken into custody, the videos began to circulate online and community members sprang into action, rallying outside the central jail in downtown San Diego. Representatives from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Union Del Barrio, The Brown Berets, Food Not Bombs, Democratic Socialists of America, and other San Diego political organizations joined forces and called an emergency protest. Chants echoed through the streets as 50+ militant community members marched in a picket line and demanded the release of the activists, accountability from law enforcement, and an end to the corrupt system of mass incarceration for profit and militarized police. Within an hour, the DeDe McClure Community Bail Fund established an online donation site and with the help of supporters, the protesters were able to secure the release of the activists (held on $5,000 and $20,000 bail respectively) in the early hours of the morning.
The altercation and arrests took place in Chicano Park, a community space, open-air art museum and national historic landmark in the heart of San Diego’s Latino/Chicano neighborhood Barrio Logan. The park has irked local law enforcement since its inception in 1970; after the low-income neighborhood was split in two by an intrusive freeway, residents demanded compensatory improvements that would benefit the community. The state responded by planning to build a Highway Patrol station, and the neighborhood responded by physically occupying the land under the freeway and building the park themselves.
The Brown Berets de Aztlan, a Chicano community self-defense force founded in the 1960s, has regularly maintained a presence in the park since its founding. In addition to community-building activities for families and residents of Barrio Logan, the Berets regularly defend the park from right-wing street gangs who have targeted the park and community in the past because of its pro-Chicano, revolutionary character. Eddie Alvarez and Georgina Mercado are well-recognized figures in the neighborhood and defenders of the park. Eddie is also a longtime member of The Brown Berets de Aztlan, and Georgina is a volunteer, which is leading community members to ask questions concerning the political nature of the arrests.
Notably, the arrests of Eddie Alvarez and Georgina Mercado come just a week after a similar heated standoff with SDPD in Chicano Park. Police cadets scheduled a training exercise in the park which coincided with a street festival and community gathering, creating fear and tension among families in the park. Initial protests led to an additional police response and an intense verbal confrontation with community members.
Lt. Shawn Takeuchi issued a statement on Friday, saying the use of force was being investigated, and had occurred because Alvarez “refused to identify himself” when asked. Unfortunately for the San Diego Police Department, the sheer number of eyewitnesses as well as the substantial, widely-proliferated video evidence will make this controversy hard to cover up, especially in a city that has been plagued by a string of suspicious in-custody deaths and instances of brutality by law enforcement.
Although the community was able to mobilize quickly and get immediate material results, Eddie Alvarez and Georgina Mercado will need ongoing court support as they fight for justice in the legal system. SDPD is expected to make a statement regarding the incident and the officers involved later this week.