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Peaceful Chicano Park gathering to defend murals turns into rally

Protesters for and against Chicano Park murals gather in mild stand off under Coronado bridge.
Photo credit:
Khopper Evans

Last week an event described as a "Solidarity Gathering in Chicano Park" was posted to Facebook in an effort to peacefully assemble supporters of the park to defend its place in San Diego's Latin community and history.  

It's reported that "local Patriots," who want to remove the cultural murals, heard of the gathering on Sunday and came out as well.

In a report from San Diego Free Press they say conservative extremists tout the murals are representative of “huge monument honoring Communism and La Raza ultra nationalism." These remarks are in response to the recent removal of a Confederate plaque in Horton Plaza.  

Local African American activist Khopper Evans was at the gathering on Sunday and told SDGLN about five "white supremacists" showed up but their voices were drowned out by hundreds of park supporters. 

Minister Chris Harris of the St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church says he was invited to the gathering by the San Diego Police Department to help ease tensions and keep the peace. In a Facebook post from the event, he said the "supremacists"  were out numbered 500 to one. 

However, the organizer of the “Patriotic Picnic” event against the murals, Roger Ogden, told Fox 5 he is not a racist or a part of any extremist group, he and a few of his followers were simply there to tour the park.

“We weren’t going down to destroy the murals or anything. We were just going down to have a look in a public park," said Ogden. “They should move it somewhere else on private property or whatever but the city should not fund subversive revolutionary anti-American art on that public land.”

But some believe their attendance was no coincidence. 

Mario Chacon with the Chicano Park Steering Committee said, “There was some social media expressions attempting to gather some extremist, white supremacists to come to the park to scope it out - almost like a reconnaissance mission for future action. "

Khopper Evans, who says he will run for mayor in 2020, told SDGLN there seemed to be an additional division amid park supporters which involved himself and San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman who was also in attendance. 

"She walked right past me and I said hello to her," Evans said. "Chief Zimmerman then shook my hand and gave me a hug saying hello good friend. The Chicano community was not having that at all. Five to eight people rush over to myself and chief Zimmerman and a Lieutenant along with two other officers, yelling and demanding that the police stay out of the park."

He says the chief was escorted away, while a few officers who remained continued to be "bashed." Evans says he stepped in between the peaceful protestors and law enforcement to "To de-escalate the situation." He adds "It was a fail. The communication is broken within the community. Law-enforcement and white supremacist wasn't welcome at all."

He says local news crews who were trying to capture video of the event were also "chased" away.

Evans said of the event, "Honestly the message was there but people's purpose wasn't."

There have been no reports of injuries or violence following the event.