Demonstrators rallied in front of a police station in San Diego’s East County Wednesday demanding a federal investigation into the deadly police shooting of an unarmed black man and the full release of a video that shows the encounter.
Signs in hand, protesters gathered at the El Cajon Police Department (ECPD) in their quest for answers into the fatal shooting of Alfred Olango, a refugee from Uganda. Olango, 38, emigrated to the U.S. in 1991 when he was 12 years old.
“We’re looking for procedural justice,” said Bishop Cornelius Bowser, of Charity Apostolic Church, at the rally. “We don’t want to see a still picture of him pointing something that was not a gun. We want to see the whole story, so put the whole video out.”
“These senseless killings have to stop – not just here in El Cajon, but in the entire country. We need answers, not just one photo that tells one side of the story,” said Estella De Los Rios, a longtime resident of El Cajon and civil rights activist.
The ECPD confirmed officers obtained video of the incident captured on a cell phone by an employee at a nearby taco shop. Police said the witness voluntarily turned that video over to investigators.
Officers with the ECPD are not currently outfitted with body-worn cameras.
From that clip shot by a bystander, the ECPD released a still image that they said shows why Olango appeared to be a threat to officers.
The photo shows the man in what police described as a “shooting stance,” pointing some sort of object at two officers. The ECPD has not said what that object was.
Rev. Shane Harris, of the National Action Network San Diego, said the image released by police does not reveal the full story of what transpired between officers and Olango. Other speakers at the rally said the release of the single photo only serves to "shape the narrative" of police.
“The nation’s eyes are watching us. America’s Finest City – it ain’t looking so fine right now,” Harris said.
According to the ECPD, officers approached Olango Tuesday just after 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the Broadway Village Shopping Center on Broadway after his sister called authorities to ask for help because her brother was “not acting like himself.”
Police said Olango was walking in and out of traffic and said the man was acting “erratically.”
ECPD Chief Jeff Davis said at a news briefing Tuesday that the officers who approached Olango told him to take his hands out of the pockets of his pants, but he allegedly “refused multiple instructions by the first officer on the scene” and kept his hands in his pockets.
The man then pulled an object from his pocket and pointed it at officers, assuming a “shooting stance,” Davis said.
The ECPD said one of the officers deployed a Taser on the man, while the other officer fired multiple rounds, striking and killing him.
Davis said the two officers involved in the shooting each have 21 years of service as police officers. Per standard department policy, both officers have been placed on leave, as the investigation is ongoing.
The shooting sparked uproar in the community amid racial tensions across the nation stemming from many other deadly shootings of unarmed black men by police officers, including the recent killing of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina.
At the rally Wednesday, locals addressed those tensions, including longtime El Cajon resident Eddie Price.
“I’ve been a black man for 56 years. The feelings that I’m feeling are not new,” said Price, saying that he’s been targeted by police his entire life for the color of his skin.
“I’m armed right now. I’m armed with the melanin in my skin and information in my mind. I’m armed and dangerous. That’s what I feel like, every time I see the police, I feel like I’m already armed and dangerous and I’m a suspect already,” Price explained. “That’s no way to live.”
Price also demanded justice in this case.
“We don’t want you to look at us like us. We want you to look at us like you. We want morals and humanity back in this society. I’m tired of walking around like I’m a target,” he said. “We need some action. Feel something.”
Price, along with other speakers, called for the news media to support the black community.
“It’s not just us against them,” added Price, referring to the police. “This goes into the morality of humanity. Everybody ought to be conflicted about this. Imagine if this was you.”
The rally was peaceful but became heated for a moment when Armand King, leader of the Paving Brighter Futures organization, stepped up to the podium.
“They murdered somebody last night. Somebody’s at home right now with their family, and someone is dead now,” said King. “This is just wrong.”
The crowd began chanting, “Murder! Murder!”
At that moment, a man in the crowd heckled King and he was shaken.
“We cannot respond to them,” said Christopher Rice-Wilson, of Alliance San Diego, who led the rally.
“Every time a black man is killed by police, it’s a message to us to stay in line. When we speak out, we’re told we don’t matter. Black lives matter. And if a black life doesn’t matter, then no lives matter. We’re supposed to be all equals,” said Rice-Wilson.
Mallory Webb, president of the San Diego Youth and College Division of the NAACP, also spoke briefly talking about her experience as a young black woman.
“I’m angry. I’m very angry and I’m hurt. That could be my little brother; that could be my twin sister any time. I don’t know what to do,” she lamented. “I’m scared to walk the streets every single day – I walk to school every single day – and why do I feel like I have to look behind bushes and hide behind trees? Because I could get shot and killed at any time.”
Fighting back tears, Webb added: “It’s not fair at all. Every life. I bleed the same color of blood as you do!”
As the young woman spoke, people in the crowd could be heard responding, “We’re all one nation!” and “We’re all human beings.”
Rice-Wilson said Olango was killed for three reasons: for being black, for being mentally ill and for not following orders from police.
“How do you expect a man who can’t understand your orders to follow your orders?” he asked the crowd.
Rice-Wilson criticized the ECPD for not calling for help from the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) during their encounter with Olango.
According to the 211 San Diego website, PERT “provides emergency assessment and referral for individuals with mental illness who come to the attention of law enforcement. PERT pairs licensed mental health clinicians with uniformed law enforcement officers and deputies.
“The PERT team should’ve been dispatched to handle and deal with Mr. Olango. Why did they not dispatch a PERT team?” said Rice-Wilson.
NBC 7 asked the ECPD about utilizing PERT in this case. Lt. Rob Ransweiler said at least one of the officers involved in the shooting had attended at three-day PERT training course. He said all officers who graduate from the police academy get some kind of PERT training.
Harris said he’s been in contact with Olango’s family and they plan to seek a federal investigation into the deadly police shooting.
“We do not trust local prosecutors to investigate local police,” said Harris. “You won’t have no peace until we get justice. We will not sit down and shut up!”
Agnes Hassan, a woman from Sudan who was friends with Olango, spoke briefly at the end of the rally and said Olango was a refugee from Uganda. They both moved to El Cajon in search of a better life and future for their families.
“We suffer too much – there was a war in Africa, to suffer again?” Hassan said with tears in her eyes. “If somebody has mental problem, how can you not deal with him with a mental problem? This is not right.”
“My heart is just broken,” she sobbed.
NBC 7 reached out to the ECPD Wednesday morning and the police department said it had no news conferences planned for today. No further details on the case were immediately released.
Harris said the officer who shot Olango has “a history,” but said he would be releasing those details at another news conference Thursday.