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A year ago, Carmel Valley residents rallied for equal justice. They’re still at it.

A racial justice rally held by the Carmel Valley for Equal Justice group at the corner of Del Mar Heights and El Camino Real
The Carmel Valley for Equal Justice group held a racial justice rally at the corner of Del Mar Heights and El Camino Real Road in Carmel Valley on May 22, 2021. The group has been there every Saturday for a year following the murder of George Floyd.
(Ariana Drehsler/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Carmel Valley for Equal Justice has protested at the same street corner every Saturday since George Floyd’s murder

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, a small group of San Diegans took to the streets of Carmel Valley last May to decry the killing and show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

They’re still there, one year later, and they say they’re not going away any time soon.

Carmel Valley for Equal Justice is made of neighbors and others who’ve returned each Saturday near the entrance to One Paseo mall, waving signs meant to remind passersby of the racial inequality that runs deep in the U.S.

Nearly all of them are White, and they openly acknowledge that they enjoy a level of privilege and security many people of color don’t. Through their efforts, they hope to get others to recognize that, too.

The group has stuck it out through a tumultuous year that has included, among other things, additional police killings of Black people, a contentious election and the worst pandemic in a century. Through it all, they feel they’ve made a small contribution toward raising awareness.

“We’re paying attention, and I want people to pay attention to what’s happening locally and more widely,” said member Donna Kaiser, 69. “We need to stay focused. We need to stay critical. We need to keep reading the newspaper, paying attention to our elected officials.”

Nick and Liz Gekakis launched the group in May 2020 after attending a local rally in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing. The couple came home feeling good about their participation but also felt that a one-time event wasn’t enough. So they returned to the intersection of El Camino Real and Del Mar Heights Road the next week. And the next. And the next.

Just when the couple considering stopping, they heard about the killing of another Black man — Rayshard Brooks, who was shot by a police officer in Atlanta. Police were initially called after Brooks was reported sleeping in his car while in the drive-thru lane of a Wendy’s in June 2020.

Gil Field, left, and Sheila Burke attend a racial justice rally held by the Carmel Valley for Equal Justice group
Gil Field, left, and Sheila Burke attend a racial justice rally held by the Carmel Valley for Equal Justice group at the corner of Del Mar Heights and El Camino Real Road in Carmel Valley on May 22, 2021.
(Ariana Drehsler/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“At that point, I told my wife, ‘You’re right, we have to keep it up. We have to keep the pressure on,’” said Nick, 58, a community college biology teacher. “We’ve been out there every weekend since.”

Along the way, they’ve enlisted some help, including Gil and Pat Field. The couples are neighbors and good friends, and the Fields are no strangers to activism. Back in 2007, the couple spent 69 straight weeks demonstrating against the Iraq War, not stopping until Barack Obama was elected president.

Other longtime neighbors and friends soon joined, and the group now has eight to 10 regulars. At times, that count has reached around 20 participants, with several students joining last year.

There have been countless protests against racial inequality over the past year, many of them large and led by people of color. By comparison, most of the Carmel Valley group is White, in line with the demographics of the area. Carmel Valley is about 56 percent White, 30 percent Asian, 7 percent Hispanic and 2.5 percent Black, according to the Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey.

“Carmel Valley is absolutely a bubble. And so we’d like to bring a little bit of reality to the bubble from time to time,” said Gil Field, 64, a retiree who has lived in the region for 24 years. “It’s being White. It’s being affluent. It’s coming from privilege.”

The group’s signs draw attention to the nation’s racial divide with messages ranging from “Indifference is privilege” to “Racism is also a pandemic” to “Stop the war on Black people.”

One sign said “Stop killing black people,” with a sign below that read, “and Asians,” a reference to a spate of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic.

The responses to those messages this Saturday — just days before the one-year mark of Floyd’s death — were mixed, though mostly positive. Some drivers honked their horns and waved in approval, though a few gave the group the middle finger. One person shouted, “You are liars” while driving off, while another praised them.

On other days, joggers have stopped to tell the group they’ve sparked important conversations. Some onlookers have even brought doughnuts and coffee.

The rallies have taken on special significance at certain points over the past year, according to Sheila Burke, 68.

“Right after Biden was elected, those weekends, you had a lot more people waving and beeping,” she said, “like hope sprang and they wanted to come out and be known for being on that side of history.

The passage of Measure B, which calls for the creation of a more independent police oversight commission, felt like another major victory during election season, added Nick Gekakis.

He’s unsure how much longer the weekly rallies will continue, saying that will be a group decision. But Gekakis adds that the group will always fight for social justice in one way for another.

“It never ends. I don’t think we’re going to disband,” he said. “We’re not going to stop. We just might branch out and do some different things, express ourselves in different ways.”

— Jonathan Wosen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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