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Two videos show El Cajon police shooting as protests continue

Protests were scheduled to continue Saturday over the police shooting of Alfred Olango, a Ugandan refugee.

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    Pastor Richard Cisco Mendez, right, joins members of the community praying outside El Cajon Police Department station in El Cajon, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. Ministers led dozens of people in a prayer for unity, healing and peace Friday in a San Diego suburb following days of angry and sometimes violent protests over the police killing of an unarmed black man. A large protest is planned for Saturday.
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Alfred Olango, the unarmed black man shot and killed by police in a suburb of San Diego, will be remembered in a demonstration Saturday organized by clergy members and supporters of Olango's family.

The event comes a day after two videos of the shooting were released by authorities, something the family and community leaders in El Cajon had urged.

The videos show the officer fired four times at close range almost immediately after Olango, 38, suddenly raised both hands to chest level and took what was described as a shooting stance.

The shots came less than a minute after police arrived at the scene in response to Olango's sister calling 911 and reporting he was acting erratically.

The videos were released after nights of unruly and, at times, violent protests in El Cajon, On Thursday night, an officer was struck in the head by a brick hurled by a protester.

"Our only concern at this point was community safety," police Chief Jeff Davis said. "We felt that the aggression of some — some — of the protesters was escalating to the point where it was necessary to release some information and truly, it was my hope to relieve some of that concern."

A fourth night of protests on Friday remained peaceful at least for the first few hours, with about 200 people blocking intersections and at one point attempting to walk on to a freeway before police stopped them.

The Rev. Shane Harris of the civil rights organization National Action Network said the low-quality videos, shot at a distance, didn't clarify what led to the shooting and said they're likely to make people angrier.

"What we saw today, that isn't enough," said Harris, who is assisting Olango's family.

In addition to the videos, police showed the 4-inch electronic cigarette device Olango had in his hands when he was shot.

A lawyer for the family said they welcomed the release of the videos, but he questioned the tactics used by Officer Richard Gonsalves. Olango had been reported to be mentally disturbed and unarmed and yet Gonsalves approached with his weapon out, Dan Gilleon said.

"It shows a cowboy with his gun drawn provoking a mentally disturbed person," Gilleon said.

The incident is the latest in a series of fatal shootings of black men that have roiled communities across the U.S. It came weeks after fatal shootings by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Olango, a Ugandan refugee who arrived in the U.S. as a boy, had a criminal record that included drug and weapon charges but no violence. His family described him as a loving father and a joyful, happy person.

His mother said he suffered a mental breakdown recently after the death of his best friend. On Tuesday, his sister called 911 and reported he was acting strangely and walking into traffic by a strip mall.

The longer of the two videos released by police came from a surveillance camera in the drive-thru of a restaurant. It is roughly a minute, has no sound and police blurred out the heads of everyone in it.

Olango is seen walking through the parking lot and then stopping suddenly as Gonsalves approached, his weapon drawn at his side.

Olango, his right hand in his pants pocket, moved side to side and backed up toward a white pickup truck.

As Gonsalves moved in from the front, a second officer, Josh McDaniel, got out of a cruiser and approached from the side.

In the second video, taken on a cellphone by a witness in the drive-thru, Olango's sister is seen approaching Gonsalves from behind and a woman can be heard screaming at Olango to put up his hands and telling police not to shoot.

Olango then bent over and assumed the shooting stance and Gonsalves quickly fired four shots at close-range. A woman shrieked loudly as Olango fell forward.

That night, as an angry crowd protested outside police headquarters, Davis released a single image from the video showing Olango with his hands clasped in front and in the shooting stance. Police said he had ignored repeated orders to show his hands.

Davis defended the release and said it was intended to de-escalate tensions and correct what he felt was a "false narrative" that was developing. Some witnesses said Olango had his hands in the air and was begging not to be shot.

Andre Branch, president of NAACP San Diego, commended the city for releasing video. "Full disclosure to the public builds trust, and it demonstrates respect," Branch said.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported, this case highlights the challenge of police dealing with the mentally ill. 

Police reform advocates suggest that one approach that can help is crisis intervention training. About 12 percent of law enforcement agencies nationwide currently use these programs to teach police officers to treat individuals experiencing mental distress with care and compassion. Recognizing mental distress and knowing how to address it may help allay officers’ fears and prevent unnecessary shootings, advocates say.

A similar strategy could have helped save a life in this case, critics of the department say. Dan Gilleon, an attorney for the Olango family, told Reuters in a phone interview that officers should have taken cover and talked to Olango from a distance.

One law enforcement agency – the Los Angeles Police Department – takes this approach further, teaming police officers with trained counselors while on patrol. The effects of this program have been pronounced, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Noelle Swan reported in 2015.

This shooting also illuminates the changing face of a California community. The family of Olango is like thousands who have transformed the suburban San Diego city of El Cajon: Refugees from a strife-torn country.

The family of Olango fled Uganda to a refugee camp and then came to the United States in 1991. 

Olango's killing and subsequent angry protests have brought attention to El Cajon, a diverse, largely blue-collar city of 104,000 people that over the past two decades has absorbed a surge of refugees, many from Iraq and more recently from Syria.

Some signs on Main Street — a vibrant mix of furniture stores, clothing shops and restaurants — are in Arabic. Spanish is the primary language for nearly one of every four students in the Cajon Valley Union School District, while Arabic and Chaldean — spoken by Iraqi Christians — is the main language for more than one in 10.

Rob Goss, part-owner of a boxing gym on Main Street and a city resident for more than 10 years, credits Chaldeans for opening markets, gas stations and other businesses that have fueled economic growth.

"We're still in a curve of trying to get people on their own feet but it's happening," said Goss, 47. "They're adapting."

The influx has bred some tension. Mayor Mark Lewis was forced to resign in 2013 for derogatory remarks about Chaldeans.

"First time they come over here, it doesn't take them too long to learn where all the freebies are at," he said and then later apologized.

David Carter, a 64-year-old former construction worker who moved from Northern California four years ago to join his sister, is bothered by the subsidies that refugees receive while he struggles with cuts to government-funded health benefits that cover prescription drug, dental and other services.

"I don't resent the people but I resent what the government has allowed them," Carter said while relaxing outside the public library. "Our ancestors had to bust their butts to get anything. That's the American dream."

Jaffar Rahem, a 27-year-old Iraqi who works at Wal-Mart, said he came to El Cajon last year with his wife and two children because the U.S. is safer for them. He stayed for about a year in Utah and liked the people but said he moved to El Cajon to follow his father.

El Cajon, which means "drawer" or "big box" in Spanish, was incorporated in 1912 and became the largest of a swath of San Diego suburbs known as East County. Located in a valley, the absence of ocean breezes brings sweltering summers but home prices are on the lower end of the San Diego market, making it a draw for many families. Annual per-capita income is $20,430, well below San Diego County's $31,043.

The city, with a downtown community center named for Ronald Reagan, has long been bedrock Republican but the party's edge over Democrats in voter registration has narrowed to 3 percentage points.

There is no precise count of Iraqis in El Cajon but they have made San Diego their second-most popular metropolitan destination in the U.S. after Detroit. Whites make up a shrinking majority, while about a quarter of the city's residents are Latino, 6 percent are black, and 4 percent are Asian.

Refugees take English classes at the Main Street office of the International Rescue Committee, one of nine resettlement organizations in the country.

David Murphy, the committee's executive director in San Diego, said recently that refugees are often assigned to cities where they have family and friends or where there is an established community of immigrants who share their culture.

Last month, the 10,000th Syrian to resettle across the U.S. under a year-old program arrived in El Cajon.

Al Espinosa, a retired carpenter of part-Mexican descent and a resident since 1980, was heartbroken by Olango's death and how it linked the city to other places such as Ferguson, Missouri, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that have seen unrest after police shot and killed black men.

"I thought this would never happen here," said Espinosa, 69. "Now we're on the world stage."

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