A brief but explosive shouting match erupted at Chicano Park Sunday afternoon between hundreds of park supporters and a small, right-wing group that had recently criticized the park's iconic murals.
The tense exchange happened as about a half-dozen people gathered for an event they called the Patriot Picnic. The group planned to eat lunch at the Barrio Logan landmark before taking a tour of the murals, Roger Ogden, one of the organizers, said in an email.
Ogden, who is behind a network of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant websites and social media accounts, said an email campaign has been started to get some of the artwork removed.
The effort comes soon after city officials quickly removed a Confederate plaque from Horton Plaza Park in downtown San Diego, following similar removals across the country.
Word spread about the picnic, and a counter-demonstration, dubbed the Solidarity Gathering at Chicano Park, was planned for noon. Hundreds of people attended to show their support.
Dozens of speakers, including faith leaders and community activists, addressed the cultural significance of the space and the importance of protecting it. The park, which has been a symbol of community and Latino activism for decades, was designated a National Historic Landmark in January.
"This is who we are as Latinos," said Tania Marquez, gesturing to the park around her. "It talks about the struggles of the people through the years. It's identified as a place of community, of coming together, and knowing your roots. It has great significance."
Marquez is part of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego on Front Street.
Other speakers talked about the importance of standing unified in the face of hateful, racist rhetoric.
"There's people coming here and trying to promote divisiveness and hate and the community has come together to say this is our park, our community," said Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, an immigrant rights group. "There [was] blood, sweat and tears to create this space for our families and we're not going to allow people to come here and promote the worst of the American spirit."
Five people showed up for the Patriot Picnic shortly after 1 p.m. After opening up a couple boxes of pizza, Ogden began waving at counter-demonstrators on the other side of the street. The right-wing group was soon swarmed by park supporters.
One attendee, Arthur Schaper, said in a video posted to Facebook that he'd seen pictures of park murals on the Internet that he felt were anti-police and anti-American, and that he wanted to see them for himself. He volunteers for the California Republic Party, according to his social media accounts.
"What is happening in this country when American citizens cannot visit a park in their own state, in their own country, without threats and violence perpetrated against them?!" Schaper said in an email after the event.
A ring of about a dozen officers surrounded the group. Less than 10 minutes later, police advised the group they should leave and the males were escorted away. The crowd briefly took to the street to follow, chanting "fuera," Spanish for "get out."
More than two dozen San Diego police officers were visible in the surrounding area during the two events. Chief Shelley Zimmerman also was present.