SAN DIEGO - The message a friend sent Pastor Byron Richardson was urgent: Get to La Mesa, Calif. A protest there could get ugly. Come help broker peace.
Just days earlier, on Memorial Day, George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Protests were held across the country. In San Diego County, people also protested the arrest of a Black man at a La Mesa trolley station, a videotaped encounter that many pointed to as an example of mistreatment and racial injustice by law enforcement.
That anger exploded on May 30. Thousands gathered in front of La Mesa's police station, where they faced officers in tactical gear. Richardson raced to the front, wedged himself between police and protesters, then paced back and forth.
The pastor stood in the gap between them.
"Things got out of hand," Richardson said recently, noting that later that night some people within the crowd became violent and destructive. "Buildings started burning because no one was willing to talk. That kind of infuriated me."
Within days, Richardson teamed with Pastor Bryon Barmer to form Stand in the Gap - the gap between police and the community. The group is made up of 18 or so like-minded people of faith, primarily men. Most were attending Barmer's weekly fellowship group via Zoom as a means of protecting themselves against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of them are Black. Many of them are former law enforcement.
Barmer, president of the fledgling group, spent 28 years as a San Diego police officer. Fellow member Tony McElroy spent 32 years on the force, retiring as a captain.
They said the goal of the group is to get police leadership at the same table as the community leaders demanding policing reform and to get them talking.
Stand in the Gap appears to have won the ear - and the trust - of police chiefs throughout the county.