Supporters and opponents of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have clashed Friday in the city of San Diego in California, as the business mogul brought his message of walls and deportations to the doorstep of America’s busiest border.
The scene inside the San Diego Convention Center during Trump’s speech was relatively placid, while outside demonstrators opposed to his controversy-ridden White House bid marched and chanted, carrying signs criticizing his rhetoric against illegal immigration.
The protest was one of the largest organized against him. More than 1,000 people turned out for anti-trump rallies in San Diego waving U.S. and Mexican flags. The city lies on the U.S.-Mexico border whose San Ysidro port of entry sees nearly 300,000 people a day cross legally between the countries.
San Diego is considered a binational city by many who live and work on opposite sides of the border, and about a third of the city’s population is Latino.
During Trump’s speech on Friday, some protesters outside the convention center scaled a barrier and lobbed water bottles at police. One man was pulled off the wall and arrested as others were surrounded by fellow protesters and backed away from the confrontation.
After the convention center emptied, clusters of Trump supporters and anti-Trump demonstrators began to mix in the streets, many exchanging shouted epithets and some throwing water bottles at one another.
Hundreds of riot police in military-style fatigues were deployed to deal with protesters. They declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and ordered the crowd to disperse, herding the crowd out of the city’s hotel and restaurant-filled Gaslamp Quarter.
San Diego police said on Twitter that 35 arrests were made during the protest. No property damage or injuries were reported, police said.
The protests were not as violent as those in Albuquerque on Wednesday had been, but they fall under a pattern of slowly escalating tensions as it dawns on the American public that the man who said immigrants from Mexico were “rapists” is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president.
Trump, for his part, has inflamed tensions; once saying he wanted to punch a protestor “in the face”, and at other times promising to pay the legal fees for his supporters if they assaulted protesters.
“Fantastic job on handling the thugs who tried to disrupt our very peaceful and well attended rally,” Trump tweeted to police afterwards.
Trump immigration policy and controversial political stances have yielded unintended aggressive results from all ends of the political spectrum. His so-called policy calls for the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants who reside in the United States.
Critics have said his plan is needlessly cruel and impossible to implement. At Trump’s campaign stops, attendees often chant “build the wall.”
While Trump is running unopposed in the June 7 California Republican primary, his stance on border control and deportation seems unlikely to resonate with the electorate at large in a state where political fallout from a Republican-backed crackdown on illegal immigrants 20 years ago cost the party dearly.
Friday was not the first time Trump has been greeted by civil unrest in California, which is home to the largest Latino population in the country. Late last month, a visit to the California Republican convention set off days of protests in the area, leading to several arrests.
Shortly before taking the stage in San Diego, Trump issued a statement ruling out a one-on-one debate with second-place Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders, who was also in California, killing off a potentially high-ratings television spectacle.
“As much as I want to debate Bernie Sanders – and it would be an easy payday – I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be,” the statement said.
Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, expressed disappointment on Friday, and sought to goad Trump into reconsidering.
“Well Mr Trump, what are you afraid of?” he said, calling the Republican nominee a “bully”.
Trump said the Democratic nominating process was “rigged” – and that Clinton and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Deborah Wasserman Schultz would not allow Sanders to win the nomination.
Sanders is trailing Clinton in the race to secure their party’s nomination, but opinion polls show he is slicing into her lead in California.
Clinton leads Trump by 4 percentage points in the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. Democrats nationally remain evenly split between Clinton and Sanders.