DEL MAR — Every Fourth of July for the past 37 years, a group of North County residents have brought a fleet of inflatable rafts to the Del Mar beach for a floating bacchanal.
But in the wake of a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic and weeks of Black Lives Matter protests, the group of mostly high school friends, including Del Mar Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland, chose to do something different.
This year, members of the holiday regatta chose to march in honor of their friend and former NFL linebacker Adolphus Demetrius “Demo” DuBose, who was shot 12 times (five times in the back) and killed by two San Diego police officers on July 24, 1999, following an altercation in Mission Beach.
One of the group’s founding members and former commodore (each year, the group selects a new leader or “commodore”), Chris Goldsmith, president of Belly Up Entertainment in Solana Beach, said many questioned whether they should even have its annual celebration.
“There is so much going on in the world right now with social justice, and it just felt a little bit out of touch with how we’re all personally feeling, and certainly how the country is feeling,” Goldsmith said.
However, the group realized they each had a connection to racial injustice after the death of DuBose, a former Del Mar resident, two decades earlier and decided to pay him tribute.
After speaking with members of DuBose’s family and other friends, the group made t-shirts featuring a picture of “Demo” and wore them as they walked from the intersection of South Cedros Avenue and Cofair Avenue to access the beach on 23rd Street in Del Mar.
Upon arriving at the beach, the group walked to the shoreline, took a knee and sang a rousing version of the national anthem before commencing with festivities.
“(DuBose) was just a wonderful person, a warm, friendly, funny person,” Goldsmith said. “He very quickly became a part of our social fabric. He was a really neat person to be around and brought a lot of positive energy.”
In 1993, DuBose was drafted 34th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993. After four seasons, Dubose had signed with the New York Jets in 1997 as a free agent, but he was waived by the team several months later.
Goldsmith recalled after being cut from the Jets until shortly before DuBose’s death, the former Notre Dame star had fallen on some hard times.
Eventually, the 6’1’, 235-pound athlete moved to Mission Beach to live with his friend Randy West and started playing competitive beach volleyball.
On July 24, 1999, Dubose had been partying with friends when he mistakenly entered the apartment next door to West’s apartment. Witnesses said Dubose seemed under the influence of drugs, which was later confirmed after a toxicology report found cocaine, alcohol and ecstasy (MDMA) in his system.
The neighbor asked Dubose to leave and called the police. Shortly after West and Dubose seemingly resolved the situation with West’s neighbor, two SDPD officers had responded to the scene of a reported burglary in process.
Initially, Dubose was cooperative with law enforcement. However, the situation intensified when officers attempted to handcuff Dubose and place him under arrest. Dubose fled down an alleyway and was chased by police.
According to police statements, Dubose wrestled with both officers, eventually gaining possession of their nunchakus (a martial arts weapon) and began attacking them.
Both officers opened fire. Dubose was pronounced dead at 9:14 p.m. at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.
Much like the death of George Floyd, Dubose’s death caused outrage in the African American community. However, subsequent investigations into the officer-involved shooting found both officers were “legally justified” in the fatal incident, despite one witness’s account that Dubose was walking away from police and shot from behind.
Gaasterland, who attended the event with her husband, said the march this year to honor Dubose and acknowledge that his death at the hands of police wasn’t necessary.
“We want to demonstrate to his family and say we’re sorry that it happened,” Gaasterland said. “Hopefully we’ll have a better world going forward.”
In response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests across North County, Gaasterland said the Del Mar City Council submitted a letter to the San Diego County Sheriff’s department that outlined some changes they wanted to see with the department, such as better community policing, crisis intervention and violence prevention.
“I really want to see change of a different sort,” Gasterland said.
Gaasterland rode her bicycle outfitted with “Black Lives Matter” and “Wear a Mask” signs, which she has printed with donations from residents to spread both messages. Gaasterland said she hoped Independence Day would offer people a chance to reflect on equality and fairness for everybody.