A community memorial for Toby Diller set up with help from the San Diego Incendiary Support Committee
By Nélida Tello
On January 31, the San Diego Incendiary Support Committee joined community members to host a memorial to honor the life of Toby Edward Diller, 31, murdered by the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) on January 24, in the neighborhood of Oak Park.
Toby was murdered on the 2900 Block of 54th Street around 3:45pm by police officer Devion Johnson, while the officer’s partner Benjamin Downing wrestled with Toby on the ground.
Neighbors recognized the brutal and excessive force used by SDPD for a simple arrest, telling Incendiary that Toby was shot while enjoying his Friday, drinking a beer to wind down. Najaiah, a resident of the apartments in front of the murder scene, said that Toby was holding only his beer at the moment of the arrest, and that he was shot while face down.
In the week following the murder, the support committee informed neighbors and community members of the memorial that would take place on Friday, flyering in the neighborhood and speaking at a local community theater.
At the memorial, a member of the support committee read a speech written in honor of Toby’s life before a small crowd, mostly composed of Toby’s family, friends, and loved ones.
“We are gathered today because we recognize the injustice of Toby’s murder and the police violence that happened before us last Friday,” the speaker read. “The people of Oak Park see right through the lies of SDPD! Recognizing that the police do not serve the working people of Oak Park, and instead roam the streets of Oak Park terrorizing its residents […] Many have told us that they hardly ever rely on the police when in need, because they never show up and when they do they are afraid of police unnecessarily escalating a situation.”
In the officers’ reports, they allege that Toby sprinted during their initial contact, causing the officers to give chase, at which point officer Downing wrestled Toby to the ground. Downing claims that during this struggle on the ground, Toby ripped the gun from his holster. He alerted his partner to this, at which point Officer Johnson fired a fatal shot at Toby. The police intentionally distort facts and lie in their reports, and are not to be seen as credible.
SDPD withheld all information regarding the fatal shooting for three days, informing the Diller family of Toby’s murder on Monday. At the time of publication, no full police report has been released, and it remains unclear if the officers had their body cameras on.
A smart street light, a camera that records 24/7 and stores footage for five days before being overwritten, sits on the light post on the corner where Toby was murdered. It is unknown whether the footage will be accessed or used during the investigation but one thing remains clear, no legislative reform or camera will stop the police’s brutality against the working class, in particular heavily-policed working class Black people, Chicanos, and immigrants.
During the memorial, the speaker from Incendiary further stated that the police sustain the democracy of the rich, one that depends on the exploitation of the working class. The speaker connected Toby’s murder to other anti people crimes committed by police officers in San Diego.
The speaker ended by echoing the call made by Oak Park residents of “policing the police,” urging residents to go further, organizing independent of and against the police. She explained that police violence cannot be reformed away and how the implementation of body cameras has not stopped the murders and abuse at the hands of the police across the country. Last year, California passed AB 392, which allows for the continued use of deadly force with supposed stipulations, yet the SDPD will state that they had no option but to shoot Toby who they claim possessed Downing’s gun, which witnesses refute.
Following the speech, Nikita Diller, Toby’s older sister, embraced the speaker and thanked the crowd for the support for her family. Incendiary encourages its readers to donate to Toby’s funeral funds here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/california-love-toby