MARTINEZ, Calif. (AP) - Hundreds of anti-racism protesters demonstrated peacefully Sunday in a San Francisco Bay Area city where two people were charged with hate crimes after defacing a city-sanctioned “Black Lives Matter” mural.
At one point during the protest, a man in the crowd shouted “all lives matter,” setting off a brief verbal conflict with demonstrators before the man left.
“A lot of us are here today to say that we will not stand for hate in this city,” said demonstrator Kirsten Watson, an educator. She was among the vast majority of protesters wearing masks because of the coronavirus.
Activists organized Sunday’s march after police found flyers threatening Black Lives Matter supporters in the name of a white-power group, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Before the demonstration police were concerned about violence and asked the protesters and counter-protesters to postpone, but both sides declined. Many businesses boarded up windows as a precaution.
In a letter to the community posted to social media on Saturday Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal said he learned that counter-protesters may come with the intention of “protecting the community from protesters or protecting the police officers working the event.” He urged people not to come to the city armed.
“Bringing a weapon of any kind to a peaceful protest or illegally carrying a weapon into our community could serve as a flashpoint for an escalation of events,” Sappal said.
Only a handful of counter-demonstrators showed up Sunday.
“Tensions are high - people are just on edge,” Che Travers told the Chronicle. She hung “Martizians for Black Lives” signs on the door of the art shop she owns down the street from the 165-foot Black Lives Matter mural that David Nelson, 53, and Nicole Anderson, 42, attempted to paint over on July 4.
Nelson and Anderson, who live in Martinez, were charged Wednesday, the same day that police in Martinez were called to investigate after someone painted “White Lives Matter” on a city street. Detectives were searching for witnesses and video surveillance, officials said.
A viral video showed the woman, identified as Anderson, dumping a bucket of black paint and rolling over the mural’s freshly painted yellow block letters. A man, identified as Nelson, says on camera that racism is “a lie” and that “all lives matter.”
Martinez is a city of about 38,000 people 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.
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