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2 Californians charged with hate crime for painting over BLM road mural

Black Lives Matter Plaza, Washington, DC. (Ted Eytan/Flickr)

The Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office has charged a pair of residents with misdemeanor vandalism charges, including a hate crime, for involvement in Saturday’s defacement of a city-sanctioned ‘Black lives matter’ mural outside a courthouse, authorities said.

The mural, approved on a temporary basis July 1 by city officials, had just been completed outside the Wakefield Taylor courthouse in the 700 block of Court Street when two people, identified Tuesday as David Nelson, 53, and Nichole Anderson, 42, arrived with their own supplies and began to paint over the “B” and “L” with black paint using a large roller.

The pair’s confrontation, captured on video, spread widely across social media, and drew additional attention after a gunman was arrested after confronting mural visitors Sunday.

 

In a statement, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton decried the vandalism in no uncertain terms.

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“We must address the root and byproduct of systemic racism in our country. The Black Lives Matter movement is an important civil rights cause that deserves all of our attention,” Becton said.

“The mural completed last weekend was a peaceful and powerful way to communicate the importance of Black lives in Contra Costa County and the country. We must continue to elevate discussions and actually listen to one another in an effort to heal our community and country.”

Nelson and Anderson were each charged with vandalism under $400, possession of tools to commit vandalism under $400 and violation of civil rights, and could face up to a year in county jail if convicted. Because the charges are misdemeanors, the pair face no specific bail amount due to the county’s bail schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement Tuesday evening, a city spokesman said police responded shortly before noon to the 900 block of Howe Road for a report of the words “white lives matter” painted in white letters across the roadway. When officers arrived, they found and spoke with a woman who was unlawfully painting over the letters with black paint. Police were still working to identify the original painters and to eventually forward a case to the district attorney’s office for review.

And in a separate statement, Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder spoke to several days’ worth of incidents, including the distribution of flyers specifically threatening Black Lives Matter supporters, around what he described as “racial tensions and matters of free speech.”

Schroder said the city had received other requests for temporary city-street murals, which he believed merited different consideration from the “Black Lives Matter” mural.

“The City made a determination that a swift response to hateful rhetoric required a more timely consideration of the BLM permit,” Schroder said in part. “Doing so was consistent with and in furtherance of the City Council’s commitment to support equity and justice for all and to send a clear statement rejecting the prior week’s hateful flyers. The City supports the intended message of the BLM mural, namely, that all persons, no matter their race, are entitled to be treated with equality in our society.”

Schroder said the city would weigh a program for future placement of “murals or other expressions” in support of social justice and racial equality.

“These are challenging times in our nation, our state, and our City. I am proud of our community and our shared belief in the equal worth of all people, and our City’s efforts to set an example of how we live up to that moral imperative,” he said.

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© 2020 the Contra Costa Times