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Martinez residents charged with hate crime in painting over Black Lives Matter mural

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 7/8/2020 By Mallory Moench
a person walking down the street: A couple seen on YouTube painting over a Black Lives Matter mural in Martinez on Sunday, July 5, 2020. © YouTube A couple seen on YouTube painting over a Black Lives Matter mural in Martinez on Sunday, July 5, 2020.

Two Martinez residents — one of whom called racism a lie — face hate crime and other charges in connection with the painting over of a Black Lives Matter mural, an act that was caught on video.

The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office on Tuesday filed misdemeanor charges against Nicole Anderson, 42, and David Nelson, 53, both of Martinez. Each faces charges of violating another person’s civil rights, vandalism, and posession of tools to commit vandalism. If convicted, each could face up to a year in county jail.

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

The pair were captured on a now-viral video where the woman, later identified as Anderson, dumped a bucket of black paint and began to roll over freshly-painted yellow block letters spelling out Black Lives Matter in front of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse on July 4. A man, identified as Nelson, said on camera that racism is “a lie” and that “all lives matter.” Both people appear to be white.

“We’re sick of this narrative. That’s the problem. The narrative of police brutality, the narrative of oppression, the narrative of racism. It’s a lie,” the man said. “No one wants Black Lives Matter here.”

Kerry Leidich witnessed and recorded the incident in a video shared by police. He told The Chronicle he had been on the street to admire the mural with his son and girlfriend. He said he was shocked and his girlfriend, who is Black, was traumatized by the incident.

Mayor Rob Schroder released a statement Tuesday explaining that the city approved the mural as a show of support after police discovered fliers with hate speech threatening Black Lives Matter supporters in the name of an organization “White Pride World Wide” near downtown on June 27.

“Martinez does not tolerate hate-related crimes and as a community, we need to stand together to promote unity and acceptance of all people,” Schroder said in an earlier statement. “This hateful, hurtful, and offensive act does not and will never define our City.”

Schroder said a community group called Martizians for Black Lives asked the city to expedite a permit to paint the temporary Black Lives Matter mural outside the courthouse in response to the fliers.

“Approval of the use of our streets sends a message to all that African Americans and other people of color are equal members of our community and hateful rhetoric will be actively rejected by our City,” Schroder said.

But in less than a week, the Black Lives Matter mural was painted over and someone brandished a firearm at the mural site in a separate incident, Schroder said. He said it’s “his sincere hope that our community’s expression of support for some members of our community does not unnecessarily stir up anger in others” and that the city is considering permanent murals.

On Tuesday, Martinez police were searching for a person who illegally painted “White Lives Matter” in white letters just a couple miles away from the downtown “Black Lives Matter” mural. Police also detained a person who was found painting over the illegally painted “White Lives Matter” sign.

Just before noon on Tuesday, officers said, they responded to a report of the lettering and caught a woman covering it up with black paint. She was detained at the scene, but because she had a child with her, was released after police identified her. Martinez police sent her case to the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office for review.

Mallory Moench is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mallory.moench@sfchronicle.com Twitter:@mallorymoench

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