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Nakenya Allen said she was disappointed that more of her Martinez neighbors didn’t take part in Sunday’s “Black Lives Matter” protest in her city.
But she was heartened nonetheless at the estimated 2,000 protesters who did come, many from around the Bay Area.
“We have some very bold bigots in this town,” said Allen, who is Black. “We definitely have a lot of work to do in this town.
“But at least we’ve got everybody’s attention,” Allen told the rally crowd. “This is my town, and this is my fight now.”
The marchers put up with 100-degree temperatures to walk from in front of the Justice Wakefield Taylor Courthouse on Court Street downtown — the site of the city’s “Black Lives Matter” mural — to the rally at Martinez Waterfront Park, where several speakers, including Allen, addressed the crowd.
The march started around 4:45 p.m. and was peaceful, with march leaders stopping twice along the half-mile route to lead call-and-response chants, and for a San Jose woman to tell the crowd of how her son, 18-year-old Anthony Nunez, died at the hands of police in 2016.
There was a minor skirmish at the very start of the march when a man shouted, “All lives matter” and several people got into a brief yelling match. Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal said that and a few other minor incidents between protesters and “agitators” occurred, but that no arrests were made.
At least one person, an older man, was treated by an on-site medical crew for a heat-related issue.
Police maintain low profile
Police presence during the march itself and at Waterfront Park was minimal, but three groups of officers were waiting along one block of Ferry Street downtown south of the railroad tracks for the rally to end, and its participants to file out of the park. Sappal said officers were responding to some agitators yelling at the protesters.
Sunday’s protest march and rally, organized by Richmond-based Together We Stand, with help from the Southern Alameda County Resistance Network and the local group Martizians for Black Lives, came eight days after a city-permitted BLM mural was painted on Court Street downtown. The protest was originally planned as a relatively small event, in response to the June 28 discovery of “white power” fliers on the sidewalk about a block apart on a residential street near downtown Martinez (similar fliers were discovered the same day in Antioch and Pittsburg).
A handful of opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement in Martinez have been bold. The paint on the street mural hadn’t yet dried when a woman took a roller and black paint to the mural, trying to cover it in the presence of several mural supporters, saying Black Lives Matter “is not happening in my town.” She was accompanied by a man who shouted statements including that racism is a “leftist lie.”
Videos of the pair went viral. Both now face misdemeanor hate crime and vandalism charges.
The next evening, a 30-year-old Martinez man was arrested on suspicion of brandishing a loaded revolver during an argument with a supporter of the mural. And on Tuesday, someone painted “White Lives matter” across Howe Road in Martinez. (The words were soon covered up.)
Sappal had asked the organizers to postpone Sunday’s event, but they refused, saying a delay would be tantamount to silencing voices against racism.
Businesses take the day off
Many downtown businesses, wary of possible violence, boarded up their storefronts on Thursday and Friday, some with materials and labor donated by other residents. More than half of the commercial storefronts downtown were boarded up.
And the Martinez Farmers’ Market, at Sappal’s suggestion, decided not to open its usual midday Sunday market along Main Street, saying the market will be back July 19. There were no reports of protest-related vandalism as of late Sunday.
In a letter to the Martinez community on Saturday, Sappal said he had arranged for mutual aid from “every (law enforcement) agency in Contra Costa County” to be ready to help Martinez officers should there be any violence. And indeed, on Sunday morning, social media had video of a caravan of 30 to 40 law enforcement vehicles headed into Martinez along Pacheco Boulevard.
Protest organizers had implored those coming to the protest not to engage counterprotesters, and to remain completely peaceful. And, with a few fleeting moments, they did. Several marchers said they were happy that everything was peaceful, if loud at times.
“We have some very bold bigots in this town. We definitely have a lot of work to do in this town.”Nakenya Allen, rally attendee
The protesters spoke the names of several people killed by police officers, including Nunez, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Walnut Creek’s Miles Hall, a 23-year-old Black man shot and killed by police in that city in June 2019, as he was experiencing an episode driven by mental illness.
Laura Halpin, a neighbor and friend of the Hall family, told Sunday’s crowd she believed the officers who killed Miles Hall were influenced by a sense of white supremacy, which she said is common to many police departments. Changing such deep-seated attitudes, she said, will take time, and isn’t a sprint.
“I would encourage my white friends to stay for the marathon,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the Sacramento-based group Justice Unites Individuals and Communities Everywhere who identified herself as “Queen Liz” said coming and marching is the easy part.
“The hard part is what you do after today,” she exhorted the crowd. “I need you guys to not stop saying their names.”