A Walnut Creek City Council member is being criticized for remarks he made in July that some saw as racist.

The criticism leveled at Councilman Justin Wedel came Tuesday during the public comment period of a council meeting being conducted online via Zoom. Commenter Joshua Ferrer claimed that, at a July 29 Public Safety Committee meeting, Wedel insinuated that Black people from outside Walnut Creek are coming there to cause trouble.

“These are the same arguments we’ve been hearing for decades and decades,” Ferrer told the council. He asked Wedel for an apology.

That prompted an angry response from Wedel, who said his comments and his questions to police at the July 29 meeting were uttered in the name of getting the clearest possible information from police.

“I will not apologize for the fact that I don’t think the Walnut Creek Police Department is racist … I do not believe the question I asked was racist.”

Councilman Justin Wedel

A video of the July 29 meeting shows that, after referring to data showing 18 percent of arrests in Walnut Creek involve African Americans, but only 2 percent of Walnut Creek residents are Black, Wedel asks police Chief Tom Chaplin, “What percentage … of these (arrests) are of Walnut Creek citizens compared to other individuals coming in and causing harm to our community?”

“Anecdotally,” Chaplin responds, “I can tell you we do arrest people from outside the city with what feels like a bit more regularity than Walnut Creek residents.”

Chaplin also says, “We need to be careful about drawing conclusions from one statistic or another.”

“I was actually asking for greater transparency with our arrest information,” Wedel said during Tuesday’s meeting. He also said the Walnut Creek police are not racist.

“I will not apologize for the fact that I don’t think the Walnut Creek Police Department is racist … I do not believe the question I asked was racist.”

He called Ferrer’s social media posts related to the July 29 meeting “lies,” and said such comments only promote further divisions in the city.

Hear Councilman Justin Wedel question police Chief Tom Chaplin during the July 29 Public Safety Committee meeting.

Racial tensions simmer

Walnut Creek’s racial divisions have been in the spotlight ever since Miles Hall died at the hands of local police in July 2019. Calls for social justice and police “defunding” intensified with protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in late May.

As they have at every council meeting for more than a year, council members heard from a parade of speakers addressing Hall’s death, police use-of-force policies, “defunding” the police and creating a 24-hour non-police mental health response team.

Moxie Marsh, who described herself as a Las Lomas High School student, also asked for an apology from Wedel.

“Just because your fellow white community members didn’t call you out for your racist behavior does not mean what you said was not racist,” Marsh said.

That prompted a pointed response from Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Wilk, who said he heard the July 29 comments in question and didn’t interpret them as racist.

“Councilman Wedel and I do not agree on a lot of things … but Councilman Justin Wedel is not a racist,” Wilk said. “I don’t believe he said anything he meant to be racist. I didn’t take it that way, and I certainly am sorry that people did take it that way.”

Resident Kelley Ho agreed Wedel may not have said anything meaning to be racist. “It’s not about your intent,” she told Wedel via Zoom, “It’s about the impact that you made.”

Wilk said on Wednesday that many people in Walnut Creek are looking beneath the surface of what people are saying and reading what they will into it.

“Right now, I feel like we’re in a tinderbox,” the mayor said.