“What is wrong with you?” someone asked the unidentified vandals from off-camera, in a viral video of the incident also shared by police.
“We’re sick of this narrative, that’s what’s wrong,” the man responded. “The narrative of police brutality, the narrative of oppression, the narrative of racism. It’s a lie.”
The woman scrubbed away with her black paint roller, looking up to say, “Keep this s--- in f----- New York. This is not happening in my town.”
The Martinez Police Department is searching for the two suspects in the latest incident of vandalism targeting Black Lives Matter street art, the department said Sunday. From Cleveland to Montpelier, Vt., BLM street slogans have been defaced in recent weeks amid nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality.
Like the street art in Washington that inspired it, Martinez’s version was sanctioned by the city. Volunteers had spent nearly seven hours working on it Saturday before the two unidentified suspects showed up.
Justin Gomez, a Martinez resident who worked with the city to obtain the permit for the street painting, said he anticipated it might get vandalized, but “I was shocked it was vandalized in broad daylight less than an hour after we finished it.”
“It was just like, man, already?” he told The Washington Post on Sunday night. “I think it speaks to the climate in our country. We’re seeing protesters getting run over by cars. We’re seeing people advocating for the movement being targeted in a very real and violent way. It felt like that was finally coming to our town.”
He said his feeling was confirmed when another man was arrested for pulling a gun on a person at the site of the slogan on Sunday. The man had allegedly driven by in a Jeep yelling, “All lives matter,” before turning around and pointing the gun at a person defending the art, ABC7 reported.
Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal on Sunday released an image of a white truck belonging to the vandalism suspects, who Sappal said were white, and asked for help identifying them.
“The community spent a considerable amount of time putting the mural together only to have it painted over in a hateful and senseless manner,” he said. “The City of Martinez values tolerance and the damage to the mural was divisive and hurtful.”
Gomez, who is behind the Instagram account Martizians for Black Lives, said he and a group of locals decided to paint the slogan after finding white-supremacist fliers on the sidewalks last week, calling Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” and using the n-word. It wasn’t unheard of in Martinez, a Northern California town where Confederate flags fly on the bumpers of “muscle cars in a Fourth of July parade,” Gomez said. But he and others felt the community had to urgently respond.
Gomez said they initially wanted to paint “Black Lives Matter” in a popular plaza, but the city suggested the street outside the county courthouse. The local activists thought it was a good compromise while they search for another location for a larger slogan in the meantime, Gomez said.
It took just a few hours to crowdfund the $800 for the project, he said. Around 7:30 a.m. Saturday, more than 100 people showed up in face masks, many with their own rollers, and were finished by 2 p.m.
After a long day in the sun, Gomez had only just taken his shoes off at home when his phone buzzed. His notification: a social media video showing two angry white people destroying the street art.
“I thought under the cover of darkness, our local racists would go out there and do whatever they wanted to do,” Gomez said. “But this was literally while there were people there enjoying the mural, taking pictures, when these two individuals [started ruining it] in such a brazen and hateful and ignorant way.”
A woman yelled to the two vandals that what they were doing was racist. The man in the Trump reelection shirt responded, “There is no oppression, there is no racism. It’s a leftist lie. It’s a lie from the media, the liberal left.”
“F----- keep America great again, that’s right,” he said. “Why don’t you guys learn about history and the Emancipation Proclamation Act? Yeah, that’s right, Abraham Lincoln. You’re only free because of our forefathers.”
At one point, the woman painting the letters black asked the man filming to go to their truck to get her more paint. Eventually, an onlooker snatched the paint can away as the female vandal pledged to return with more.
“More than it being defaced, I was really personally disgusted with what I heard from the people who did this,” Jenn Rosier, who has lived in Martinez for more than 50 years, told ABC7 on Sunday, returning to the site to write messages of support in chalk. “The things they were saying, it was disturbing.”
Gomez said he feared the man’s statements reflected the rhetoric of President Trump. In a speech in front of Mount Rushmore ahead of Independence Day, for example, the president described protesters as violent “angry mobs” and decried their vandalism of Confederate monuments and statues of slave-owning presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Trump described the movement as a “left-wing cultural revolution,” saying “children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe the men and women who built it were not heroes but villains.”
“This radical view of American history is a web of lies,” he added.
Gomez said although the vandalism was disheartening, the way the community mobilized to repair the damage was inspiring. Within an hour on Saturday, volunteers had repainted the slogan.
The black paint, he said, somehow ended up making it pop a little more.