Martinez police ask for mutual aid as city braces for weekend protests

Martinez is bracing for a huge protest- and possible counter-protest- this weekend. 

What was originally planned as a local Black Lives Matter event gained steam after two residents were charged with a high profile hate crime.

"Everybody's coming after us because of what happened, so we've got to wait and see what happens on Sunday," said Jennifer Garcia, owner of Sal's Family Kitchen in downtown Martinez. 

Many businesses were erecting plywood over windows and doors on Friday, in preparation for crowds and possible unrest. 

Garcia said she would close her cafe early on Saturday to board-up, and then remain closed all day Sunday.

"Everybody is pretty scared because Martinez has had peaceful protests before, but since is the biggest one, we don't know how it's going to go."

Police have been hearing such sentiments all week. 

"They don't want this to descend on their town, it's a small town and people are fearful," said Martinez Police Lt. Mike Estanol. 
"We have to live here and work here and we're going to be left with the aftermath of what's left over." 

The 4 p.m. rally begins at the courthouse, at a huge Black Lives Matter mural, painted on the street a week ago. 

Marchers will follow Court Street to Marina Vista, then on to Ferry Street to the waterfront park.

"We want a peaceful march," said event organizer Sevgi Fernandez, founder of Together We Stand, which has worked nationally on issues of racial justice and police brutality since 2016. 

"We don't want any confrontations with anybody and we're expecting a great event," said Fernandez. 

The rally was actually planned in response to white supremacy flyers that have surfaced around town.   

But it took on new urgency this week, after a viral video showed a man and woman defacing the BLM street mural, soon after its completion. 

While painting over a few letters, they shouted that racism is a lie.

On Fox News channel, the couple went further, calling BLM a terror group.

Said David Nelson, "We're sick of this, we're sick of the narrative."
And alongside him, Nicole Anderson: "I just don't want them to de-fund the police, we're lucky we have them." 

Ironically, Martinez police swiftly determined the pair had vandalized permitted public art and committed a hate crime.

They were charged by Contra Costa County's D.A., resulting in even more notoriety for them. 

"We need to stand up, we need to get together, all Americans, in every city, and take to the streets," said Nelson, on the network program.  

With Martinez in the national spotlight, counter-protesters may be attracted to Sunday's rally. 

"We've heard that there are several biker gangs that might be coming to oppose our march, and we've been getting threats throughout the week, threats unless we cancel, and threats of a race war," said Fernandez.

Police asked for the march to be postponed until tensions ease, but organizers say that sends the wrong message:

"That says terroristic threats and bullying people of color is acceptable in 2020 in the United States," said Fernandez. 
Recent Bay Area protests have seen demonstrators and police clash- resulting in arrests, injuries, and property damage. 

Martinez officers plan to be as hands-off as possible.  

"Our goal is to not antagonize any group that appears that day. We will be there, in great numbers, but you won't see us, and that's the point," said Estanol.  

The Martinez Police Department has 37 sworn officers, and has asked for mutual aid from other departments. 

Officers from Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, the sheriff's department, and East Bay Regional Park District Police Department will be standing by. 

March organizers will also have trained volunteers in the crowd working to keep the atmosphere respectful and peaceful, and de-escalate any clashes that might occur.