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Walnut Creek Magazine

Protests and Robberies in Walnut Creek as Anger over Racial Injustice Continues

Jun 02, 2020 02:21PM ● By Pam Kessler

Most of the protests over the past few days were not carefully planned, although some gatherings in  Oakland, Walnut Creek, and Emeryville were promoted on social media. They appear to have been loosely organized and answered enthusiastically by demonstrators of diverse races and backgrounds sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death comes at a particularly explosive time during a coronavirus pandemic and historic economic disaster that has significantly impacted black Americans.

Last Friday, thousands gathered in Oakland to peacefully protest Floyd’s death, but as the event wore on, things intensified when outside agitators joined the protest and began destroying property. Oakland business leaders and a Chamber of Commerce representative said Saturday that "a small band of well-mobilized vandals" had once again targeted the city's merchants and most vulnerable people. Social media erupted with rumors that white kids from Walnut Creek had disrupted Oakland’s peaceful protest breaking windows and smashing cars with skateboards.

By Saturday morning the hashtag #walnutcreek was trending on Twitter with comments like this one: “Folks from #walnutcreek come to Oakland to set cars on fire but start to cry when their neighborhood Lululemon gets ran through.”

As the twitter chatter heated up on Saturday night, retailers like Target closed their stores, and others like Apple began boarding up their windows in preparation for expected violence on Sunday, while plans moved forward for a peaceful protest on Monday, June 1 at 3:00 pm in Civic Park. When contacted about the tweets, the Walnut Creek Police Department (WCPD) said, “We are monitoring the social media traffic and preparing for the protests. Unfortunately, there are several fake accounts adding to the rhetoric and threatening tone. We are concerned as well.”

Then around 5:15 pm on Sunday night, scores of people descended on Broadway Plaza and pillaged the shopping center, making off with handbags, shoes, sporting goods, lingerie, clothes, and other items. The groups then moved on to other areas downtown breaking windows, smashing doors, and entering stores. While most small independents were spared, big retailers like Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, H&M, Ray-Ban, among many others, sustained loss and damage. Due to COVID-19 shelter in place orders, the mall had just opened for curbside business the week before.

Despite these warnings, when looters hit Broadway Plaza on Sunday evening, they had easy access to the shopping center through the south entrance off Newell Avenue, while police guarded the front of Neiman Marcus on Mt. Diablo and Main. One merchant asked, “Where are the police? They’re nowhere. There’s not a policeman in sight. It’s just like a free-for-all. It was just shocking. I was outraged.”

Meanwhile on Twitter: “If you’re f—ing up #walnutcreek right now…good job. Make them rich people feel it. Make them uncomfortable, they think they’re too far away from the chaos to be affected by it in their little gated communities. BURN THE CITY TO ASHES!

When reported to 911, a dispatcher said, “WCPD is aware of the situation, but we were not prepared for the volume of officers required. Many are assisting other cities and on their way back to Walnut Creek.” During a call on Monday with the city council, Police Chief Tom Chaplin explained, “This is not a simple task, they don’t call and give us a specific time. It is difficult for us to have the resources on hand for an event like this when we had officers dispersed across the Bay Area to assist other cities. Waves of people were coming from different places.”

In anticipation of Monday’s protest, Chaplin went on to explain the city supports peaceful protest as a fundamental right that is vital to the health of our democracy. “We recognize that the violence and vandalism that occurred on Sunday was not related to a peaceful protest. I have asked people to remain calm and have their voices heard, and to please not come here to commit crimes. We are intent on keeping peaceful protesters safe, but we must defer resources when crime starts to occur. We are calling for calm, love, and compassion from our community.”

Reeling from the destruction Sunday night, terrified merchants boarded up their businesses on Broadway, Main, and Locust streets Monday. Hundreds of police officers deployed to Walnut Creek’s streets, closing off the entire downtown to prevent further unrest, while thousands marched down city streets to Civic Park demonstrating in the name of George Floyd.

 After a peaceful rally in the park, a few hundred protestors—mostly teenagers and young people—marched onto Interstate 680 where they were met with police deploying tear gas and rubber bullets. Officers in riot gear ordered the protesters to disperse, and then chased them with dogs, lobbed tear gas, and fired on them with rubber bullets. Several teenagers were hit by the projectiles, some in the eyes, while uninvolved drivers shared videos on twitter of their car windows blown out. A video of 14-year-old Isaiah Sandoval of Walnut Creek went viral showing the young man sobbing and red-faced after being tear-gassed, yelling at the officers. 

Tear gas was also deployed on protesters downtown to enforce Walnut Creek’s 6:00 pm curfew, implemented by the city council Monday afternoon in response to the vandalism and theft Sunday night. Despite multiple requests, the WCPD did not respond to our requests for comment on why tear gas and rubber bullets were deployed on protesters. 

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