MARTINEZ, Calif. (KTVU) - Two people have been charged with a hate crime for defacing a Black Lives Matter mural in Martinez.
The July 4th incident, captured on video, has brought national attention, and the man who organized the mural project is relieved that charges came swiftly.
"I got the call from the District Attorney, and honestly it was overwhelming, I just broke into tears," said Justin Gomez, who secured the city permit for the 165 foot mural in front of the courthouse downtown.
Saturday, with the paint barely dry, a man and woman arrived to with their own paint to roll over the large gold letters spelling out Black Lives Matter. They are heard on video, arguing with bystanders, and calling racism a liberal lie.
"It was truly heartbreaking to see that hatred come out in such a bold and brazen way," said Gomez. "Now we're hopeful the justice system works the way it's supposed to."
The identities of the pair emerged on social media and police questioned them. Now Nicole Anderson, 42, and David Nelson, 53, face misdemeanor charges.
"This is not just a regular moment in time, this is a movement," said Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton. Becton has a high-level team that reviews such incidents.
Anderson and Nelson are charged with vandalism, and possession of vandalism tools, but also a civil rights violation- or hate crime for targeting a specific group.
"It could be sexual orientation, it could be nationality, it could be race, and that's what puts it in a category of a possible hate crime," explained Becton.
On Tuesday someone painted "White Lives Matter" along a Martinez road, which city crews were quick to cover up.
Becton acknowledges tension locally and around the country, and dialogue long overdue.
"We have to address the root and the by-products of systemic racism in our country," said Becton.
"Black Lives Matter, the movement is an important civil rights cause and it deserves all of our attention."
At the Martinez home listed as the residence of Anderson and Nelson, no one answered the door.
A few neighbors said they were aware of the accusation, and don't welcome notoriety on their quiet street.
"I can't believe it was them because he's not that kind of person," said one woman.
Another woman complained about people driving past the house to gawk.
"The last two days have been very difficult because of the public, the public who doesn't have a clue," she said.
For mural supporters, the real goal is meaningful change in city culture and policies.
"Ultimately this is just paint on the street," said Gomez, noting that Martinez, as a small, mostly white city, has an opportunity now.
"We have to have those hard conversations and it's time for leadership."
The mural is expected to stay in place until Martinez can find a permanent location for an art installation with the same message.
"Now that all of our eyes are focused here, we have to talk about how we can lead the nation with everyone paying attention," said Gomez.
The accused vandals remain free, not arrested because of COVID-19 precautions, but they will receive a notice to appear in court later.
The charges carry up to one year in jail on conviction.