Was it right to charge the California couple who painted over a BLM mural with a hate crime?


Fact Box

  • A hate crime is a traditional offense with an element of bias. The FBI has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
  • On July 4, Nicole Anderson, 42, and David Nelson, 53, defaced a new Black Lives Matter mural by painting over the B and L in the word 'Black,' with black paint. In the video, Nelson can be heard saying, 'There is no racism. It's a leftist lie,' and, 'No one wants Black Lives Matter here.'
  • The mural, in front of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse in downtown Martinez, was approved through a permit on July 1 and completed on July 4. ABC
  • Nelson directly aided in the alleged criminal conduct according to the D.A. The couple are being charged with a violation of civil rights, vandalism under $400 and possession of graffiti tools, and facing up to a year in county jail.

Bill (No)

A California couple who painted over a BLM mural on Independence Day was charged with a hate crime; they should not have been. Painting over two letters of a mural in the middle of a public street constitutes vandalism but does not come close to meeting the threshold for a hate crime. Under California law, a hate crime must be associated with a victim (defined as a person or group possessing or associated with one or more protected characteristics, including race). In this case, the 'victim' was a BLM mural, not a person or a group. 

Another essential element of a hate crime is interference with a person or group's civil rights by force, threat of force, or by defacing, damaging, or destroying private property. Again, the damage done in the California case occurred on public property. So, the two key components necessary to establish a hate crime are missing in this incident.  

Perhaps the biggest reason it was wrong to charge a hate crime in this instance, is that the term itself is emotionally charged, often leading to media exploitation, and resulting in additional racial strife – it should be reserved for cases that clearly meet the statutory criteria. The nation is currently embroiled in divisive demonstrations, riots, and violence ignited by the death of a black man (i.e. George Floyd) while in police custody, the officers involved have been charged with his homicide. We must keep our perspective during these turbulent times; the California couple's vandalism to the BLM mural does not constitute a hate crime.

Tyler (Yes)

After months of civil rights protests throughout our country, California residents Nicole Anderson and David Nelson intentionally disrespected and erased a peaceful tribute to the black community. The couple was later charged with a violation of civil rights (hate crime), vandalism, and possession of tools to commit vandalism. The FBI defines a hate crime as 'a crime during which the perpetrator acted on a bias against a selected group, race, or religion.' Local police stated that the mural was 'painted over in a hateful and senseless manner.' 

A California resident invested time and money in acquiring a city permit and supplies to paint the BLM mural. By defacing the private mural, the couple certainly committed the crime of vandalism. Nelson was captured on camera declaring that racism 'doesn't exist,' referring to police brutality as a lie, and stating that 'no one wants Black Lives Matter here.' 64% of our country does not feel that black people are treated fairly. While there has been a nation-wide effort to bring these injustices to light, allowing such a heinous act to go unpunished would be a step backward in the pursuit of racial equality.  

Anderson and Nelson were not vandalizing the mural for their own artistic intentions, as they simply covered the message with black paint. By pairing the clear-cut vandalism exhibited by the couple with their blatantly racist scheme to silence black people, it is evident that the police were fair in charging the couple with a hate crime. This couple presumably represents a disgraceful portion of our country that doesn't mind neglecting its racist past.

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