City leaders are condemning behavior they described as racist, hateful and full of obscene language that marred an otherwise peaceful “Defund the Lodi PD” protest organized by about 60 people at American Legion Park last Saturday.
In a press release issued Wednesday afternoon, City of Lodi officials said the roughly 150 counter-protesters shouted racial slurs, obscenities and threats of violence at members of Progressive Unity, Black Lives Matter 2.0 of Stockton, Empact Org and JUICE during an assembly at the park and a march to Lodi Avenue.
“Cursing at someone you disagree with while at a public park should not happen in Lodi,” Mayor Doug Kuehne said in the release. “Lodi should be a place where peaceful protests can take place without racial profanity. Lodi, we are better than that.”
City Manager Steve Schwabauer said it’s unfortunate that some community members are increasing tensions surrounding the protests.
“Nothing we saw leading up to the protests justified or could ever justify the vile language used against protesters who were unarmed, peaceful and organized,” Schwabauer said. “Those of you who used the vile, racist slurs can hardly claim that you were protecting your community.”
While Saturday’s protest was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., counter-protesters carrying American flags and Trump 2020 banners gathered at the corner or Vine and Hutchins streets about an hour beforehand.
When protest organizers arrived just before 10 a.m., tensions began to mount when members of both groups advanced on each other and exchanged words. Law enforcement officials stepped in to form a line between the two sides in order to prevent a violent clash.
Officers from the Stockton, Galt, Tracy and Manteca police departments, as well as deputies from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, were on-hand to assist the Lodi police in ensuring all participants and surrounding properties were unharmed during the event.
Lodi police were in contact with protest organizers and conducted additional outreach to assess the threat of a violent demonstration. Earlier last week, Police Chief Sierra Brucia attempted to calm fears widely shared on social media platforms that the protesters intended harm to the city.
“We were monitoring the social media leading up to the event and were able to disprove most of the rhetoric we saw,” Brucia said. “Unfortunately, those posts led to increased hostilities between the two groups.”
Following the march, rumors began circulating on social media that protesters would be returning to Legion Park by the busloads to “burn the town to the ground,” but Brucia said those rumors were confirmed to be unfounded.
“We as city leaders implore our community to seek common ground and understanding,” Vice Mayor Alan Nakanishi said. “It is the only hope we all have for a brighter future.”