How a Black Lives Matter Mural in Martinez Went Viral – and Changed Justin Gomez’s Life

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Theresa Henderson, Staff

Justin Gomez, a Bay Area native and creator of the Black Lives Matter mural that gained national attention in Martinez, spoke to Diablo Valley College students on Mar. 7 about the events that led to the mural, how it went viral across the internet – and how the experience affected his personal life.

In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement surged in popularity following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, along with other police killings of Black people. Protests erupted across the nation, but Gomez wanted to do something different to make his voice heard.

“I had found myself needing to do something,” he said. “There’s just a feeling of hopelessness and anxiety. And as someone who is a person of color, [I was] thinking about what this moment means for me.”

Those feelings prompted him to send a text message call-to-action to 12 people, suggesting they speak out against police brutality and shut down the Martinez Farmer’s Market with a peaceful protest. More than 300 people showed up for the protest. But that was just the beginning.

White supremacy recruitment flyers were soon posted around Martinez in the weeks following the protest. Seeing the flyers made Gomez upset, but it also motivated him to do something more than just protest, he said. So he reached out to the City of Martinez, which co-signed an agreement to establish a temporary Black Lives Matter mural. On the 4th of July, communities came together and painted a block-long mural that read “Black Lives Matter” on the streets of Martinez.

But not even one hour after the mural’s completion, a Trump-supporting couple began to paint over the BLM mural with black paint. The couple hurled verbal abuse at the people who were recording their actions with cell phones, telling them to stop. The mural would be restored by the end of the day, but tensions didn’t stop there. The video of the couple went viral, as celebrities and mainstream news outlets reposted the clip. As a result, the District Attorney’s office charged the couple with a hate crime.

“Within 48 hours I was on the phone with the New York Times and the Washington Post, which felt very surreal,” Gomez said. “For several days I was on standby with producers from CNN to do a story with Don Lemon.”

As the creator of the mural, Gomez also came under direct attack from angered residents. He received many threats – some 33 in all – including from people photographing his residence. “After I started getting all these screenshots sent to me, I’m looking at my two small children and my partner and we don’t feel safe at our home – our home address was published online,” he said. Some of Gomez’s neighbors experienced harassment as well.

Gomez went online and told people what was happening to him and his family. Close friends and the community then came together to spend time with his family, watching out for them to make sure they remained safe. Finally, to lighten the weight of events and to show that the community would not be intimidated, Gomez helped organize another peaceful protest in the city.

In the aftermath, Gomez said, he felt the City of Martinez had failed in its duty to protect his family despite the numerous threats he was receiving. “In terms [of] the city council, there was a complete, total failure of the elected leadership,” said Gomez.

The pair of vandals that targeted the BLM mural were ultimately charged and chose to go to trial, but the case has been delayed due to the pandemic. The couple faces other charges as well.

The mural, which was always intended to be temporary, has since been removed. Now, Gomez said, Martinez city officials are trying to come up with a similar project that can be permanent to spread the same message of racial justice.

“There’s definitely a desire to recreate something like that somewhere in city space where we can affirm the identities of community members of color here in Martinez.”