Friday, June 5, 2020

Regarding the June 2, 2020 Demonstration


I’ve heard from many members of our community regarding events of the last week. It started with the protests and wide spread looting the weekend of May 29. Almost right on the heels of watching nearby Walnut Creek lose control of their downtown, the city got word there would be a protest and march on downtown on Tuesday, June 2. People in town were very concerned. I saw the people mobilize to protect our downtown businesses.

At this point, no one knew what to expect. Police were receiving warnings from the FBI that there were credible threats of violence and arson. There were death threats sent to police. Knowing there would be a protest, but not knowing the nature of it, we requested mutual aid from other departments. We have a small police force in Clayton. Crowd control is a numbers game and we do not have the numbers to safely contain a large crowd of unknown intentions.

The protest and march started peacefully. What began as about 100 people at Ygnacio and Clayton Rd. grew to 400+ heading to downtown on foot. For the most part, it was calm. Police were interacting with the crowds, handing out water since it was 100+ degrees and chatting with folks. When the curfew time came, most left. For those remaining, there were several warnings and instructions to disperse. 45 minutes and multiple other warnings passed. At this point, the vast majority of the people assembled had gone.

Remaining were less than 50 people. At some point after orders to disperse are ignored, the chance of a catalyst increases. It was unknown what this group that was refusing to obey lawful orders would do, or what others in nearby businesses would do. Given recent events in Walnut Creek, information received from multiple other law enforcement agencies, and threats received against officer’s lives, police were rightfully concerned.

The police made the call that the risk that something would occur that would result in violence or the loss of ability to protect people was increasing beyond an acceptable level. After multiple warnings, police deployed colored smoke to let people know they were serious about dispersing the crowd. As we saw on the video, someone in the crowd kicked it back at officers. Kicking smoke canisters back at police can be considered assault. The crowd continued to refuse to obey lawful commands and the police escalated with tear gas. The crowd quickly dispersed after that.


Our city loves our police. They are our neighbors. They help in our kids’ classrooms, they talk with the community while on patrol, they know our town. There are little to no complaints about police here in Clayton. That’s why it’s so outside the norm that when our police do their jobs - keep the peace, protect our residents, enforce the law – they get roundly criticized for doing the job we ask them to do.

If there is any officer anywhere that acts unprofessionally, or abuses the power they are entrusted with, they should be criticized and held to account. That’s not what happened here. The murder of George Floyd is a national tragedy. But to attribute blame to Clayton police based on the actions of a small subset of officers would be engaging in behavior justly condemned by the BLM movement.

I’ve received hundreds of communications regarding Tuesday’s demonstration. Many of these were asking questions, trying to understand why events unfolded the way they did. I’ll go through the common ones.


  • By far the top concern is why the crowd was forcibly dispersed with tear gas, when the people in front of their businesses like Canesa’s were left alone?  The reason is two fold. First, when police were dispersing the crowd, they started with the largest group. There aren’t enough police to take action with everyone everywhere at the same time. Second, the people at places like Canesa’s were on private property. The curfew did not apply to private property.

  • Why didn’t the police arrest or cite people instead of using tear gas? Again, the reason is multifold. In a crowd control situation, it could take multiple officers to effect a single arrest. Given the numbers of people involved and the officers on duty, the math isn’t there. Once an officer has to put their hands on a person, it greatly increases the chance of injury for both the person being detained and the officers involved. This would be for people who have already shown a willingness to disobey lawful orders, where the chance of easy compliance gets reduced and the chance of injury increased.

  • Were rubber bullets used? No. After objects were thrown back at police, 40mm foam batons were deployed. A foam baton is less forceful than a rubber bullet, but still capable of causing injury. They are designed to be able to be used at very close range, as little as 3 feet. The persons who threw objects and were subsequently on the receiving end of a foam baton quickly left the area.

  • Why weren’t the people who were shouting offensive things addressed by the police? Freedom of speech cuts in all ways. We all enjoy the right that is recognized by the 1st amendment. That right protects people’s ability to protest injustice just as much as it does a person using their voice as a siren song of ignorance. The first amendment is designed to protect speech at the fringes. Speech that everyone agrees with does not need protection. The protection of speech applies to the most insightful the same as it does to the most inane.

Our police are tasked with a difficult job. When they are called upon to protect us they are often faced with difficult choices. It’s totally acceptable to question and criticize actions we may disagree with. When we put them in this position though, on the heels of out of control looting in a nearby city, credible threats of violence and arson, death threats, and a group of individuals refusing to follow lawful commands, I’m going to act with humility rather than righteous indignation and give leeway to judgment calls made in the field. I certainly wouldn’t undermine the resolve of our police department who we’ve asked to be in harm’s way by calling for the resignation of the Chief like a member of the City appointed Planning Commission has done.

Everyone recognizes that deploying tear gas to break up a protest where the only thing that is being violated is a curfew is not a desirable outcome. I support the right of people to protest. This country has a long history of civil disobedience which should be celebrated. I support the police for taking the action they did in the circumstances they were in. Simultaneously I want to pursue ways to avoid any escalation of force to the extent possible. To that end, the city curfew that was in place earlier this week has been rescinded. The county curfew has been rescinded as well. I will be out there tonight.