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Tensions Running High On Eve Of Martinez Black Lives Matter Protest

MARTINEZ (CBS SF) -- Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal made a public appeal for calm as the East Bay city prepared for a large Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday afternoon.

In an online blog, Sappal said local residents were concerned that the downtown protest may spark acts of violence between supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and those who opposed to them. Several downtown businesses have already boarded up their windows.

"Many of our residents and community members ared worried, scared, and feel helpless that different groups are converging on our small town," the chief said in the blog. "I share their concerns and I implore anyone coming to Martinez on Sunday to strive to put your best foot forward. Feel free to gather, feel free to speak, feel free to exercise your First Amendment Right. Please do not engage in toxic, violent, hateful, or unsafe behavior."

To make sure the crowd does not become unruly, officials have gathered a large contingent of law enforcement officers from across Contra Costa County.

"We have a large contingent of personnel from every agency in Contra Costa County that will be here on Sunday to assist us," he said.

Sappel said social media chatter was further elevating the concerns.

"In the past day, we have been getting information from social media that folks with different viewpoints will be in our city to protest," he said. "We have learned that some may be coming with the intention of protecting the community from protestors or protecting the police officers working the event and while I appreciate that thought, do not come to the protest armed or with an intention to commit violence."

The chief said violence does erupt, officers will move quickly to bring the march to an end.

"In the event that the protest devolves and there are acts of violence or damage in a manner that places the community at risk, we will be forced to disperse the crowd and I want to be transparent in that regard," he said. "We will be tolerant and work with all of you for a peaceful event – we implore you to not force us to respond in a manner that requires we take immediate action to end the event."

Martinez suddenly found itself thrust onto the national stage last week, when a video of two vandals painting over a Black Lives Matter sign in front of the courthouse went viral, but it's a spotlight no one wants.

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"I've lived in Martinez for 20 years, and I've worked down here, on and off, for 20 years," says Chef Dave of Haute Stuff Cafe on Main Street. "This is definitely national news, which you wouldn't expect from a small town like Martinez."

Two weeks ago KPIX was talking with Chef Dave about the struggle to keep his business alive during the pandemic. Now he has a new worry.

"Laying in bed and wondering should I board up or should I not board up," Dave says.

Friday was a good day to be in the boarding-up business in downtown Martinez.

"A couple here, and another one down the corner," says one plywood installer named Isiah. "And then we keep having people just keep asking to put up more."

"My landlord, Mr. Dunivan, says 'yes, we are going to board up,' Just in case," explains Judy, an owner at Antiques On The Main.

The antiques store, like many others, will be closed all weekend. It is a setback on top of a crisis.

"Yes, we're trying to get through the pandemic," Judy says. "We've had that for three months. We're scared we're going to go through another three months."

"It's just added expense, at a time and added frustration, not knowing how this is going to end up," explained Ernie Guerrero as he unloaded plywood outside of his restaurant, La Tapatia Mexican Cuisine.

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