SANTA CRUZ—Santa Cruz police arrested two men suspected of vandalizing a large Black Lives Matter mural in Santa Cruz on Saturday by making a series of long, sinuous skid marks over it with a pickup truck carrying the United States flag.
Brandon Bochat, 20, of Santa Cruz and Hagan Warner, 19, of Boulder Creek, are suspected of damaging the art piece painted on the 800 block of Center Street sometime Friday night.
Investigators believe that both Bochat and Warner took turns driving the vehicle during the commission of the crime. The suspects posted a video of the vandalism on social media, with one of them writing, “‘BLM’ is a joke cry about it p*****,” with a United States flag emoji in the center of the statement.
In the video, at least one person can be heard laughing.
The suspects were booked into the Santa Cruz County Jail on charges of felony vandalism and conspiracy to commit a felony. They were released after posting bail, Santa Cruz Police Department Chief Andy Mills said Sunday during a community meeting at the police station attended by more than 50 people.
Police are still seeking two suspects in the crime, but it is not yet clear what their roles were, Mills said.
The department is considering hate crime charges, Mills said, if investigators can collect enough evidence to prove it.
“The investigation continues,” he said. “There is a lot of work still to be done.”
Abi Mustapha, one of the artists who worked on the mural along with roughly 500 community members, said that the act caused psychological damage to the community.
“This is out here,” she said. “It exists. If bigots can do this, why do I want to walk around these streets?”
Bochat and Warner were arrested after detectives received videos of the crime, in which a vehicle is seen intentionally “burning out” and applying tire tread marks across the length of the mural.
The mural was painted last September, three months after the murder of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests. It was approved by the Santa Cruz City Council last June.
“The mural is considered a public art installation, guided and funded by community members who desired a reminder of the struggle Black members of our community endure both locally and across the nation,” Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers said at Sunday’s meeting.
She called the vandalism “heartbreaking and violating.”
“I can assure you that all of my City Council colleagues will work closely with our community to repair this damage as soon as possible, and more importantly to combat the roots of why such an act was committed,” she added.
Santa Cruz Vice-Mayor Sonja Brunner called the vandalism “scary,” and said it did more than simple physical damage.
“It also caused emotional, psychological and in-my-soul damage, and I know it’s not just me,” she said.
Brunner added that she plans to work with local organizations, schools and others in the wake of the incident.
“Progress is being made, but there is still so much that needs to happen,” she said. “It’s actions like this that remind us that there is still work to be done.”
Mills said that the damage estimate is well above the $450 required for a felony-level crime.
“This really struck a chord with many of our community members,” he said. “The Black community, the community of large, the people of color in our community, felt this was a personal attack.”
Mills pointed out that, out of more than 5,000 street segments in the city of Santa Cruz, the suspects chose to leave tread marks over a Black Lives Matter mural.
“We can see what took place here,” he said. “This wasn’t just a couple of kids fooling around, doing a burnout on the street. This was an intentional act of vandalism on something our community holds dear—a symbol of hope.”
Mills also had a message for anyone minimizing the crime.
“For those who seek to minimize the events that took place, to negate the responsibility by saying ‘these are just kids fooling around,’ shame on you,” Mills said. “This was meaningful to this community, and we will do everything in our power to make sure that those who did this are brought to justice.”
Santa Cruz City Manager Martin Bernal said the city plans to repair the mural as soon as possible, but the damage must first be estimated by Public Works employees.
Numerous people spoke about the vandalism Sunday. Some called for community-wide education to combat inherent racism issues that they said must be addressed at the elementary school level.
One woman who declined to give her name said the incident is not an isolated event and is about more than young kids harboring racist ideology.
“The issue is that it’s clear that there is a white supremacist community in this area, not just racist people,” she said. “I’m talking about a white supremacist community that has infiltrated itself in this area.”