California men to face hate crime charges for vandalizing Black Lives Matter mural

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Two California men will stand trial for a hate crime after allegedly doing a series of burnouts on a Santa Cruz street that damaged a Black Lives Matter mural in July.

Brandon Bochat, 20, and Hagan Warner, 19, will face felony vandalism and reckless driving with a hate crime enhancement after they admitted to vandalizing the Center Street mural on July 23, but they have denied any racial motivation, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.

"Defund the Police" is painted on the street in Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, June 14, 2020. 
(Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Santa Cruz PD officer Elliot Rock told the court Wednesday that both men said their anger was directed toward the Black Lives Matter movement, not Black people, the Sentinel reported. Their lawyers have opposed the hate crime enhancement, arguing that Black Lives Matter is not a protected class.

“BLM is not a protected group, it is a political organization. It is a very of the moment, very important and very popular movement right now,” said Bochat’s attorney, Micha Rinkus, the Sentinel reported. “If this act was done towards animus of a racial group, that is one thing. The act was political.”

Warner’s attorney, Jeffrey Stotter, added that his client’s actions were fueled by alcohol and “stupidity,” not racism.

A Black Lives Matter mural that was painted on 5th Avenue is seen directly in front of Trump Tower on July 13, 2020 in New York City. 
(Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Santa Cruz County Prosecutor Michael Mahan disagreed, arguing that the men’s behavior demonstrated an “ongoing pattern.” He reportedly showed a video from Bochat’s social media of the two defendants with other boys who were yelling “White power” and giving Nazi salutes. 

Another video from Jan. 16 showed Bochat driving and making racial remarks while brandishing a firearm that the court was not able to determine was real or fake, the Sentinel reported.

“To say this is them being boys doing something stupid truly minimizes what happened,” Mahan reportedly said. “There are other ways to make a political statement.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing cost of the mural has been $216,206.26, Santa Cruz Equity Collaboration Founder Sean McGowen told the Sentinel, adding that the estimated cost for repairs to the mural are approximately $115,000.

The two defendants are due back in court Jan. 5.

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