For the seventh straight day, protesters again hit the streets of Temecula — but this time, they marched from the Temecula Duck Pond to City Hall, marking perhaps the first successful protest march in the city’s history.
That made June 5, 2020, a day of a few different firsts.
For one, it marked the first birthday of Breonna Taylor following her death. It would have been her 27th birthday, had the Louisville, Kentucky, woman not become one of a long line of black Americans to have been killed by police. Across the country, and in Temecula, Taylor’s birthday was marked by protests against what is increasingly being acknowledged by a majority of Americans as systemic police brutality against black people, a brand of structural racism that led not just to Taylor’s death, but to George Floyd’s in Minneapolis last month, and to Ahmaud Arbery’s death, and Sandra Bland’s death, and many, many others.
For Temecula, June 5 was also the day after noted barbershop owner and Temecula Mayor James “Stew” Stewart resigned from the City Council over an email to a constituent that said, in part “I don’t believe there’s ever been a good person of color killed by a police officer” — a comment he originally defended as the result of a voice-to-text mishap and apologized for before stepping down.
And it was also possibly the first time the name of Matthew Tucker, an 18-year-old black man who was shot and killed by Riverside County sheriff’s deputies in Temecula, was shouted into megaphones and open air by protesters alongside the names of Floyd, Taylor and others as they marched down Rancho California Road, which had been partially blocked to traffic by law enforcement Friday afternoon to make room for the demonstration, toward Old Town Temecula.
Jenny Tucker, Matthew Tucker’s mother, was asked to speak after the demonstrators arrived at Temecula City Hall.
“I have been trying for four years to get Matthew’s name said. And thank you for saying his name,” Jenny Tucker said.
Matthew Tucker’s death was perhaps unknown to many Temecula residents, former Mayor Stewart among them — he said on his Facebook page that his poorly-received email had been intended to convey his belief not that no “good person of color” had been killed by police, but that no people of color had been killed by law enforcement locally. As many on social media refuted that assertion, information on Tucker’s death was circulated.
And so, four years later, Jenny Tucker was finally telling her son’s story to crowds of people.
“They refused to even put out that he was black,” Jenny Tucker said of officials’ response to her son’s killing. “The city council, the media, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. Matthew was shot in the back in front of me, in my home, in his garage, and that was the bullet that killed him. Matthew was shot in the back when he was down on the ground by Michael Hamilton in my garage in front of me.”
The Michael Hamilton who Jenny Tucker referred to is Sgt. Michael Hamilton of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. One of the protesters said a petition was being circulated calling for Hamilton to be fired; Hamilton was still on the force as of at least last March, when he wrote a news release on a burglary in Perris.
Jenny Tucker went on to express her offense to the former Temecula mayor’s statements.
“It wasn’t a mistake saying that no good people of color died,” Jenny Tucker said. “It was not a mistake. They knew who Matthew was.”
She also appeared to criticize Mayor Pro Tem Maryann Edwards, who will fill Stewart’s duties in his absence and who issued a statement along with Stewart’s resignation announcement saying the city is “poised to close this chapter.”
“Now this Maryann Edwards, she wants to sit here and say that she wants this chapter closed,” Jenny Tucker said, addressing the crowd of mostly-young protesters. “It’s up to you to do your job as young citizens voting. Get ‘em out, let your voices be heard.”
Michael Tucker, brother of Matthew Tucker, also spoke to the crowd.
“The last time I was in your city was about four years ago,” Michael Tucker said. “That was the day that Matthew was murdered. That was the darkest day of my life. I’m back.”
Michael Tucker said in being back in Temecula for the first time since his brother’s death, he found himself met with “light.”
Each and every one of you is light. Keep that light,” he said. “The police took Matthew’s voice, but you guys are now his voice. Keep that light. Riverside County tried to silence us as a family. You guys aren’t gonna let that happen.”
One of the organizers of the rally, Denton Burr, also said he was circulating a petition calling for reforms to local police including annual psychiatric evaluations and community service hours in the areas officers work in.
“I’m not paying you for an easy job, I’m paying you to protect me,” Burr said.
Temecula city council members Mike Naggar, Matt Rahn and Zak Schwank were all present at the rally, though they did not speak.
The rally in front of city hall concluded with one of the organizers of the entirely peaceful protest warning that there had been reports of a “riot” heading toward Old Town. However, as has been the case with many reports of local rioting, that report turned out to be false — the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department confirmed to a Valley News reporter that there had been no incidents of rioting in the area described.
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.