Erin Meader had just driven by her restaurant the night before when she got the message.
Meader, the manager of the Black Angus at Rancho California and Ynez roads in Temecula, says she still drives by the restaurant regularly even though it remains closed amid the ongoing pandemic.
When she went by on Saturday, everything was fine, she said.
Sunday morning, one of her employees messaged her with pictures of graffiti scrawled on the side of the building. And not just any side — the two walls with graffiti were on the side of the restaurant most visible to thousands of drivers passing by each day through one of Temecula’s busiest intersections.
And it wasn’t just any graffiti, either. One of the vandalized walls spelled out “RIP Floyd BLM!” — phrasing that immediately cast suspicion toward Black Lives Matter protesters who had been out at the corner of Rancho California and Ynez almost every day, save for a few breaks, since May 30.
“I immediately drove out there to ensure there was no other damage to the building,” Meader said. “I contacted my facilities and my boss … the police were already there when I got there, they just took an incident report. Then the Temecula Code Enforcement called me and told me we had 36 hours to have the graffiti removed, and so we were planning on having it painted.”
Meader said she was, at first, very upset to find the graffiti.
“Even if it’s not my personal property, I work 50 hours a week and that’s my baby, and I’m a single mom and Black Angus have been amazing employers,” she said. “I started as a food server and now I’m a general manager, so I have a lot of love — I love this company, and I just have a lot of gratitude. I do take my job very seriously, so just seeing (the restaurant) hurt like that, and on that major intersection, just how bad it was, and in Temecula, it’s such a great community….”
Meader wasn’t the only one who was upset. Images of the graffiti from various passing motorists were shared to local Facebook groups, and many commenters decried the vandalism.
But after Meader left, something happened that she didn’t expect.
“I got a phone call from one of the managers at Chili’s across the street, and she told me the Black Lives Matter group found out what happened to the building, and there was about 20 people out there cleaning the building,” Meader said.
Denton Burr, one of the organizers of the two weeks of protests at the Temecula Duck Pond and the march to Temecula City Hall, said his group had nothing to do with the graffiti, and found out about it on Sunday after one of the protesters drove by the Rancho California and Ynez intersection.
“Basically, we were having a meeting at my house, and then one of the unit leaders came over and said, ‘We just drove by Black Angus and there’s a whole bunch of graffiti on it,” Burr said. “It was just a whole bunch of absurd stuff that we know that it didn’t come from us. But regardless of who did it, we knew it looked bad on us.”
So down to the Black Angus restaurant the protesters went, with cleaning supplies, brushes and towels in hand.
“We took the initiative to actually go and clean the paint,” Burr said.
When they arrived, though, Burr said there was already a separate group of people cleaning the restaurant’s exterior.
“That’s why it got so big,” Burr said. “It ended up becoming like a community event.”
Nearly 20 people pitched in with the cleanup effort.
Meader headed back to the restaurant after Chili’s manager called her, and once she got there, she said the attitude the vandalism incident had given her about the protesters had swung completely in the other direction.
“It was amazing, just the emotions when I saw all of them cleaning it up and just so happy to be able to do something that’s right,” Meader said.
She said upon meeting the protesters, she was overwhelmed with feelings and nearly in tears.
“The social distancing went out the window because it was such an emotional moment,” Meader said, adding that she felt the urge to hug the group that had turned out to clean the side of her restaurant.
Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Cpl. Lionel Murphy said deputies were investigating the vandalism incident, but details on the investigation were not available.
Temecula Assistant City Manager Greg Butler said a city traffic camera captured the vandalism event, but did not pick up a clear enough image to provide a suspect description.
“I know whoever did that had nothing to do with their organization,” Meader said. “But even so, they wanted to make things right and do the right thing and make it a positive situation, so they just completely turned it around and now I’m just — it’s enlightening, it’s empowering as a person in Temecula and just as an individual in general.”
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.