Clayton resident aims to Stop the Hate with downtown rally

Supporters at the April 10 rally in Clayton.

CLAYTON, CA – An Asian man subjected to harassment by his Clayton neighbor took a stand against racism with a Stop the Hate rally in the Grove downtown on Saturday, April 10.

Jonathan Lee, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, rallied members of the community, the City Council and fellow SFSU professors to deliver a strong response to anti-Asian hate speech and violence. Those attending the hastily organized event heard statements of solidarity read from Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, State Assemblyman Tim Grayson and County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff.

“It pains me that we even have to be here today,” Clayton Councilwoman Holly Tillman said, addressing a crowd of about 100. “But I’m grateful that we are all here to support our neighbor who has spoken out and said ‘Enough.’ ”

Lee is Chinese, Cambodian and Vietnamese, his husband Mark Quady is white and their 8-year-old son Owen is Hispanic. The bi-racial/bi-cultural family moved to Clayton in November 2020, looking for a friendly neighborhood and a chance to make new friends. Lee and Quady initially reached out to their next-door neighbor in friendship, but the gesture was not met in kind.

Escalating racial tensions

On Jan. 8, two days after the insurrection in Washington, D.C., a Confederate flag appeared in the neighbor’s front yard.
“I had a visceral reaction,” said Lee. “It haunted me for days.”

Lee countered what he saw as overt racism with several Black Lives Matter and We Believe yard signs in front of his home. The neighbor objected to the signs, and it escalated.

At one point, the neighbor raised a closed fist in the White Power sign and told Lee: “I’m gonna call the good old boys on you,” a reference Lee believes to the KKK.

Lee reported the harassment to Clayton police, and the district attorney is reviewing the complaint.

Taking to social media

Clayton resident aims to Stop the Hate with rally downtown
After troubled encounters with a neighbor, Clayton resident Jonathan Lee organized an anti-racism rally in Clayton on April 10. His 8-year-old son Owen spoke at the event. (Matt Tillman photo)

This isn’t the first time racism has taken center stage in this small town. In 2019, the city made national news when Canesa’s Deli owner offered a free side dish to anyone who used President Donald Trump supporters’ rally cry of “Send her back,” referring to Rep. Ilhan Omar, when they placed an order.

There has been a growing anti-racist movement since the ill-fated BLM march on June 2, 2020, that ended with smoke grenades and tear gas. A peaceful BLM rally in the Grove followed two days later.

Anti-racist grassroots groups are growing on social media, and Clayton Speaks sponsored a series of webinars on racism in the community and schools. In 2020, voters elected the first Black woman to the Clayton City Council, where she joined two sitting members, Jeff Wan who is Asian and Jim Diaz, a Hispanic. A community effort is underway to bring a Little Free Anti-Racist Library to town.

Despite those gains, resistance is strong. Social media posts desperate to “save Clayton” defend the White Power salute, while others accuse Lee’s supporters of “political opportunism.”

The divide appears wider than ever, with those committed to anti-racist action going toe-to-toe with those who believe no racism exists in their mostly white town.