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Mike Judge is many things: Los Angeles cop, unapologetic conservative Republican, and member of the Simi Valley City Council, a largely conservative town 40 miles outside of the city known mostly for being where the police officers who beat Rodney King were put on trial decades ago.
He is also a lightning rod for controversy.
This past week Judge enraged many Simi Valley residents and others when he joked about an offensive meme on Facebook regarding the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. And he fueled the anger further by arguing against a protest march planned for Simi Valley over fears that it would turn violent. Thousands signed petitions calling for Judge to resign from the City Council seat he's held since 2010.
The march went off Saturday without incident as about 2,000 protesters marched to the town's civic center, where young organizers spoke and participants kneeled in silence to remember George Floyd, the black man killed last month by a Minneapolis police officer.
"We haven’t had any problems at all. It’s been peaceful," said Simi Valley Cmdr. Steve Shorts, who said no arrests were made at the event.
In an interview afterward, a contrite Judge reiterated an earlier apology he made for the meme that he said was a badly misguided attempt at humor and offered a mea culpa for his stance on the march.
"I was wrong," he said about his misplaced concerns about possible violence by protesters. "I couldn't be happier I was wrong."
Judge, 56, began last week by sharing on his personal Facebook page a posting with the words, "Wanna stop the riots? Mobilize the septic tank trucks, put a pressure cannon on em ... hose em down ... the end."
He captioned the post with his own comment, writing, "This is brilliant, it will also enforce the mask rule!" — a reference to orders by county health officials that people wear masks in public to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
Judge, who is white, made things worse days later when, on the Facebook page he has for City Council matters, he posted an email exchange he had with Mikiiya Foster, an 18-year-old black woman who lives in Simi Valley and organized Saturday's march.
In response to an email from Foster, who invited him to join protesters, Judge said he would not participate and said she should call off the march, claiming inaccurately that protests across the U.S. after Floyd's killing had largely been marred by violence.
"I am very hard pressed to find one example of a truly peaceful protest," he wrote. "Almost all of the protests to date, have turned to violence and destruction."
Judge said he respected Americans' right to protest and said he shared in the "shock and disgust" over Floyd's death, but appeared to warn the young woman that protesters could be harmed if they went ahead with the Simi Valley march.
"I just think that in this current climate you may not like the outcome," he wrote. "I pray that I am wrong."
On Saturday after the march, Foster said in an interview she didn't want the controversy around Judge's comments to overshadow the event. "Today was about so much more than him," she said.
It all set off a firestorm as people took to social media to pillory Judge. They saw him as promoting the use of water cannons on protesters, a ruthless tactic police used to quash civil rights protests in the 1960s, and trying to stymie a lawful expression of the fury over police abuses of blacks that has erupted in the wake of Floyd's killing.
More than 8,000 people added their names to two online petitions demanding he resign from the City Council. They left comments, calling him a racist, "an embarrassment," "sewage," and "a threat to Simi Valley."
The petitions' organizers also revisited an earlier episode in 2013 when Judge again was embroiled in controversy. That year he came under fire for posting links on his Facebook page to racy and suggestive websites and for linking to a graphic video of a woman being decapitated with a pocket knife.
Judge was unrepentant then, saying he didn’t consider anything on his Facebook page inappropriate. He had shown the gruesome video, he said, in hopes of helping to find the killer.
This time around, Judge showed more regret.
An apology he posted to Facebook on Thursday did little to quiet the furor. In it, he said he had posted the meme about hosing protesters in an attempt to make a humorous critique of masks and other safety measures taken to counter the coronavirus, which he feels have been too extreme. The clear reference to police violently cracking down on civil rights protesters had been lost on him, he said.
He realized he was in the wrong, he wrote, after speaking with a black friend. He deleted the Facebook post.
On Saturday, Judge again apologized.
"I am not a racist. I know I can say that all day long and it just sounds contrived, but I was just trying to be silly and it went sideways," he said.
And, with the peaceful march in Simi Valley on Saturday, he acknowledged he had been wrong to suggest protesters should stay away. He had feared a march in Simi Valley would turn violent because of "the target" he said the town has had on it since four white officers were acquitted of beating King in 1992. The town, he said, does not deserve the reputation for racism that has endured since the trial.
That deep-seated reputation was the backdrop for the march Saturday. On Twitter and elsewhere, many people commented on the surprise they felt at seeing Simi Valley host an event and the town's police chief encouraging it.
"It was shocking. I can't imagine this happening growing up," said Jacinda Dougherty, 26, who grew up in Simi Valley and joined the march while home visiting family for the summer. "To come back now and see thousands of people saying 'black lives matter' is amazing. It's hopeful.'"
Foster said growing up black in Simi Valley was an isolated experience in which she was the only black girl in her classes at school and often encountered jokes and insults about her race.
Judge, she said, "had a chance to help do something about that reputation and he didn't take it. I think that says more about his character than anything."
His apologies aside, Judge said he will not accede to calls for him to resign his council seat.
"In 2022 the citizens of Simi Valley can tell me to go if they want," he said.