I left work about 5 p.m. and drove to the San Jose Convention Center to hear Donald Trump speak on June 2.
I’ve been voting for conservative candidates for 15 years and have been a registered Republican since 2015. Now that the general election is under way, I believe Trump is the best candidate to fix our country’s many problems, and I believe he’s going to be the next commander in chief. So I was excited to hear him, and to show my support.
Walking into the rally with a friend, I was a little wary: Trump’s speech to the California Republican Convention in Burlingame had been disrupted by protesters, and I wasn’t sure whether to expect a similar scene in San Jose. We got to the event early and must have been inside already by the time protesters gathered in the streets near the convention center.
The speech really energized me. I got a new sense of appreciation and respect for Trump after a Bernie Sanders supporter interrupted him with a sign. Trump didn’t blink: “Darling, there’s no way he can win, but keep your sign high,” he said.
That is the president I want. It was great being around so many Republicans – in the Bay Area, we don’t have a lot of that, so it was great to feel the camaraderie of being part of the GOP.
My trouble began once the rally was over.
My friend and I joined a crowd of Trump supporters who had all left the convention center around the same time. The garage where we had parked our car was right next to the building, but police were directing everyone around the block to another garage entrance instead. The farther we walked, the fewer Trump fans were with us – people began peeling off to go to restaurants or bars in the area, or to other garages nearby.
And suddenly, protesters were everywhere. Some were holding Mexican flags or burning American ones. They were yelling “F-- Trump!” at us and cornering us. Some of them started grabbing Trump supporters – they were going up and slugging people, sucker-punching people, just picking out random people.
As much as we wanted to help our fellow Republicans, I knew any moment that could be me. So my friend and I just kept walking – sometimes, we’d be running. We saw police standing nearby, but they did nothing. That scared me because I thought, “OK, if I’m next, there’s going to be no cops.”
About a block from the garage entrance, we turned down the street and found a line of protesters standing in our way. To get to our car, we’d have to go through them. My friend and I were wearing “Make America Great Again” Trump hats. We were targets, and I was terrified. I could feel it coming – they would look at me and start walking up to me.
Before we could make it into the garage, four or five men surrounded me, and another four surrounded my friend. They just started swinging. We swung back as best as we could. My main thing was I didn’t want to fall; I didn’t want to be knocked down. I’m not a big guy, but I can defend myself as best I can if it’s one on one– but not when they have so much anger against us.
One of the blows caught my nose and blood started pouring out. That kind of stunned them, and they backed off a quick second. My adrenaline kicked in. I felt punches on my head and I felt the punch that hit my nose, but I was in survival mode by then, and I didn’t realize until later how much it hurt. I called to my friend, “OK, let’s go!”
We ran into the parking garage and thought we were safe, but there were a few dozen protesters there, too. We got in our car and headed toward the exit. Protesters jumped on the cars in front of us, but we eventually made it out.
My friend drove me to the emergency room because my nose was pouring blood. I had a broken nose, and because I was covered with scratches, I had to get a tetanus shot, too. It took a lot out of me, much more than I realized at first. My headaches and soreness didn’t start to go away until a week later.
I still can’t believe how poorly the police handled the protests. I live by Levi’s Stadium, where the Super Bowl was held amid a heavy police presence. Yet despite the violence that had been breaking out near Trump rallies, San Jose apparently wasn’t prepared for it. The Los Angeles chapter of Log Cabin Republicans held a news conference back in San Jose on Wednesday to get some answers from Mayor Sam Liccardo and the police department about why they let me and others get attacked and made only a few arrests.
The whole thing made me angry. Here in Northern California, I feel like a unicorn: I’m a gay Hispanic Republican. It was much harder to come out as a Trump supporter than it was to come out as gay. The minute you say you’re for Trump, everyone comes at you – but this has pushed me out of the closet about it completely.
I should be able to vote for whom I want, and I shouldn’t have to deal with violence to hear my candidate speak. If people want to protest at rallies, they should do it peacefully. I have a young niece and nephew, and I don’t want them to think this is how politics work in the United States.
We can’t let our freedom of speech and our freedom of assembly be tarnished by politicians like those in San Jose who do not have our safety at heart.
Juan Hernandez lives in Santa Clara. He wrote this for The Washington Post.