The Great Santa Monica Loot-Out! A Day of Infamy!
I experienced the looting of our town first hand on May 31st. I was horrified. It was was the worst day in Santa Monica's history. The leadership of our city failed. The City Council FAILED. The leadership of the Santa Monica Police Department FAILED. The interim City Manager and her staff FAILED.
Here are excerpts from my op-Ed's in the Santa Monica Mirror in the weeks following the looting of our city...
Santa Monica overwhelmed
Chaos, anguish, despair, and lawlessness gripped our city on Sunday. By Monday, anger, disbelief, and heartbreak were the words of choice. One Hundred Fifty-Five businesses had “significant” damage. Over Three Hundred Fifty reported some loss. Nine fires set. Citations issued to Four Hundred Thirty-Eight people. None spent a night in jail. A petition to remove the Chief of Police has garnered over 37,000 signatures in five days.
I marched in the peaceful protest in Palisades Park from Montana to Colorado and back at Noon, Sunday, May 31. Approximately 200 Santa Monicans walked to protest the slaying of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. It included 8 minutes, forty-six seconds of silence to commemorate the amount of time that the policeman (now charged with 2nd-degree murder) kept his knee on George’s neck. The procession included a variety of residents, both young and old, furious at the unjust killing of yet another black man in our nation. A squad of SMPD motor units and Culver City police officers met the peaceful protest at Montana at Ocean as we returned to the starting point. The officers in riot gear appeared to be overkill for this small neighborhood march, and their appearance revved up the protestors. Eventually, the motor cops abruptly departed, and a segment of peaceful protestors walked east on Montana and through the NOMA neighborhood for several hours. I left the march and moved south on 4th Street.
I arrived downtown just after the looting began in earnest. There were police stationed on each block of the Promenade, but none to be seen elsewhere in our city’s core. SMPD arrived in force to chase criminals from Santa Monica Place. Our police refused to venture a half-block east to confront the hundreds of looters marauding along Fourth Street. I stood at 4th and Arizona, desperately calling 911 as I saw each store invaded. SMPD responded to one of my calls – throngs of looters using tire irons and hammers on Bank of America. The looters ran, and our officers turned and headed back towards the ocean. I watched as looters continued to ransack Wasteland, Road Runner, and Patagonia.
Each looter would fill their arms with merchandise, run through the B of A and Chase parking lots, and deposit their goods in cars idling on 5th and Arizona. Then they would reverse course and return for more. Young, high school, college-age, female, and male, with stylish getaway cars (some rented), became a mob scene. I spent two hours on the streets of downtown Santa Monica as total lawlessness gripped it. It was as if our Police Department had gone on strike just as a massive swath of gang bangers drove into our town. Cue an old Western B-Movie where the sheriff knows the gang outnumbers him on the way into town throws down his badge and leaves. It is hard to describe the feelings I had. The utter despair of knowing that the merchants were on their own, that there would be no help for those attacked. The extreme frustration of calling 911 twice to say that looters were breaking into T-Mobile and seeing no response when the SMPD officers at Wilshire Blvd and the Promenade could see the break-in occurring. Watching the looters block Wilshire and 4th so their compatriots could load up the cars with hot merchandise was especially depressing. Five minutes later, I called 911 again as the windows at Kurt’s Jeweler’s shattered. You guessed it, no response. It was an organized mob of looters from the LA area. Posts on social media had advertised the event all day. It was not a secret that the criminals were coming. The party was on, but SMPD chose not to attend.
After viewing the unrest and looting at Beverly Center, Rodeo Drive, Farmers Market, and the Grove Saturday afternoon, and downtown Los Angeles Friday night, it was apparent that wealthy Santa Monica was the next target. Why weren’t downtown business owners warned so they could ready themselves for the onslaught? They could have boarded up or stayed in their shops and prepared. Some of the establishments that had armed guards or owners who were armed went unharmed. If the Santa Monica Police could not defend Downtown Santa Monica (DTSM), they were obligated to let businesses know that they were on their own.
Why did the SMPD only focus on the non-violent protestors on Ocean Avenue and Montana Avenue and ignore the massive criminal enterprise that was destroying the city that we love? They received over 700 emergency calls that day. Overwhelming, yes, but why was looting overlooked? Officers watched as the Nike store was laid bare. Van’s lost everything. Officers abandoned the remainder of DTSM as well as Lincoln Blvd, and the list goes on. Why didn’t we box in the looters and seal our downtown streets? Again, we knew this was coming. Our city suffered no damage in the Rodney King riots of 1992. We sealed the borders, enforced curfews, and posted Police everywhere. This time, SMPD failed. Convincing threats to the Pier had been received, but looters and agitators didn’t access that landmark. We tear-gassed the mostly peaceful demonstrators, along with a few bad apples who wanted to confront any police officers they saw. During the entire time that SMPD was confronting the protestors, criminals ran rampant—almost four hours without police units in DTSM and throughout the city. Why weren’t we confronting looters the way we were confronting protestors?
I believe a police presence throughout our city would have prevented the disaster that occurred. I do not comprehend why we did not request the National Guard until 12:30 PM Sunday when we knew a hurricane of looters was coming Sunday afternoon. We had mutual aid officers present from other cities, the Sheriff’s Department standing by, and yet no officers to lock down DTSM. To most residents, there was a total abject failure to care for our public safety.
My mother lives next to a car dealership, and my significant other was with her as looters smashed the windows at the dealership. They called 911 to report that Santa Monica BMW was under siege. The 911 operator was apologetic, “No one to send.” Later, when the police began to push the protestors east on Broadway, my 92-year-old mother called to inform me that looters and protestors were accessing apartment houses on her block. The police had pushed demonstrators into the residential areas, and many of them roamed the Mid-City Neighborhoods until after 10 PM. Again, no response from SMPD.
Days later, this horrific experience is still raw, but healing comes quickly. The sun rose on Monday to a renewed sense of community spirit. Throngs of Santa Monicans fanned out throughout our city to remove broken glass from our streets, clean graffiti, and comfort merchants who had lost everything. Of particular note, the Samohi grads who own and operate the Santa Monica Music Center. Lana Fernandez Negrete and her family have been great friends of our schools and music community for years. Looters cleaned them out. Wonders of the World owner Henry Runch watched as marauders pillaged his unrivaled collection of crystals and ancient artifacts and beat him. After being closed for ten weeks due to COVID-19, it cost him $10,000 to board up his store. Both of the above stores have launched Go Fund Me pages. They need our help.
We love our Santa Monica Police Department. I have friends who spent their law enforcement careers here, and I’ve always felt I could rely on them in times of need. The vacuum of leadership in the SMPD and City Hall is extremely unsettling to me. We need to dig deep and examine the failures of May 31. A thorough, independent, no holds barred investigation is required. While we’re at it, the trust of the community in our police is compromised. There is a solution. Establish a Police Commission with teeth. Top-notch civilian oversight of all Police Departments is a must. It is time for action in Santa Monica. “What are we paying our police force for if they are not making arrests on the most violent crime-ridden day in the history of the city.” – Josh Levy, resident.
His final words echo across the world. “I can’t breathe, please, sir, please, please, please, I can’t breathe.”
By Phil Brock 6/4/20
The Great Santa Monica Loot-Out
Our looting redux. The angst and anger of our community are still reverberating throughout Santa Monica. Everyone I have communicated with has a strong opinion about the events of Sunday, May 31st. The afternoon of looting was an “all-time low” for our city. The owners of Santa Monica Music Center called 911 seventeen times. The response, “You’re on your own. If you own a registered firearm, you’re welcome to guard your own business.” Residents need to understand how our treasured, independent merchants became part of a free-for-all swap meet downtown. By the way, downtown SM (DTSM) includes Lincoln Blvd. The district and zoning designations were expanded so the city council could let their crony developers build higher and more densely on Lincoln, feasting at the trough of residents. So, when we say looting, we include Lincoln.
~ How utterly shameful to see our Police Chief in press conferences that day describing the situation as under control! The split-screen TV showed restaurants on fire and stores destroyed in our beloved city. Twenty-nine guns and ammunition are missing from Big Five. The fire starters who set the blaze at Sake House are still on the run. The woman who split the skull of an older man at Von’s with a baseball bat is still on the loose. Astounding figures. One Hundred fifty-three shops and restaurants looted. Another 150 damaged. Some won’t reopen. Sunnin Lebanese Cuisine on Santa Monica Blvd is one of those. Many looting victims are upset that no members of the city council have reached out.
~ Our police were guilty of the same senseless brutality that our progressive city council decries in other cities. Protesters on Ocean Avenue were tear-gassed even though many of them were sitting – just sitting. Yes, they were sitting in the middle of Ocean Avenue, but this was a moment of utmost importance in America. The entire nation watched a white policeman murder George Floyd. Black men have felt that same knee on their neck for 401 years but this time in broad daylight, on video. So, protesters were angry. Our police department, along with officers from mutual aid cities lined up against them. These men and women, young and old, felt that the knee of the police on all their backs, so they didn’t leave. The Santa Monica Police, well-schooled in the art of de-escalation, threw it away, and instead attacked this relatively peaceful group with rubber projectiles and tear gas. This happened a block from that great bastion of progressive power, our city hall. Where were the majority of our elected officials during this fiasco? Why weren’t the combined police departments confronting the looters on Second, Fourth, and Fifth streets?
The police accountability for this travesty? Yeah, we will get an independent report sometime in the fall. If it praises the chief, her command team, and the incident commander’s actions, it will go public before November. If the news is negative, who wants to bet the report will be under wraps until after the November elections! By the way, despite the tone of what I have written above, I’m not knocking our police officers. Their ranks are full of great caring men and women. I’ve always been proud of them, and I still am. I support them and know they are dealt an impossible assignment, charged with correcting the world’s ills when police are just supposed to keep us safe. I know that they are anguished, heartsick, and angry, as we all are, about the results of Sunday, May 31st.
After the participation of hundreds of thousands in protests throughout our nation, the cry to “defund” police departments is omnipresent. In most cases, you can interpret that as shifting financial resources back to social service and youth support programs. It’s time to re-examine the function of our police department and what its specific focus should be.
Our police chief, city council, and city administrators let us down. To use football as an analogy, you saw no plan, no strategy, no ability to adapt or adjust during the incident. Our city leaders were outplayed by a group of looters from all over LA, drawn by social media posts of a “party in downtown Santa Monica.” Pathetic! Maybe our chief should check her Twitter feed more often. Quoted in the Santa Monica Lookout, a senior retired SMPD official stated, “We thought we were going to a ballet, and it turned out to be a hard rock concert.”
City council members attempted to identify and treat some of the causes of long term institutional racism Tuesday evening. The Obama and 8 Can’t-Wait policies were both adopted. Both address the SMPD use-of-force policies and call for needed reforms within the police department. Council members went further and voted to institute a Black Agenda with the help of our city’s residents of color. An excellent first step – reverse the flight of our city’s black residents to other communities. What does the black community in Santa Monica want and need to thrive? There are over 200 black-owned restaurants in Los Angeles County, zero in Santa Monica.
Phil Brock 6/11/20
If It’s Not Okay…
The events of May 31st were a tipping point. Looting, destruction, fires, and vandalism permeated our town. The leadership of the SMPD was MIA. Our police chief Cynthia Renaud (incoming President of the International Association of Police Chiefs), landed at SMO 1/2 hour before that day’s peaceful demonstration began. She didn’t call up enough officers, didn’t recognize the threat, seemingly didn’t have a plan, and couldn’t deal with the challenges the day presented. As a result, peaceful protestors faced tear-gas and rubber projectiles on Ocean Avenue while looters had a field day throughout downtown and on our boulevards. Yes, there will be a report, eventually. Resident Craig Miller is picketing our public safety headquarters each Wednesday evening. He wants to know why peaceful protestors were assaulted before curfew by the SMPD and assisting agencies. He believes there is systemic racism in our police department and is demanding a change in leadership. And, let’s not put the entire blame on the chief. The acting city manager and all seven city council members share the responsibility for this permanent stain. Now that the Pier has reopened, please take a minute to stand under its iconic sign and imagine the smell of tear gas in the air. Gaze southeast at City Hall and wonder why the nine people who failed us on May 31st are still at their desks.
Phil Brock 6/25/20
Brushfires of Freedom
Casual racism is not an aberration in our community. It starts in the home and then spreads through our schools. For those who believe that our progressive city is enlightened, you must read the contrarian stories that are broadcasting via Instagram at @dearsamohi. Current and former Santa Monica High School students of color are venting about their experiences in our city’s public high school. The color baiting, name-calling, and disparaging of students due to their skin color and ethnicity are shocking. During my time at Samohi, decades ago, there were lines of color and racism etched into the culture. I had hoped they would have disappeared over the ensuing fifty years. Whether substantial or subtle, students of color are hurt every time racist remarks and actions surface. A school that produced both presidential advisor Stephen Miller and astronaut Johnny Kim in the same graduating class reflects our vastly differing societal norms; however, I want our students, teachers, parents, and administration to demand more. It is incumbent on all of us to rise.
Black Lives Matter can’t be a catchword that fades as the news cycle moves on. It must stay front and center in every city, town, and village in America. I observed some lip service on the city council dais about change and our standard civic response, let’s “study” the problem. Meanwhile, we cut programs and raised rates for services that improve our youth’s opportunity to have a healthier, enlightened life. And, the police department has not seen any changes. A continuous crime wave has gripped our city over the past four years. Our police department will be better prepared to respond to significant challenges if they do not need to respond to every petty call. A healthcare professional or social worker can handle many requests for service. These do not need a badge and gun response. The acting city manager and our city council must make systemic changes to our police department. One positive step – remove the police chief. Then, instruct the Police Officers Association (POA) that city council candidates will not accept their union endorsements nor money in the upcoming election. Removing the POA’s power of the purse to retain council members who grant them big pay raises opens the door to real reform. We must eliminate racism within the SMPD, restore the confidence of residents, and reallocate resources where they are needed.
Say his name…ELIJAH MCCLAIN Say her name…BREONNA TAYLOR
Phil Brock 7/2/20