Community members gathered at the Church in Ocean Park for a forum and workshop on Aug. 14 to help them begin to cope with the issues raised by a recent Santa Monica High School racial incident.
On June 21, the Santa Monica Police Department began investigating a hate crime regarding a May 4 incident in which a black wrestler found a brown wrestling dummy suspended by a rope around its neck. Shortly afterward, the wrestler was also strapped to his locker by his teammates with a chain from a belt loop on his pants. His teammates also allegedly made racial remarks, which included “slave for sale.” The actions taken by school district officials who dealt with this incident are also being investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, instead of the local police department, to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest, because of the close relationship between the district and the City of Santa Monica.
Reverend James Lawson Jr., an internationally prominent leader of the civil rights movement who worked with Martin Luther King Jr., was the event’s guest speaker.
“The incident involving (the student) on May 4 was not accidental,” noted Lawson. “Racism is a primary feature of our country. Hate crimes are a normal part of America but for the most part we’re unaware of them.” A study done at Texas A and M University found that 66 percent of blacks report a hostile incident every day, but the study concluded that the media ignores most of them.
Lawson also defined racism as the concept of one race being superior to another race. “The issue is not race but racism.” He also explained that racism is interwoven with the issues of sexism, violence, and economic injustice. He said that in America systems, procedures and political structures continue to perpetuate the racism status quo. “Therefore, the first task for all those concerned about the racial incident is the need to purge ourselves of bigotry and sexism.” He then suggested that the community “lay on the table what the situation is” and then have the courage to develop a strategy to deal with changing the situation.
The attendees then broke into workshop groups. This reporter attended a group in which each person was asked to recall the first time they became aware of racial differences or had a racial experience. The group then discussed the state of the racial climate in Santa Monica today. Some felt Santa Monica exhibits a political correctness when it comes to race relations but under the surface racism exists.
The group discussion then turned to suggestions on steps that can be taken to help avoid future racial problems in the community. These steps were then shared and voted on by all those in attendance. The top vote-getters were having parent/teacher training and having the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District implement a culturally relevant curriculum.
The next citywide community meeting will be held at the Church in Ocean Park on Sept. 11 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Their address is 235 Hill Street.