Hundreds of Santa Monica businesses sustain significant damage
By Sam Catanzaro
Amid a petition calling for her recall, Santa Monica’s police chief is defending her handling of looting that left hundreds of businesses damaged, saying the department had some “really big wins”.
On Sunday, May 31 a peaceful protest against the police killing of George Floyd began at the intersection of Ocean and Montana avenues. The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) was aware of the protest beforehand but said organizers canceled the protest Saturday night.
“What we knew was that on Sunday we were supposed to have a planned peaceful protest at Ocean and Montana and then that protest got canceled,” said SMPD Chief Cynthia Renaud.
The protest began at noon. The crowd proceeded peacefully south on Ocean Avenue before gathering near the Santa Monica Pier entrance for eight minutes and forty-six seconds of silence to commemorate the killing of George Floyd. Demonstrators then returned to Montana Avenue a marched east, breaking through a police barrier in the process.
Around 1:30 p.m., reports of looting at Santa Monica Place began circulating. About the same time, a separate group of protestors started gathering in large numbers near the intersection of Ocean and Colorado avenues.
Around 2 p.m., the SMPD began clearing out looters from Santa Monica Place although many businesses had already sustained losses.
Looters, however, began targeting businesses elsewhere Downtown hitting 4th Street especially hard. While looters were breaking into businesses, a large contingent of SMPD officers attempted to control the protest at Ocean and Colorado avenues, firing teargas and rubber bullets at the crowd.
When asked if, in retrospect, this was a good use of police resources, Chief Renaud defended the decision, saying the crowd had become violent.
“We had a plan in place for this peaceful protest. The crowd became very large for that protest and then turned violent and we helped facilitate getting the peaceful protestors back to Ocean and Montana so they could protest and then we were then left with a violent crowd and it was a substantially large crowd that took a large number of officers to try and stay and keep that crowd in control,” Renaud said. “What the media cameras didn’t capture and what was hard to see that the crowd was extremely hostile and violent. They were throwing rocks and bottles at the police officers. They were firing at them with M-80s…had we not contained that crowd, that violence would have spread like fingers all throughout the city and so we had to make the tactical decision to prioritize physical safety and life and make a decision to try and protect the city as a whole.”
As seen in media coverage from Sunday and experienced by the Santa Monica Mirror, a vast majority of the protestors appeared peaceful.
While protestors eventually dispersed, the looting continued throughout the evening. In total, over 150 Santa Monica businesses sustained “significant” damage, 350 reported some loss while nine fires burned throughout the city.
Renaud said the Department focused on protecting Santa Monica Place and the Third Street Promenade from looters.
“We concentrated on the Promenade and the Santa Monica Place Mall and while some stores got looted in both of those places, we also had some really big wins and the majority of the stores in both of those locations were not touched,” Renaud said.
Unprotected, however, were stores on 4th Street, many of them small businesses, unlike the large chains occupying the mall and promenade.
One of these businesses is Sunny Optometry, located at 1355 4th Street.
“The team at Sunny Optometry was overwhelmingly excited to welcome back patients after a two-month closure from the COVID-19 pandemic. After months of grueling planning, we managed to safely reopen our doors to serve our community and restore our teams’ lost jobs. On Sunday, May 31st, only two weeks after reopening, waves of brazen rioters and looters destroyed all that our team has built since 1985,” the store said in an email. “Amid the start of a protest in downtown Santa Monica, all day we helplessly witnessed our life’s work vandalized, stolen, and burned. The looters were so thorough they stole everything including receipt paper, pennies and lint in our drawers before setting it all ablaze.”
The result was similar to the unrest seen at the Beverly Center, Rodeo Drive, the Original Farmers Market and the Grove Saturday and Downtown Los Angeles Friday. When asked why the Department did not warn local businesses to prepare for a similar situation, Chief Renaud claimed the SMPD was not aware of any intelligence indicating the possibility of looting.
“We were actively monitoring intelligence and if there were social media posts from people who were planning to come in and loot, my intelligence team wasn’t on those social media websites on Saturday night,” Renaud said. “When I say we weren’t on those social media websites I don’t want to make light of this, but the police department is not exactly invited to those social media platforms for people who are planning to come in and loot.”
In the same interview, however, Renaud noted that on Saturday night, seeing what was happening in Beverly Hills, the SMPD decided to increase staffing for Sunday but did not warn local businesses to prepare for potential looters. In an interview with the Santa Monica Daily Press, Renaud specifically mentioned that the Department observed coordinated looting in Beverly Hills Saturday night. In addition, a post on social media shows an exchange between the SMPD and a citizen warning the Department about the potential of looting on Sunday.
In the wake of the Department’s handling of the events Sunday, a petition is circulating calling for the recall of Chief Renaud.
“After seeing the widespread looting and vandalism of our city and local businesses, we can do better. After seeing our brave law enforcement officers stand by without strong leadership or overarching strategy to protect themselves, our city, and its citizens, we have to do better,” reads the petition, which as of Monday at 10:30 p.m. had over 56,000 supporters. “We need and deserve strong, resounding leadership in Santa Monica’s police force, particularly during today’s volatile times. SMPD Chief Cynthia Renaud has proven incapable of responding to that call effectively. For the sake of our community and public safety, we need to remove Cynthia Renaud from her position immediately.”
City Manager Lane Dilg told the Santa Monica Mirror that she stands with Chief Renaud and the SMPD.
“The Santa Monica Police Department was confronted with the most challenging of circumstances on Sunday. They were responding to a peaceful protest, the voices of which we support, they were responding to infiltrators of that protest who were agitators who were clearly engaged in unlawful activity and some of whom sought to harm our officers,” Dilg said. “I support the Chief. I support the men and women of Santa Monica Police Department and I thank them for their extraordinary hard work on Sunday night.”
Renaud, for her part, said the petition is “unfair” to her officers.
“In what was written about me, there is an unfairness to the officers because they may have used my name and said bad things about me, but really what the allegation is that SMPD did not do anything and SMPD officers were completely committed to keeping that community safe, they were putting themselves at risk, they were out there from the very beginning. We had a plan in place. We had our officers deployed. They are taking rocks and bottles. They got shot at with M-80s. They made over 400 arrests. They addressed looting in several key areas,” Renaud said. “What was captured on video of the other areas of the city that were lost, we acknowledge that and we grieve.”
It should be noted, however, that a vast majority of the people arrested did not spend the night in jail and instead were issued citations.