Lawmakers vote down item 4-3 at meeting this week
By Sam Catanzaro
Santa Monica lawmakers rejected a motion this week that would have banned certain items from protests and public demonstrations.
On Tuesday April 13, Santa Monica City Council voted down an emergency ordinance proposed by Interim City Attorney George Cardona and Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks “relating to restrictions on carrying, using, or possessing certain specified items during community events or public assemblies to promote public safety and welfare.”
Under the proposed legislation, wooden sticks, metal and plastic pipes, baseball bats, aerosol sprays, weapons, glass bottles, shields, bricks and rocks would have been prohibited at protests, public assemblies and community events.
While not explicitly mentioned in the ordinance, the proposal comes as police departments across the country brace for potential unrest as the trial against Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with killing George Floyd, is underway in Minneapolis.
On May 31, 2020 in Santa Monica rioters, taking advantage of a peaceful protest against the killing of Floyd, looted hundreds of Santa Monica businesses. The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) was criticized for its response to the event, at one point firing tear gas and rubber bullets on a crowd of protestors while just blocks away looters tore through downtown Santa Monica.
In a report, city staff also cited concern over violent protests that have occurred over the past few years in Washington, D.C.; Charlottesville, Virginia; St. Louis, Missouri; Portland, Oregon, Berkeley, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland.
“out of concern that the City could see occurrences of violence arising from otherwise peaceful protests similar to those experienced in the cities referenced above and here in Santa Monica in May 2020, the Santa Monica Police Department asks the City Council to adopt an ordinance revising SMMC Section 4.08.780 to implement a ban at community events and public assemblies on the carrying or possession of items that can readily be weaponized and serve no legitimate purpose at a peaceful protest, public assembly, or community event,” reads a staff report. “Adopting such an ordinance will further the goal of ensuring that community members may continue to exercise their constitutional rights to engage in expressive activities without fear of violence or injury.”
At the April 13 meeting, Councilmembers Phil Brock, Christine Parra and Oscar de la Torre voted in favor of an amended version of the law that would have had a sunset clause and would have allowed the use of certain items used to facilitate freedom of expression.
“This ordinance will protect residents who are demonstrating peacefully, and also support the First Amendment and give our law enforcement staff the tools to deal with individuals that are coming to a demonstration with other intention,” de la Torre said at the meeting.
Mayor Sue Himmelrich and Councilmembers Kevin McKeown, Gleam Davis and Kristin McCowan voted against the proposal arguing current city code provides police with the power to step in if objects are weaponized. Davis, in her remarks during debate, used the hypothetical of someone bringing a sword to a protest.
“If the ordinance banned swords, if we saw someone wade into a protest with a sword even if they hadn’t cut anyone yet, I’m assuming that police would go up to that person and say, ‘Whoa, you’ve got a sword.’ I mean, I’m sort of stunned in that we don’t think we could do anything absent this ordinance,” Davis said.