It is Premature to Recall Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud, Due to George Floyd Riots
The petition to recall the police chief because of the unchecked looting on May 31 is based on emotion and not fact
June 15, 2020
Close to 60,000 signatures have been gathered as of this writing asking for the recall of Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud. Most residents of the city are furious about the wide-scale looting that occurred during and after the "mostly peaceful" protest that paraded from Montana Avenue and down Ocean Avenue early in the afternoon. The City of Santa Monica has received 350 damage reports with 150 retail businesses claiming significant damage from the unrest on Sunday, May 31.
At a town hall meeting last Thursday with the police, business owners questioned why the police were "just standing there all in one spot" while looters were destroying stores on 4th Street and Broadway.
Oddly enough, there are some actual answers as to why the police were not able to protect all the stores in Santa Monica. There are also answers that may take time to unpack until 750 police body-cam video has been reviewed along with news footage and citizen video. The truth requires investigation and facts rather than emotion. Nobody is happy about the widespread looting, some reported beatings, and the alarming civil unrest displayed on May 31. But shooting from the hip is making the same mistake of which the signers of the recall petition are accusing Renaud. Acting without information.
Let's dismiss one inaccuracy right off the bat. A "mostly peaceful" protest means it was not peaceful. In addition, witnesses to the protest describe a gathering that was more threatening than righteously angry about George Floyd's death at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis.
(We are uncertain why citizens in Santa Monica need display so much indignation about a police killing in a city in another state with a different police force and different training and policies than our own. Again, the national outpouring of fury regarding this admittedly outrageous case of alleged police brutality is based on emotion and not facts. There are no facts on which to extrapolate the guilt and brutality of all police officers everywhere in the country based on this one individual. Never, anywhere, have I seen FACTS presented to justify this charge - probably because they do not exist. But all that is another question.)
One eyewitness to the initial parade of marchers down Montana Avenue described the crowd as far more menacing than those who participated have admitted. In a Facebook post, this individual wrote, "Among the protestors were those more than happy to give the looters license. The protestors are a mixed ideological group--and the most active and vocal, from my vantage standing while they marched by, were those who called for violence and revolution (not the "nice" kind of revolution, but October 1917 revolution of some variety, with civil war and executions). The principle graffiti in Santa Monica's looted arena this morning: "Kill the Pigs" and "F* the Police."
Another Facebook post from someone intending to attend the protest proactively blamed the police for any unrest that was sure to occur. It would be the police's fault for "swaggering in," according to this individual.
The protest was already primed to become violent, as had happened the night before in the Fairfax district, where another "mostly peaceful" protest turned into rampant looting and arson.
The open letter Chief Renaud published in Surf Santa Monica bears out these accounts. Regarding the police department's failure to protect the businesses on 4th Street, Renaud says, "SMPD was working to end violence from the crowd in front of the Pier who were throwing rocks and bottles, firing fireworks and even attempting to pull one motor officer off of his motorcycle."
According to SMPD executive officer Joseph Cortez in an interview with LA Mag, there were "unlawful individuals" within the protest caught with Molotov Cocktails, illegally concealed guns, and gasoline. Police cars were set on fire - this was shown in helicopter news footage - and an attempt to storm the city's courthouse, ending in smashed windows. "We know that they were targeting the Santa Monica Pier," Cortez said.
Cortez admits, "We were definitely outmanned overall." And this was after calling in every single Santa Monica police officer, getting additional help law enforcement in surrounding cities, and calling in the National Guard as early as 12:30 in the afternoon.
The National Guard did not arrive until 9:00 pm as they had been occupied with protecting Los Angeles City Hall.
SMPD was able to maintain some order in the areas in which they were able to deploy while keeping control of potential arsonists near the pier: the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place.
Is it possible the Santa Monica Police Department should have been able to foresee opportunistic looters driving into the city while anarchist agitators set up blockades on 4th and Colorado? Perhaps. Would it have made a difference, given the full deployment of officers, aid from other cities, and the delay of the National Guard? Uncertain. Perhaps more officers could have been borrowed from neighboring towns, but that might also have left those areas vulnerable to the looters who might have turned in that direction instead. It would not be fair to ask other communities to suffer looting because we borrowed their police force.
While some attack Chief Renaud for not doing enough to control the unruly crowd and protect downtown Santa Monica, others are angry that too much policing was done toward the "peaceful protestors." A well-funded group called Santa Monicans for Democracy has taken out large advertisements in local newspapers decrying the police's alleged use of tear gas and rubber bullets against the protestors prior to the 4 pm curfew that day. This group plans an "Occupy SMPD Headquarters" on Wednesday.
Again, all the facts are not in. If the group upon whom the police fired tear gas and rubber bullets included individuals with illegal weapons and incendiary devices, they are not protected by the 1st Amendment.
The two weeks since George Floyd's unnecessary death has seen a convulsion of emotion in this country. Some of this emotion may be attributed to his brutal killing, some may easily be attributed to the pent-up tensions of the lockdown and other, politically driven propaganda. The consequence of acting on emotion rather than fact has been mass and wanton destruction, in some cases targeting the very communities the "mostly peaceful" protests were supposed to be aiding.
Let's act on fact instead of emotion for a change. And we are not yet in possession of all available facts.