I was thinking the other day about the Santa Monica College students and employees who desperately barricaded themselves in a storeroom in the library there when mayhem came calling, dodging bullets as the shooter (no name because I don’t believe in adding fame) tried to add them to his grisly list. In hindsight, it was the right thing to do. Not only did they survive, but his efforts to kill them distracted him long enough that other students were able to run out back exits, even jump out windows.

One can only imagine how terrified they must have been as bullets came whistling through the walls. Then my next thought was of the three police officers who took him down in a hail of gunfire. Reports I read left the image that they came upon him as he was shooting into the storeroom, or right after, that he unleashed a volley in their direction but that one or more rounds from the police ended the fight, and his tragic life.

Reports revealed it was two Santa Monica officers and one from the campus police. There were several police units involved that day, quickly called in from nearby cities, and it’s interesting that in that urgent and confusing chain of events you had this mixed group confronting the killer. I would love to praise these brave officers by name but I haven’t seen them identified anywhere.

I have no idea if police protocol had them hitting the ground or firing from behind file cabinets (our publisher, having just completed the community police training, might know), but I had this romantic image of the brave trio marching straight towards the killer, standing tall, guns aimed with precision, ignoring his deadly barrage to hit their mark as quickly as possible.

If they hadn’t? It was reported that he fired about 70 rounds in the library, and that he was packing another 1,300 rounds. The police concluded his intent was to kill a lot of people. The deaths of five are terrible enough, but it could have been much, much worse if not for those heroic officers. We owe them a lot.

Then, right here in sleepy Santa Monica (seems to me like a strange adjective to apply here, but I saw it used over and over in news reports, including in one that stated we are “nearby” Thousand Oaks), we had two more shootings within five days (one fatality), in our town that has experienced a 10 percent decline in crime this year, according to Santa Monica police, and only four murders in the previous three years. (But in 1995 alone, there were 10 murders.) The additional incidents were jarring, leaving a feeling of “haven’t we had enough?”

 

Safety vs. the rule of law

 

When these things happen, when sick individuals use easily available automatic weapons and huge ammo clips to spread their misery, we’re so grateful to have our amazing first responders, doing their dangerous jobs not without fear, no doubt, but willing and able to perform nonetheless. But we must always, for the good of us all, insist that they follow the laws they are sworn to uphold, at all times, even in the most trying situations. Otherwise, when law and the Constitution are elbowed aside in the name of safety, we all lose.

In the chaos of that Friday, two news photographers were arrested, from AP and the European Pressphoto Agency, along with a SMC professor who may have had press credentials as well. I’ve spoken with one of the photographers, and with a representative of the SMPD, to try to find out what really happened. In light of the events of that day this would seem trivial, but the guarantee of a free press, though misunderstood by most, is absolutely vital to a democracy and must be maintained no matter what. Without it, we’re all on the road to an Orwellian future. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Norms and our classic post office building

 

I suppose there are those who think of our soon-lost Norms on Lincoln as just another diner, and will mourn its passing no more than if it were a McDonald’s. I like Norms for a lot of reasons, and I’m discovering even more as I learn more about this location and the people who work there, and the chain itself.

While some employees seemed pleased that the Daily Press is writing about this loss, and I was told the issue with a previous column of mine that discussed it was passed around the counter by longtime customers who were moved to tell some of their Norms stories, one of the managers seemed less than warm to greet me when I stopped in this week.

I wrote that “several employees noted to me, they can’t find places for all of them at restaurants that are already fully staffed.” Seems that’s not the case, and I’m told now by company spokesmen and Santa Monica Norms employees that everyone there will have a job at another Norms. VP Jerry O’Connell told me that in his 34 years with the company, Norms has never laid off an employee. Not one. Not even during severe economic downturns. They will double up if they have to for a while, especially with managers. But that’s their policy. I think Wal-Mart operates that way too, right?

Norms is exactly the kind of business we want and need in Santa Monica, and we’re losing it after almost 50 years only because the pro-unlimited development faction in city government made it lucrative for developers to offer sums that can’t be refused for locations like this. More next time on the Norms staff’s interesting life stories.

Speaking of losing our history, I see our beautiful WPA-built main post office will have its last day of operation June 29, almost 75 years to the day after its heralded opening. The government ordering that public edifice built took people off the unemployment rolls during the Depression (the other one); what a concept. I saw all over Europe, on my recent travels there, that in every country they preserve and refurbish their historic buildings, and we’re talking about centuries old. Here, everything’s for sale. That’s very valuable Downtown real estate there, should have a business on it, maybe with a few stories of condos on top, right? Yes the U.S. Postal Service is hemorrhaging money, but mainly because it is the only business forced by Congress to fund its benefits program 75 years in the future, clearly an attempt to drive them under so private interests can step in and make a fortune. If that happens, do you think a letter will still be delivered for under half a buck?

 

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

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