Santa Monica’s Committee for Racial Justice (CRJ) is forging ahead with its plans for upcoming meetings despite threats of continued protests.
The organization’s past two meetings, both held before the large protests in Charlottesville, were disrupted by individuals and organizations associated with the Alt-Right political movement. Some of those local protesters engaged in anti-Semitic or racist behavior and organizers have been debating how to proceed in the wake of the now national conversation about racism.
The July meeting was attended by several individuals in masks and the August event drew a large crowd that was ultimately barred from entering the workshop due to concerns over the room’s capacity and the possibility of violence between attendees and protesters.
Despite rumors of more disruptions at their future meetings, CRJ has decided the September meeting will occur as planed at their longtime meeting location. CRJ will meet on September 10 at Virginia Ave. Park to discuss the previously scheduled topic of education but officials said it will likely be a broader discussion.
“We are kind of talking about education be we have to address the things that have been happening and how the kids have been affected by everything,” said CRJ steering Committee member Robbie Jones.
She said the organization remains steadfast in its plans despite the threat of more protests.
“We just don’t want to be run out of our city or told that we can’t normally do what we do in our city,” she said.
She said CRJ has had meetings with the police department, city staff and the city attorney’s office to discuss options for addressing deliberately disruptive protests. She said discussions are ongoing with the police and staff but she felt the city could do more to address the issue.
“In other places they’re finding ways, creative ways, to prevent them from disrupting their city but I didn’t see that happening in our city,” she said.
Mayor Ted Winterer and Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis released a letter this week addressing the Charlottesville protests and the national mood.
“We speak for our colleagues on the City Council, our City staff and the vast majority in our community to reaffirm that Santa Monica fervently supports the equitable treatment of all people — regardless of race, cultural background, age, citizenship, gender or sexual orientation,” they said.
Winterer said the Council will listen to the Police Department when it comes to the legality of regulating free speech but said the city’s leadership has no tolerance for coercion or violence.
“The Santa Monica City Council is alarmed by the events at CRJ meetings in July and August,” he said. “The safety of our community is always our number one concern as is promoting inclusion and diversity. We pay deference to the Santa Monica Police Department to provide counsel and support.”
Public Information Officer Constance Farrell said the city is working with CRJ to help plan safe meetings.
“City Hall has been steadfast in protecting First Amendment Rights and our public spaces have frequently been used for peaceful protests and rallies,” she said. “We are equally steadfast in protecting our community from violence of any kind.”
Elected officials at the city, state and federal level have released statements regarding the state of the nation and the protests in Charlottesville.
“The neo-Nazi, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and its aftermath have left many of us feeling anger, sadness, and fear. The rally organizers’ ideology of anti-Semitism and racism and the resulting violence from these repugnant views are unequivocally abhorrent,” said State Senator Ben Allen.
Allen said the emboldened movements are likely to choose locations like Santa Monica that have a reputation for supporting progressive causes as the site of future protests.
“It’s disappointing, and annoying to have them come into our town to try to bring their hate filled antagonistic, uncivil message, but we’re going to be bigger than that, we’re going to stand up to their BS,” he said.
He said it’s especially frustrating when local entities have to contend with outside agitators.
“There maybe one or two who do live nearby but in general it still appears pretty clear it’s people coming from outside our community to create provocation and disturbance,” he said.
He said the best response is peaceful, nonviolent, civil dignified opposition. That can include attending rallies, participating in forums or choosing not to dignify offensive messages with a response.
Jones said CRJ is willing to listen to people who come with different ideas, but it won’t let its events become a forum for offensive behavior.
“If you come in good faith and with good, common decency, then sit down and let’s talk, that’s fine, but not to disrupt,” she said.