Racists acts allegedly committed by members of the Santa Monica High School wrestling team in May are still generating heat.

While details are still being disputed, word is a prank was concocted by a couple of Samohi wrestlers that involved a black team member being chained to a locker while his white teammates allegedly chanted, “slave for sale.” Nearby, a noose was draped over a wrestling dummy, according to some accounts.

The incident itself and charges that the district failed to report an alleged hate crime to authorities as required by law are currently under investigation by law enforcement agencies.

Outraged members of the community addressed the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education on June 16 after news about the incident was leaked to the local media. Administrators and board members alike vowed to accelerate efforts to bring about racial harmony through education, training and public awareness.

Victoria Gray, the mother of the prank victim, wisely suggested “… a form go in the (fall, 2011) Samohi registration packets regarding racial intolerance/bigotry… .” But, it seems there is no mention of race or hate issues in some — if not all — mailed packets. A policy statement on “hate-motivated behavior” is included in online registration packets.

The district has badly stumbled on its pledge to encourage racial understanding and harmony by not addressing the issue in registration materials sent to incoming SMMUSD students. It appears that school supporters have also tripped up in their efforts to resolve racial differences and “hate-motivated” issues on campuses.

Three months after the incident, two different community groups have scheduled meetings dealing with racism and its effects. The first was hosted by the PTA Council on Aug. 4. The “invitation only” gathering was attended by over 40 people. The local press was barred.

Former school board member Barry Snell, now vice president of the PTA’s Committee for Community Concerns, told the media that the PTA Council hoped participants would become part of a collaborative steering committee, develop an action plan and determine goals and (district) policies for change so that racial incidents could be avoided in the future.

PTA Council President Kelly Pye (another former school board member) defended banning the press. She e-mailed me: “It was important for people to feel this meeting would be a safe place to be completely candid about their feelings and without fear in the effort to promote understanding, and that’s what we were hoping to establish. Some people are very intimidated by the presence of reporters.”

And apparently by non-invitees, too.

I’ve been informed this was a select meeting, conducted behind closed doors. Attendees were hand-picked by insiders whose motivations are not clear. Thus, it seems that school supporters still haven’t learned that transparency and openness are paramount.

The Community Concerns Committee is off to a bad start. Its credibility is already down the crapper.

The other entity wrestling with the district’s handling of this moral crisis met Sunday. The Church in Ocean Park (COP) held a “Community Anti-Racism” Workshop, open to everyone.

The church has always been involved in “social justice” issues. Many political leaders from Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) have been or are members of its congregation. It played a key roll in the birth of the rent control movement and local “living wage” efforts.

Despite the church’s “activist” reputation, the “workshop” has added fuel to a controversy surrounding The Rev. Janet McKeithen, who feels it’s important to take part in a healing process fostering racial harmony and understanding. Her roll isn’t sitting well with at least one, recently re-elected school board member and an influential, SMRR big shot/former mayor — among others.

McKeithen confirmed to me that she has been criticized for telling the school board that school administrators didn’t respond appropriately to the incident including failing to promptly inform the victim’s mother. She said, “But, it would be unconscionable for the church to not be involved in this issue.”


Rent Control revisited

Stephen Lewis, the public information manager for Santa Monica’s Rent Control Administration, found fault with my column about the annual rent control adjustment. (“Rent Control response,” Letters to the Editor, Aug. 9,)

The reason for Action Apartment Association’s suit against City Hall, Lewis wrote in a letter, is because they “claimed that the Rent Control Board violated the City Charter by failing to consider certain taxes when calculating the general adjustment (GA).” True, because the old GA formula denied the owners a fair return on their investment. If property owners were making more money under the old formula, would they have sued? Naww.

Lewis continues to parse words and split hairs when he says that rent control “staff is non-political and answers not to SMRR … .” Lewis apparently forgets that SMRR has ruled local governance for 32 years. All of the Rent Control Board commissioners, including those currently seated (except for one non-SMRR landlord who isn’t allowed by the state to vote on adjustments) along with the majority of City Council persons are or were SMRR members.

SMRR proclaims itself “protector and defender of renters’ rights.” It created rent control and strongly influenced current rent regulations. If SMRR wanted to revise current law including annual adjustment formulation, it has the power to float a ballot initiative, convince the largest block of voters (renters) to approve its measure and those changes would become law.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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