The Santa Monica Police Department is facing accusations of racism in an essay published online by The Washington Post.
Santa Monica resident Fay Wells posted her account of an interaction with police on the Post’s online forum “PostEverything” on Nov. 18 and the essay quickly rose to the most read story of the day across all of the Washington Post platforms, surpassing news coverage of the Paris attacks and the presidential race.
According to Wells, she locked herself out of her apartment on Sept. 6. She said a white neighbor called the police to report a break-in and the Santa Monica Police Department responded with 19 officers.
In her account of the incident she said the initial call and police response were prompted by her race.
“What mattered was that I was a woman of color trying to get into her apartment – in an almost entirely white apartment complex in a mostly white city – and a white man who lived in another building called the cops because he’d never seen me before,” she wrote.
Wells said she was ordered from her apartment at gunpoint and after proving her residency, she said officers refused to provide her with their names and identification. According to Wells, SMPD has not been forthcoming with the information she requested and she said she filed a complaint with the internal affairs division.
While the story posted online was not reported by Washington Post staff, the piece did carry an editor’s note summarizing the paper’s fact checking. It said the paper was given a set of officer names that differed from the list provided to Wells, that the department said it acted within protocol and confirmed an investigation into the incident.
The case is the second high profile allegation of racism against the department this year and follows several racially charged incidents in Santa Monica.
In April, Justin Leland Palmer, who is black, was asked to leave the electric vehicle charging station at Virginia Avenue Park by police. When Palmer refused to leave or to provide his identification, he was tackled and pepper-sprayed. Palmer alleges the police singled him out because of his race and the incident sparked concerns from the community over police behavior.
Race also played a factor in a recent debate over youth sports when a parent of a youth football player used racial slurs during a game. No charges were filed in that case, but the incident prompted statements by the City and school district (the teams were school based but the league was organized by the city) regarding appropriate behavior.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has also attempted to address race at a district level. SMMUSD recently hired renowned scholar and educator Pedro Noguera to address a variety of race-related issues in SMMUSD schools including the achievement gap between minority and white students.
In local politics, race has also been a topic of debate. School Board member and executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center Oscar de La Torre has repeatedly alleged race was a factor in the City’s decision to defund the PYFC. Funding was cut from the center earlier this year with the City citing concerns over the organization’s bookkeeping and fundraising practices. Torre has denied any fiscal mismanagement and the City has denied any other motivation.