Courtesy photos

It’s been about a week since Santa Monica residents gathered to speak against injustices in the community, but locals have discovered swastikas, a vandalized Pride flag and white paint that was used to deface multiple Black Lives Matters murals throughout the city, sparking concerns of hate speech in the community.

Last Friday, hundreds of demonstrators marched down Pico Boulevard from Virginia Avenue Park to City Hall in an effort to celebrate Juneteenth and speak against the injustices they’ve experienced in Santa Monica and abroad. The demonstration began around noon, only half-an-hour before Allison Miller found a swastika and other symbols on a poster located near Olympic and 11th Avenue.

“I was driving and I could see it from the street so I immediately made a U-turn because I wanted to take it down since I don’t want people to see it,” Miller said in an interview earlier this week. “I try to peel it down, but it won’t come off. Before covering it though, I call the cops to see if they would need it to not be covered to make a report. I didn’t expect them to go out and chase the guy but I wanted to have the data and so they could use it to discern if there’s a trend going on.”

Admitting she didn’t remember the exact phrasing of the conversation, Miller said the incident didn’t seem to warrant extra attention from the officer on the phone while she explained how she was standing in front of a swastika and other potential hate symbols on city utility boxes. After some back and forth on the threshold of hate speech and vandalism, Miller ended the call frustrated and went to cover the symbols herself.

And while heading home towards Broadway and 11th, she found more hate symbols on a similar utility box.

“I called the police back as soon as I found the second box with the swastika,” Miller said, detailing how she soon deciphered the same officer she had spoken to before hadn’t recorded her encounter with the other swastika, hexagram and equal sign just minutes before. “What’s upsetting is there wasn’t a report the first time. That’s really upsetting because if I call you with one report and you don’t write it down, then a shift change happens and somebody else calls; now, you have two incidents that clearly show a trend but the police would have no idea because they didn’t record when residents complained.”

Earlier this month, in celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month, the congregation of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church hung a transgender rights and “Philadelphia Flag,” which includes black and brown stripes in solidarity with black and brown lives, in addition to the traditional rainbow stripes, according to Rev. James Boline, who described how the local church has become very involved with the LGBTQ community in recent years thanks to an internship program it offers.

The flags were supposed to celebrate Santa Monica’s Pride event that was recently canceled due to Covid-19, Boline said, but only a few hours after the church agreed to hang a Black Lives Matter banner alongside the Pride flags, “somebody came over and, clearly, tore and ripped them down with such a force that the pipe they were hanging on is sitting up there split as well,” Boline added. “So they apparently ripped it down with quite a bit of force.” He said they didn’t steal the flags. They were just thrown in a heap on the ground.

Boline said he used the department’s website to file an incident report but he has received no updates as of Thursday.

SMPD Lt. Joseph Cortez said Friday the department is still catching up to the massive amount of online reports that have come in due to COVID-19 and the May 31 events.

“If they haven’t gotten the call. If they have not gotten a call back yet,” Cortez said, “I guarantee that they will get one this week, because the chief has placed a high priority on making sure that we are getting back to everybody who is filing an online report.”

Cortez said Friday the department is investigating the racist graffiti.

“But instead of simply putting it to the side, our detective bureau was already holding monthly meetings with the Anti-Defamation League so because they have the leads on at least one of them. They’re hoping that the partnerships they have with the FBI, the ADL will help us put some pieces together and start to find out who did this; was it random or was it connected to something?” Cortez added, mentioning the department is also asking residents and businesses to share any closed circuit TV videos they may have of the incidents.

“It is not just a swastika. At this time, in our country and in our community, it represents much more than some symbol in sharpie, so this is something that we need to make sure that our intelligence and our partners know about,” Cortez said. That’s why we’re sharing this information because we want to ensure that this isn’t something bigger than one person who has a horrible ideology or mindset.”

Boline said at first he thought of the destruction as nothing more than vandalism. “But we have a member of the congregation who is a captain for the Los Angeles Fire Department and he just said we should call the police on this because this is more than vandalism. This is a symbol, a beloved symbol of the LGBTQ+ community, that is on display on a building of faith, and he said this really feels more like a hate crime because it was removed so forcefully. And with it happening in Pride Month and very soon after the (George Floyd) demonstrations, there’s a lot of confluence.”

Professor Shelly Tochluk, who recently gave a presentation at a conference held by the Committee for Racial Justice, agreed with Boline’s statement.

“For sure, these are all hateful acts,” Tochluk said in an interview Thursday, “but it’s important to note there are levels to hate.”

As she detailed in her recent presentation, sometimes actions like these are done by a young teenager who’s simply trying to cause a reaction and find attention. Other times, it’s somebody who is deeply immersed in white nationalist ideologies.

“It’s hard to know either way in scenarios like (the ones happening in Santa Monica),” Tochluk said, “but we can say this is definitely happening more than it has in the past. And since it’s playing out online, our youth are very exposed because there are people out there who intentionally want to cause harm and instill fear while sharing their deeply anti-semitic ideologies.”

As she mentioned how instances of hate are becoming more prevalent in the community, Miller wonders why there was such a lag in responding to the hateful actions, “especially during this time in history. “

“It’s yet another instance and example of why the police need to be defunded. If they can’t know they need to report every instance of hate speech, there’s no fixing that,” Miller said. “You need task forces to address these specific things.”

brennon@smdp.com