Local residents have remained peaceful while the nation watches the ongoing trial of a former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd, but City Council is expected to discuss an emergency ordinance next week that would restrict residents from carrying, using or possessing certain items during community events or public assemblies.

The ordinance, which was previously listed on the agenda in early March when Councilmember Phil Brock denounced the proposal, is part of a larger effort to promote public safety and welfare, according to a staff report listed on Tuesday’s agenda.

“The City of Santa Monica supports peaceful protests, public assemblies, and community events, and the free speech and assembly rights of individuals to engage in expressive activities in public forums such as the City’s sidewalks, streets, and public parks. The City also recognizes the need to promote the safety and welfare of those who engage in peaceful protests, public assemblies, and community events, as well as the safety and welfare of City residents, City businesses, and City visitors who encounter and are affected by such peaceful protests, public assemblies, and community events,” the report states, detailing how there has been increasing concern of violence at public events where wooden sticks, metal pipes, and containers filled with flammable or noxious substances, such as gasoline or urine, are only a few of the improvised weapons that police have seen.

In light of these circumstances, to protect public safety and welfare, a number of California cities, including Laguna Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland, have adopted ordinances prohibiting the carrying of specific items that can readily be used as weapons at protests, public assemblies, and community events. And, now, it’s been recommended that Council adopt an emergency ordinance, to take effect immediately, because of the uncertainty and unpredictability of when one or more individuals may choose to seize the opportunity of an otherwise peaceful protest or public assembly to engage in violent conduct.

“Adopting such an ordinance will further the goal of ensuring that community members may continue to exercise their constitutional rights to engage in expressive activities without fear of violence or injury,” staff said, adding Council could leave current municipal codes in place or adjust the scope of staff’s recommendation, which is exactly what a group of concerned citizens, including former City Councilmembers Ted Winterer and Nathaniel Trives, asked in a letter that was recently sent to Council.

“The recitals to the draft ordinance conflate peaceful protestors with criminal behavior and bad actors. It suggests that some individuals have used protests as cover to engage in violence, arson and looting, and that the ordinance is needed to respond to that threat,” the letter reads. “But it has been widely reported that the looting that occurred in Santa Monica last May 31 was the result of a systematic criminal enterprise, whether or not the result of people using the cover of the peaceful protests in Santa Monica to loot.”

The letter adds the proposed ordinance seeks to ban certain conduct that is likely already unlawful while ignoring the tactical and safety problems reflected in how the police handled past protests, and the current proposal is silent on changes that should be made to protect Santa Monica residents and peaceful protestors.

“We believe that banning conduct that is already unlawful is unlikely to stop those bent on violence from committing such acts,” signees said. “The SMPD should be required to develop tactical responses that will allow them to address and de-escalate potential criminal behavior while concurrently respecting the right of people to peacefully assemble and express their views.”

Brennon@smdp.com