The Santa Monica Police Department is preparing for the possibility of violence this weekend when anti-vaccine protesters are expected to gather near the Santa Monica Pier as part of an international movement against Covid restrictions.

The afternoon rally is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 29 near the Pier entrance. While the event itself isn’t seen as inherently dangerous, officials are worried that violence could erupt given the possibility that counter-protesters could also be out in force.

SMPD Captain Candice Cobarrubias discussed the event as part of a presentation to Council this week that asked for additional restrictions on the kinds of items allowed at protests.

Cobarrubias said the Freedom Rally organizers have held other events in Santa Monica without incident, but this weekend’s gathering was cause for concern as it had been advertised on far-right internet sites and picked up by far-left opponents.

“There is a strong contingency of anti-fascist, antifa that we anticipate to be here on the 29th,” she said. “With everything that has happened as of two days ago in Portland, Oregon and the event in Santa Monica, albeit peaceful, did generate a large number, the challenge has been drawn and they are coming and they are ready to do whatever they need to do to express their concern and we have the alt-right that is ready to protect their event no matter what the cost.”

On Aug. 24, the two sides clashed in Portland. The conflict included large scale property destruction and some physical injuries. An anti-vaccine protest in Los Angeles also turned violent last week when a man was stabbed in the chest.

“As a Santa Monica community member, business owner, or visitor, you should know that the City of Santa Monica, and by extension, its Police Department values the ability of the public to engage in peacefully expressive conduct as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” said Interim Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks. “On the other hand, we do take issue with those who come to our community specifically to intimidate—through violence or other criminal behavior—those who seek to peacefully exercise their Constitutional rights.”

She said the department is prepared for the protest.

“Given the nature of this upcoming event, and in an abundance of caution, this weekend, you will see an increased uniformed police presence throughout the City and in particular, the Downtown area,” she said. “We are working with our municipal partners and other regional partners to ensure the Police Department is able to facilitate peaceful First Amendment activity even as we work to ensure a safe environment for our residents, business owners, and visitors. To assist us in our efforts in maintaining a safe community, last night, the Santa Monica City Council passed an emergency ordinance prohibiting possession of certain items while attending public assemblies or community events.”

The protest arrives with local memories of last year’s riot still fresh in the minds of residents.

On May 31 of 2020, large groups of organized criminals flooded Downtown following peaceful protests triggered by the murder of George Floyd. While a section of Downtown was looted, police officers engaged in skirmishes with protesters near the Santa Monica Pier and the community is still adapting to the fallout from the clash.

Cobarrubias said the Pier continues to be an attractive location for political activity.

“There’s nothing better than the Santa Monica Pier for your cause, it’s a beautiful place, it’s iconic, we did have our events of 5/31 and we’re trying to move forward from that and that is what we have coming on Sunday.

editor@smdp.com