The biggest problem facing Santa Monica isn’t what you think. And you, yes you, have the power to change it. But even with the power to change it, it will never change until you earn it. And there’s only one way to earn it: work.

Before I tell you what the problem is, let me tell you how I discovered the solution for myself. I grew up with family issues and like many others in my situation I naturally developed a way to cope which for me being naturally athletic was sports. I was always the fastest kid in my school, but I never worked out so when it came time for State Finals I always lost. I felt that I was entitled to win because it would have been poetic justice to come from hard times and prevail. But what I was missing at 14 that I know now at 38 is that if I didn’t do the work to earn my goals that I would never achieve them.

Almost everybody in Santa Monica would say the biggest problem here locally is the combination of crime and homelessness. And while that may be true in some respects, the deeper problem is the lacking spirit of brotherhood. It breaks my heart when I hear people call them scum and call for them to be removed at any cost. These are people. It breaks my heart even further to see the racial background for those involved in crime and homelessness skews so heavily Black. As a Black Leader in Santa Monica, I desperately want to help my people, and all people who turn to crime and homelessness, get the services they need to lead a healthy life. But I fear not everyone sees them as brothers as I do.

You may say that other cities take harder stances against crime and homelessness and while that may be true, Santa Monica isn’t other cities…it’s better. Not only does it pride itself on increasing community wellbeing, but it also played a part in causing detriment to the Black Community to a further degree than most other cities. True, Santa Monica is not alone in Los Angeles for having a history of redlining, a practice of mapping out zones that Blacks could not own homes…but it is one of the few places that actually uprooted existing Black households through a practice of eminent domain, the government taking land for construction which is how we got the freeway and civic center. Not only that but houses formerly owned by Blacks were also set on fire as part of fire department drills. I could go on but suffice it to say Santa Monica’s reputation on social justice is not the richest. And with Santa Monica’s Black population having decreased from 25% to 4%…it only makes sense to call it out that something is wrong. But what makes us different is our city isn’t afraid to walk alone and lead the way in progressive, radical change…which has been the case for the environment—but what about the people? 

And while some might say City Councils in the recent past were so liberal that we attracted crime and homelessness and one response would be to replace them with Councilmembers who are tough on crime and homelessness. Coping mechanisms. I would argue that the problem more so exists due to City Councils from long before who approved exclusionary zoning laws and land theft that began the vicious cycle many of my people are in. When combined with other aspects of institutional racism that aren’t related to housing, we get what we have today which is a large population of people who society has given up on. What we need is a City Council that’ll address the root cause.

After the events on May 30, 2020, I felt that the city needed Black leaders and two years later I ran for City Council in a race I likely won’t win but I find peace in knowing I tried my best. Examining the events of that day, I saw Blacks and Black allies protesting peacefully, perhaps under the name Black Lives Matter—and—many Blacks and non-Blacks looting, as well as people of various backgrounds defending our local business community. During my race people called on me to disavow BLM which I would never do because even though I align more with the Civil Rights Movement which doesn’t indicate a race in its title, I feel that hearing the name Black Lives Matter was a cry for the help we so desperately need. And though looters may have ruined the noble cause many had in mind that day…it brings to mind the aspects of selling and negotiation. Similar to business, social justice movements have times of selling, the period of time when you decide if you want a deal, and negotiation, the period of time when you decide how the deal gets done. Seemingly peaceful deals in India and South Africa also had hard moments of selling too, if one were to tell the whole story.

But what about Santa Monica? Will our moment of selling lead to negotiation? Will the negotiation lead to anything real? Appointing the first Black Councilwoman and creating a Police Oversight Committee are steps in the right direction but fall far short of creating the everlasting change needed to stem the tide of institutional racism that is effecting everyone today. The most important steps are to responsibly densify the single-family zone to allow homeownership at a lower entry level, grant land parcels to the victims of eminent domain and buy them back at current market rates, create more treatment centers so people can get the help they need and decide with a clear mind and true access to opportunities to get back on their feet. And just as I lacked one thing to negate my championship…there’s only one thing we lack for our peace and that’s a spirit of brotherhood because we’re all in this together! 

Troy Harris is a Santa Monica resident