Peace in Malibu as Looters Trash Santa Monica Storefronts

A small but passionate protest against institutional racism and violence took place in Malibu this weekend while furor raged elsewhere in Los Angeles.

Downtown Santa Monica was dealt a slashing blow Sunday, May 31, when looters took advantage of peaceful protests to attack scores of storefronts, but overnight work by city crews and a long day of reconstruction on Monday left it looking clean-—though boarded up, as if waiting for a hurricane.

That storm may be next, as the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District gets 11 percent of its budget from the City of Santa Monica, much of that in a pair of sales taxes that add one half cent to every dollar purchase. The reverberations from the probable destruction of 150-plus businesses in Santa Monica, and damage to hundreds more, will shake Malibu schools. 

Classrooms will be hit by every dollar not spent in stores or restaurants closed by the COVID-19 pandemic, destroyed by looters or closed by curfews on the first weekend in 10 weeks that they could have reopened. 

The protests broke out across Los Angeles over the weekend, days after Minneapolis police officers killed an unarmed black man named George Floyd, kicking off a nationwide protest movement.

Citing the unchecked looting that took place Sunday, Santa Monica resident Oliver Greene started a petition to fire Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud and in two days it gathered more than 15,000 signatures, doubtlessly some from outside Santa Monica.

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“After seeing our brave law enforcement officers stand by without strong leadership or overarching strategy to protect themselves, our city and its citizens, we have to do better,” Greene wrote on the petition.

The city’s police, backed by officers borrowed from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and from cities as far away as northern Santa Barbara County, were kept in check Sunday afternoon and evening while looters pillaged stores east of the Third Street Promenade.

TV viewers could see hundreds of Santa Monica police and L.A. County deputies surrounding protesters on Ocean Avenue near the Santa Monica Pier, the same peaceful protesters who organized marches down Wilshire Boulevard early Sunday afternoon, without incident. 

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva was in riot gear at the city’s command post and appeared on Los Angeles television stations midafternoon. It was not clear if he was in charge of tactics under the unified command, or if the city police chief was.

But at the time Villanueva appeared on TV at 4:25 p.m. Sunday, streets just two blocks away from the command post appeared lawless. 

Eventually, Santa Monica went under curfew at 4 p.m. Rampant looting continued, visibly unchallenged, as stores were pillaged on Fourth Street, Fifth Street and Lincoln Boulevard.

Vons Markets on Lincoln Boulevard and on Wilshire Boulevard were looted, as more than 150 smaller business took significant damage.

But until 5 p.m., helicopter video showed dozens of police and deputies remained surrounding the protesters on Ocean Avenue near the pier. 

At a news conference Monday, Villanueva said Monday morning quarterbacking was not appropriate. 

“In terms of second guessing what the response was, what we could’ve or should have done better, this is an entirely different situation,” he said.

On that Sunday, the sheriff said law officers encountered “peaceful protesters—and then you have other people that are specifically organizing for the sole purpose of looting.” 

That meant police had to shift tactics faster, the sheriff said. 

The petition’s author, Greene, said that should have been done earlier: “After seeing the widespread looting and vandalism of our city and local businesses, we can do better.”

As for the city, Mayor Kevin McKeown said, “Santa Monica honored and respected, and ultimately protected, a peaceful protest against institutional racism. Yet our solidarity with those honoring George Floyd was betrayed, as was his memory, by opportunistic and organized criminals.”

Down the road in Pacific Palisades, calm reigned amid the visible presence of National Guard troops called in at the request of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Meanwhile in Malibu, more than 50 Malibu residents protested at the corner or PCH and Webb Way. 

Organizer Claire Annett, a recent grad of Malibu High School and first year university student in New York City, said, “I was looking at the news yesterday and I immediately wanted to go into LA to join the people protesting and my mom was just worried about the danger and the people that were rioting.

“So she suggested that I organize something for the kids here in Malibu and the parents who feel the same way,” Annett continued, adding that growing up in Malibu, “I have experienced a lot of racism, especially at Malibu High School, and I think it is important for the people here to realize that not everyone here is OK with our president. Not everyone here is OK with sexism. Not everyone here is OK with homophobia, transphobia, racism. People here are not OK with that, and people who think that need to know that we exist.”

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