Protests and looting upend Santa Monica, residents want to oust city’s police chief

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On Tuesday, the Santa Monica City Council took several steps to address race relations and concerns about its police department.

Protests near the pier last month brought hundreds of people to decry the death of George Floyd and many other Black people at the hands of police.  

But some people took full advantage of the peaceful protests, defacing and robbing more than 150 stores in the downtown area of the city. These stores had already taken a big hit from more than two months of closure due to the pandemic.

Now more than 60,000 people have signed a petition to oust the current police chief, Cynthia Renaud, for failing to protect the city’s businesses. 

The city council convened Tuesday to review proposed municipal budget cuts of almost 25%. These would effect every city department, except fire and police. Several residents asked for SMPD funds to be redirected to the social service and youth programs like playground access that had been cut.

City Council committed to review the department's use-of-force policies, and to perform an independent review of the SMPD's May 31 response. It also unanimously supported the creation of a "Black Agenda" to address "systemic racism" in the city.

The famously liberal beach city has had a complicated past with race relations. It once had segregated beaches, recalls Nathaniel Trives, the former mayor of Santa Monica who also served in the SMPD. It later drove the 10 freeway through the thriving black neighborhood of Belmar, now known as the Pico Neighborhood. 

In reporting for GLA, Frances Anderton talks to two Black civic leaders: Trives, and Dr. Antonio Shelton, principal at Santa Monica High School. Shelton says the city has become an "open community" but "there are opportunities for us to grow."