August 20, 2019

Crowd supports Santa Monica group targeted by hateful instigators

A diverse and animated crowd with hundreds of people turned out at a meeting of the Santa Monica Committee for Racial Justice on Sept. 10 to show support for the group, which has been targeted in recent months by individuals spewing hateful rhetoric.

The group’s previous two monthly meetings were interrupted by individuals who made racist and anti-Semitic remarks. At the meeting this past Sunday, however, the scene remained mostly calm, as dozens of Santa Monica police officers on foot and horseback helped maintain order. The meeting at the Virginia Avenue Park’s community center, which covered the topic “Raising Socially Conscious Children,” was filled to capacity, with additional supporters gathered outside behind barricades.

Police estimated the crowd at the park grew to about 300 people, and said no arrests were made.

Trudy Goodwin, one of the co-founders of the Committee for Racial Justice, said she and other committee members viewed the broad show of support as a triumph.

“It was inspiring,” Goodwin said. “It pretty much lets us know that we’re on the right road here, in our attempts to bring people together and foster more understanding between ethnic groups and cultures. I couldn’t believe the number of people from the Santa Monica community that showed up to show their support for racial justice.”

The committee was created six years ago by members of the Church in Ocean Park, an interfaith congregation, and has since expanded to include community members from outside the church. Today, the committee holds monthly workshops that focus on educating the community about racism and devising ways to address it.

Previous meetings this summer were disrupted by people associated with groups called the Red Elephants and the Beach Goys. In July, five agitators attended the committee’s meeting, and in August their number increased to about 50, some of whom hurled racist and anti-Jewish slurs. Those incidents were captured on video and viewed widely on the internet.

At last Sunday’s meeting, the lively, diverse crowd apparently staved off any hate-fueled attack. Among the supporters, people sported “Black Lives Matter” shirts, waved Mexican flags and wore hijabs. A traditional Aztec dance troupe from South Central Los Angeles also performed at a nearby playground in colorful garb and feathery headdresses.

About a dozen people clad in all black with baseball caps and berets and wearing bandanas covering their faces, identified themselves as members of the so-called anti-fascist group antifa. Several of them who talked with the Journal said they came to “keep the peace” but they declined to give their names.

Yosi Sergant, 41, of Culver City, a community organizer who attends the IKAR community, said he came to stand in solidarity with the committee. He said that although he was deeply troubled by the anti-Semitic outbursts at the committee’s last two meetings, he had other reasons that compelled him to come to the park. 

“It certainly makes me uncomfortable and directly targets me and my heritage, but it’s simply the tip of the spear of the same forces that are incarcerating millions and millions of people of color here in the United States and forcing Dreamers out of the country,” he said. “While I show up because I am directly challenged and directly targeted, I also show up because we are all targeted.”

Goodwin said the meeting was “one of the best meetings we’ve had,” with speakers able to disseminate information without interruption.

The lone moment of tension arose when R.C. Maxwell, an outspoken, African-American supporter of President Donald Trump, showed up with a small camera crew to film interactions with members of the crowd. An internet personality who regularly contributes to conservative media, Maxwell frequents protests by progressive groups. In August, he was attacked by a counterprotester during an “America First!” rally in Laguna Beach.

At the Santa Monica park, many of the people dismissed Maxwell as an “internet troll,” including Sergant, who briefly engaged Maxwell before stepping away and then reappearing with a tray of food.

“A little pasta salad for de-escalation,” Sergant cried out before setting the tray down on a table near Maxwell, for anyone to enjoy.

After engaging in a brief shouting match with the crowd across a police barrier, Maxwell and his group were escorted out of the park by helmeted police officers.

Sarah Spitz, 65, who has lived in Santa Monica for 35 years, praised the Committee for Racial Justice and police for taking steps to ensure there wasn’t a repeat of last month’s chaos. 

“I think everyone prepared very well for calming things down and keeping things from blowing things out of proportion,” she said. “The event was basically a non-event.”

When Spitz left, she thanked police officers for being there.

The next meeting of the Committee for Racial Justice is scheduled for Oct. 1.