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Activist Calls City Hall Mural of Kneeling Native Americans Santa Monica's Confederate Flag

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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

June 25, 2015 -- A City Hall mural depicting Spanish Conquistadors standing before kneeling indigenous people is “the Santa Monica Confederate Flag,” said a local Latino activist and founder of a service center now in survival mode after Council members slashed its funding by $190,000.

Oscar de la Torre, the outspoken founder of the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC), who has often found himself at odds with the City's political leaders, declared war on the 74-year-old art work and vowed to launched a campaign to “take this mural down” during a rally Tuesday protesting the funding cut.

Mural in Santa Monica City Hall
Photo courtesy City of Santa Monica

“When you walk into City Hall today and you look to the left side, you’re going to see the Santa Monica Confederate flag,” said de la Torre, who also is a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District school board member.

“It is an image of Native American people bowing down to the Spaniards who came and oppressed and murdered and committed genocide in the Americas.”

The mural by Santa Monica-born artist Stanton Macdonald-Wright has decorated the west wall in the City Hall foyer since the historic structure’s completion in 1938-39, but it became a symbol of racism this week for protesters already angered by the City's move to de-fund the PYFC.

In the end, however, the demonstrators were unable to convince City Council members to restore the funding. Instead, the Council voted to use up to $50,000 in discretionary funding to provide transitional programs for students who may be currently served by the center.

Supporters gathered before the Council vote Tuesday, taking their demonstration inside City Hall, where the mural quickly became the target of their protest. Organizers said members of the American Indian Movement’s Los Angeles Chapter joined PYFC supporters at Tuesday's protest.

“Down with racism! Down with colonialism!” protesters shouted.

“They can put the mural in a museum, they can put it somewhere else, but it does not deserve to be in our government where our tax dollars are being spent,” de la Torre told more than 200 people during the demonstration.

Controversy over displaying the Confederate Battle Flag intensified this week after the killing of nine people at an African-American church by an alleged white racist in South Carolina. Photos of the suspect in the mass shootings in Charleston show him displaying the Confederate flag.

On Tuesday, South Carolina’s governor called for the Confederate flag’s removal from the state Capital building. Several national retail stores, including Walmart, Sears and eBay, also announced they would stop selling the Confederate flag, which many African-Americans view as a vestige of slavery times.

According to a City guide, Santa Monica City Hall’s mural depicts two Native Americans “kneeling and sitting at a stream, drinking water with their hands.”

Standing before the two figures is a Spanish Conquistador and a Franciscan priest holding a walking stick. In the background is another figure that looks like a Conquistador and two horses drinking from the stream, the guide said.

“A timeline accompanying the mural indicates dates of historic significance for both the city and the state,” the guide said.

Protesters at Tuesday rally said they see a very different image in the mural.

“You’re going to see Native American people bowing down,” de la Torre said. “They’re drinking water downstream from where horses are drinking. The artist didn’t even put eyes on the people who are bowing down. You’re going to see a soldier looking down with an angry look on his face.

“All of us who understand history know that there’s been colonization, there’s been slavery, there’s been oppression, and that it still exists today,” he said.

Although he ultimately lost his fight for funding, de la Torre said getting the mural removed from City Hall will be the next battle for PYFC supporters and Pico neighborhood residents.

“After we win this fight, we’ve got to come back here to make sure they take this mural down from City Hall,” de la Torre told protesters before the meeting.


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