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Former Mayor Questions Police Chief's Assumptions and Building Insanity

May 9, 2002

Dear Editor,

In a recent letter to the editor ("Chief Butts Speaks Out on Policing Demonstrations," April 25), Chief Butts' description of the work of the Santa Monica Police Department in relation to public demonstrations sounds rational -- and it is if you accept the assumptions.

One assumption is that protecting civil liberties AND property inevitably conflict -- and when they do, the fall back position is to protect property.

Another assumption is that demonstrations mean trouble. The chief outlines the elaborate intelligence gathering the department did before the recent student demonstration in support of the Doubletree Hotel workers, to determine how many officers to deploy and in what kinds of gear.

Our city's recent history of safe, well-managed demonstrations organized to support hotel workers, in which the Police Department received ample notification, as they did for this demonstration, somehow did not persuade the police department that the organizers could be trusted to run a peaceful, self-controlled event.

Another assumption is that because this demonstration would include adults and youth, it was more likely to lead to disruption and chaos. The presence of young people, even young people who have studied their issues and decided their strategies, apparently is disturbing to the police department. (I don't think this anti-youth bias is conscious because lots of officers do great things with kids in our community.)

Another assumption is that police officers dressed in battle gear are not intimidating. Perhaps to the chief they aren't. But to the average citizen, it presents the image of unmitigated power. To youth it is intimidating and frightening. I have stood on many picket lines and I have never felt unafraid of the police. I have stood between demonstrators and police while wearing a clerical collar and clearly marked as clergy and serving as an observer, and I have been deeply fearful, even as demonstrators were not only doing nothing illegal, they weren't even being rowdy.

Another assumption is that police always need to look and act tough and hard and non-communicative when faced with people expressing their civil rights. Somehow this presentational form is supposed to reassure demonstrators that police are there for their protection. Instead the police behavior always feels like property is being well protected and the free speech principles quite expendable. The demeanor is counter-productive. It neither encourages civil liberties nor a trusting relationship with the uniformed police officers.

It would be helpful if the chief and his troops could walk in a demonstrator's shoes for a few minutes -- and feel the difference. Perhaps, then, they would be more aware of how their behavior is based on a set of assumptions they do not even know they carry.

Rev. James Conn
Former Mayor
City of Santa Monica

May 8, 2001

Dear Editor,

(Re: "Target Site Projects Get Mixed Reviews," May 8)

Who is planning all these multi complex structures in our city? How many people do we have to have in each parcel of space?

It is hard enough to get around town as it is without all the living quarters piled on top of every building that is constructed. It doesn't make common sense to continually see how many amalgamations this city will withstand.

Our mountain views have been taken away by buildings and now our ocean views are slowly slipping away. Is there a plan for all this insanity??

Barbara O'Meara
Santa Monica

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