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Santa Monica Could Ban from Protests Items That Can Be 'Weaponized'

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By Jorge Casuso

April 7, 2021 -- In an effort to curb violence, it could soon be illegal to carry poles, pipes, bottles, rocks and laser pointers at demonstrations held in Santa Monica.

Those items -- and others that can be "weaponized" -- would be banned under an emergency ordinance the City Council will consider Tuesday at the request of the Police Department.

The proposed ordinance, which would go into effect immediately, addresses "conduct that is not currently unlawful," staff wrote in its report to the Council.

"While criminal statutes address assaults using weapons, they do not currently implement a ban on possession of those weapons at public assemblies and community events," staff wrote.

The amendments to the municipal code come after a year of violent demonstrations that swept across the nation, including the May 31 riot in Santa Monica.

The items restricted by the emergency ordinance "have been used in other jurisdictions in violent altercations with police officers and counter-demonstrators or to vandalize private and public property," staff said.

The expanded list of items covered by the ordinance includes "poles, plastic pipes or wooden sticks unattached to a sign, metal pipes, projectiles like rocks and pieces of concrete, glass bottles, aerosol sprays, shields, baseball or softball bats, and laser pointers," staff said.

These items "can readily be weaponized and serve no legitimate purpose at a peaceful protest, public assembly, or community event."

Adopting such an ordinance "will further the goal of ensuring that community members may continue to exercise their constitutional rights to engage in expressive activities without fear of violence or injury," staff wrote.

The ordinance will make it easier for police to enforce the law, which currently "prohibits the carrying or possession of any length of wood that is greater than ¼ inch in thickness and two inches in width."

If the wood is "not generally rectangular" it cannot be "greater than ¾ inch in its thickest dimension."

The current ordinance has been criticized because it can cover "sticks used to support large expressive signs or other expressive items," staff said.

The proposed ordinance would allow larger wooden sticks and pipes attached to signs, making it easier for officers to "more readily determine whether a stick or pipe is compliant without having to resort to a ruler," staff said.

The proposed ordinance clarifies that "pens, pencils, and other writing instruments are not within the scope of the prohibition."

It also does not prohibit "leaflets, photographs, mega-phones, or a panoply of other devices used for getting attention during picketing or demonstrations.”

A previous version of the proposed ordinance was opposed by the Santa Monica Coalition for Police Reform, the Santa Monica Black Lives Association, the Committee for Racial Justice and Santa Monicans For Democracy.

The groups contended the measure ignored "the tactical and safety problems reflected in how the police handled past protests.”

The ordinance, they noted, “is silent on changes that should be made to protect Santa Monica residents and peaceful protesters form the actions of inadequately trained officers and dangerous unsafe police responses to peaceful protests.”

Other California cities -- including Los Angeles, Oakland and Beverly Hills -- have passed similar ordinances.

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