After days of protesting outside of Santa Clarita City Hall, a handful of residents in support of the Black Lives Matter movement traded cardboard signs and chants for a table discussion with Mayor Cameron Smyth on Wednesday.
Nine residents of color and of different walks of life brought the mayor a list of recommendations for the city to implement toward what they said would offer communities of color fair treatment within Santa Clarita.
Some of those recommendations include making a public statement denouncing violence against protesters, reactivating the city’s former task force that promotes community discussion and releasing an ACLU letter to the public that was issued to the city and requested Santa Clarita to rescind a curfew established in light of protests.
“We deserve to know that you stand with us and against violence perpetrated against protesters exercising their rights,” said Christian Olmos, a member of the Santa Clarita Valley Civil Advocacy Network, an organization “committed to promoting civil rights and justice in the Santa Clarita Valley through education and advocacy,” according to its website.
He presented Smyth with the document that listed the provisions, which also urged collaboration among the City Council, community organizations and civil society groups.
Upon hearing concerns brought forth from each attendee, Smyth said he wants to see a change toward equality in the community and took their feedback “very seriously.”
“I would very much like to continue this dialogue and, if you can take anything from this, from me, please know that I take this very seriously. Those examples that you shared — that’s not acceptable; that’s not my heart. That’s not what I want for the community that I work for, that my family has worked for,” said Smyth.
A large portion of the discussion fell around the city’s response to Thursday’s Black Lives Matter demonstration, which followed rumors on social media about a protest and counter-protest set to the same day. That prompted the city a day prior to issue a local emergency with a request to bring the National Guard, and the curfew that officials later rescinded.
Smyth said the city’s response was a decision made with local law enforcement after watching rioting in some cities within Los Angeles County following the death of George Floyd, and that doubling down on deputies and the National Guard was to protect demonstrators as much as to protect businesses.
The response sent a “lopsided message,” said attendee Erik Loyer, a local artist who protested with his family on Thursday.
“We’re all seeing this huge National Guard presence at around, of all places, the mall, as if the mall is the most important thing and I understand the need to protect property and I understand you need to make a decision … but the message that sends is that ‘our concern is with property. Our concern is with business and we have nothing to say about racism.’ And my kids get that message and I get that message loud and clear,” said Loyer.
Other attendees said that for communities of color to feel more included, there must be changes in several sectors, including in the education system.
A step toward that is en route, according to Cherise Moore, a William S. Hart Union High School District board member. She and Smyth are working to reactivate a task force that promotes community discussion, such as having the conversation about race and inclusivity and police reform. Moore said she would make the announcement to the Hart District’s board Wednesday night.
The hour-long discussion wrapped up with an agreement to continue meeting with the group so they can focus on particular issues, such as education, the city budget and law enforcement.