On the Ground Q&A: Angela Scott

On the Ground Q&A: Angela Scott

On the Ground Q&A:

Angela Scott is a mother of three and an advocate for Santa Monica on the state and local level. She is a member of Santa Monica’s Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission, as well as a member of the original Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee that preceded the commission. A U.S. Navy veteran, Scott is an executive board member, secretary, and diversity, equity, and inclusion committee member with the California Democratic Party Veterans Caucus. She is also vice president of administration for the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica; a delegate for the California Democratic Party, Assembly District 51; and an active parent representative for Santa Monica High School.

How do you remember May 31, 2020 in Santa Monica? What is important about that day and the moments that followed?

There are so many reasons why so many people said enough is enough–whether it was George Floyd, whether they felt like they could no longer be validated for who they are. Especially if you talk to third and fourth generation Black and brown Santa Monicans. Oh my gosh, there are stories upon stories upon stories that you hear … no apology. It is what it is. Like it or leave. So, that’s where you are.

The day quickly turned from, “This is great,” to “oh my God, what’s going to happen next?” We had a peaceful protest … but then you had a group of–we’ll call them bad actors–who decided while the attention is over here, we’re going to take advantage and loot. They’re going to break into all of these different stores and restaurants, set fire to cars … it turned into mayhem. And because of that piece, you had (police) officers start to escalate. They were not prepared. They weren’t prepared for the protests in general, to the scope that it was at. You knew that when they started calling in other agencies–sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies, you had the National Guard. In Santa Monica? Like, what?

So, you had all of these other agencies come in here, but they were focused on the protestors who were peaceful. You got kids, you had the elderly, folks walking with your dogs. This is the group that’s usually on the pier hanging out or eating at the cafes. The police are focused on them as if they were going to do something–and doing nothing to all of the looters who are destroying over 250 stores.

It just turned into sheer mayhem. It was a sad situation. Once (the police) decided that it was … an unlawful protest … because of what the looters were doing, then mayhem really went to the next level.

Following that day, what has gone wrong with efforts to establish civilian oversight of police in Santa Monica? Could this oversight have worked? What are the most pressing issues that you are concerned about?

(It started with) the original Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee. After a series of interviews and testimonies and deep dives with the police department–we had two members of the police department on our committee. We (also) met with the chief, we met with the city manager, the city attorney … so, we learned the ins and outs of the Santa Monica Police Department. We created a 44-page document of recommendations.

This was never about “defund” or even “redirect.” We just wanted to make sure what all this looks like at the end of the day. Are we allocating the correct resources? We know we have a homeless population. How are we really making sure that our public safety is addressing it correctly? So, we had recommendations for that. We had recommendations on community engagement. (Because) you’ve got to hear the voice of the community. If we are all truly to work together, how about we listen to both sides and then come and create a happy medium?

That’s what that 44-page document of recommendations was about: This is what we see as the building blocks for reimagining public safety in Santa Monica. And, unfortunately, there was a lot of pushback. Our interim city manager (shared) what she had received from the police department … page by page, line by line. You could see the difference (between) what they thought and what we thought.

Where has there been the most resistance to reform efforts? Why do you think this is the case?

I was one of the appointed (commission) members. (I want to help) build a vision. But what happens when that vision gets lost? How can you have a reform and oversight commission when several members of that same commission are not for reform–and will tell you unapologetically that they cringe (when they hear the) word reform. Already we knew going in that it was going to be a bit of a struggle. But I’m here for the long game. I’m a veteran. I’m a soldier. I’m soldiering up.

But when you hit wall after wall, delays and litigation by the Police Officers Association, you say, “OK, I thought we all came here to create transformative change, and yet we are not sharing the same vision.” We don’t have the same thoughts on use of force. On community engagement. I need you to walk the talk, and that is not happening.

I speak up, and folks don’t like it. (But) I’m not here for you to like me. I’m just here to do the work. I want us to create transformative change. I want to create a generational impact so that we’ll never have to go back to May 31. We’ll never have to go back to that date and everything that happened as a result of that. That’s the kind of change I want.

Has this experience opened your eyes about whether Santa Monica is progressive about reform, as indicated by its voting reputation?

Santa Monica is progressive … to a point. It’s controlled. They’re progressive if they can control it. When you claim you want to change and you want to bring about reform, but only if it is the kind of reform that you want … the kind that won’t hinder your business, or won’t hinder how you do things … I don’t think that they’re ready for true reform as much as they say they are. Which is sad, because if you create an oversight commission to specifically look at (police reform), I think the ideal way to show that you’re on board is to be open for change.

Nothing can stay the same, otherwise there’s no innovation. So, with Santa Monica being progressive, especially within the framework of police reform, I think we have a long way to go. And we may not have that much time to get there.

What should happen in Santa Monica to help the city’s residents achieve the goals of having a system of public safety that is fair, safe, and equitable for everyone?

We aren’t doing (our work) in a timely manner. If we’re fighting back and forth over what use of force is all about; if we’re fighting back and forth about who does and doesn’t believe in reform; if we try to remove the voices of those who have been oppressed … as well as those who are on the commission and they have their own lived experience; we are not doing a service to our city or to our community. And these are just (some of the) things that we need to do to create transformative change. We have to listen to the voice of the community. If you snuff them out and just do what you want to do, then why are we even here?

Why are we even here if we’re not allowed to listen to everyone and create a better system that (is open to) making allowances for everyone? Everyone’s going to have to … sacrifice if we want to move the needle. So, it’s about working together. And some people just … don’t.

If you are in a system where you’re used to being the majority voice, and you have weapons, why do you now want someone else to come and tell you how to use your weapons? And so we’ll just take your voice away. We’ll take the loudest person in the room and remove them. And so that way we can change the mindset. And I think that’s what we’re experiencing right now. Wear and tear. And then you’re never going to get anywhere.

This interview, part of the On The Ground: Santa Monica series, has been edited for length and clarity.