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Leader of Anti-Racism Panel in Santa Monica Says White Nationalists 'Stayed Away'


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August 29, 2017 -- They discussed ways of tackling racism, rejoicing over a new federal court decision overturning an Arizona ban on ethnic studies aimed at Hispanic students and its potentially far-reaching consequences.

Also, no unexpected speakers linked to White Nationalist groups made an appearance, said Oscar de la Torre, executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC), the nonprofit group which hosted the anti-racism panel.

Friday's panel discussion came after a string of meetings by local organizations were disrupted in recent weeks by men linked to associations espousing White Nationalism ("Organizers of Anti-Racism Panel in Santa Monica Worry About Disruption by White Nationalists," August 23, 2017).

PYFC had been trying to increase security for the panel, which included representatives of Black Lives Matter, Hispanic activists and some with expertise in the issue of overt and institutionalized racism.

An earlier meeting with Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks on the issue did not produce a “commitment” of more protection, de la Torre said.

He said on Monday a plainclothes police officer attended and that “it seemed like law enforcement heard the message” in general for more security. The center also managed to increase security, he said.

“We were bracing for the worst case,” de la Torre said.

But “they stayed away,” he said of the outside groups.

Among the topics at Friday’s Raza Studies Now event was the future of ethnic studies in public schools -- a discussion especially timely given an August 22 federal ruling that overturned an Arizona law ending Mexican-American Studies in Tucson’s public-school district.

U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima overturned the ban, finding it violated students’ First and 14th amendment rights and was based on racial animus.

The court is still awaiting a final round of legal briefings from both sides before deciding on a remedy.

About 64 percent of Arizona’s school students are Hispanic, according to state figures. The ethnic studies program included units on Mexican-American history, art and literature.

De La Torre, who is also a member of the board of education for the local public-school district, said the ruling has a significant potential impact for districts across the nation where -- like Santa Monica-Malibu schools -- the achievement gap continues to hold back minority children.

“It doesn’t matter where you are,” he said. “The root causes are the same.”


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