Thursday, August 5, 2010

Second Midnight Roust Prompts Angry Response

Around 11:15 PM last night (Wednesday August 4th), a band of five sheriff's deputies individually approached, awakened, interrogated, warned, and photographed sleeping homeless people in front of the County Building at 711 Ocean St. Angry PeaceCamp2010 residents followed the deputies as they shined their flashlights on each victim denouncing the harassment and invasion of privacy.

It was 31st night of the establishment of a Safe Sleeping Zone by homeless and housed opponents of the City's 11 PM to 8:30 AM outdoor & vehicular Sleeping Ban. With the Paul Lee Loft (and all other city shelters) full, at least 30-40 sleepers had their bags rolled out for a night's rest.

One couple noted their vehicle had been booted by city workers and confiscated by a collaborating towing company. Though they'd finally gotten the money to buy back their car-napped home-on-wheels, it was too late--so they came to PeaceCamp2010 to sleep that night. "Why aren't they ticketing us?" demanded a man named Crow. "We're ready to challenge this law!"

Campers and a City on a Hill Press reporter who'd been "imbedded" with the camp for the last few days followed the deputies from sleeper to sleeper as each one was spotlighted, photographed, and warned that they were "violating the law". Curbhugger Chris Doyon kept pace with the mobile Wake-Up crew, videoing and documenting the harassment.

Attorney Ed Frey, who began the sleep-out on July 4th in protest against the unconstitutionality of the City's anti-homeless Sleeping Ban, became increasing vocal, advising each homeless person targeted by the deputies that they had the right to sleep, to say nothing, to provide no identification, and to cover themselves against the inevitable flash of the cameras. He would then angrily urge the deputies that they were violating the law since there was sleeping outside was no crime on a night when there was no shelter.

Two judges (Judge Ariadne Symons and Commissioner Kim Baskett) have explicitly stated they would dismiss all citations on nights when presented with a letter from the Homeless Services Center. The HSC runs the Paul Lee Loft, the River St. Shelter, the Page Smith Community House, the Rebele Family Shelter, and the Homeless Person's Health Project.

That being the case, Frey angrily shouted to the deputies, this midnight warning expedition was simply an exercise in harassment and needed to be ended. Deputies agreed that any contact the homeless sleepers had with them was voluntary, but repeated their intimidating flashlights-in-the-face inquisition.

I noted the tone of the deputies was low key, even gentle. But the objective--to awaken and frighten the sleepers by falsely claiming that the City anti-homeless code applied--was infuriating. And a group of supporters and awakened sleepers trailed after the county lawmen loudly denouncing them--ironically creating a greater noise than the deputies were making.

Ed Frey would race ahead of the deputies, place himself between them and the sleepers, advised the sleepers they had the right to be left alone, and demand that the deputies halt their midnight wake-up campaign. One of the deputies continued to relentlessly ask the name of each sleeper; another deputy would write that name on a piece of cardboard; a third would hold a flashlight; a fourth would photograph the sleeper with their face next to the cardboard in "booking" style.

The deputies circled the courthouse, finding a number of sleepers isolated from the main group---which is engaging in a 24 hour protest in front of the courthouse. But not without growing and angry objection from other members of the camp who followed the brown-shirted constables. "Would you like us to pound on your door at midnight and wake you up?" was the frequent shout.

In what would have seemed to be "interfering with an officer" if the deputies were citing or making arrests, the aroused reaction of the PeaceCamp2010 supporters was the most militant yet.

A group of sleepers and supporters agreed to contact the Homeless Services Center [HSC] today. The objective: to get a formal letter clarifying what everyone already knew about the Shelter Emergency. Specifically, the letter would clarify that there was no shelter space tonight or any forthcoming night for each of the PeaceCamp2010. There is a waiting list which will allow some to get into shelter in the weeks and months ahead, but only a fraction of the homeless people outside will have that option.

The HSC letter, placed on the ground next to each sleeper in subsequent nights, would formally advises deputies, making any further harassment of sleepers explicit and legally actionable. Would police or deputies then insist on trying to frighten away sleepers gathered together for safety at the one sleeping spot with a 24-hour bathroom facility? If so, they would be clearly engaging in harassment for harassment's sake.

"That would actually be in keeping with Mayor Mike Rotkin's official policy", noted one cynic. The Mayor had agreed in a debate with Frey on Free Radio a month ago on the reason he and his City Council continued to support the Sleeping Ban--in contrast to Los Angeles, San Diego, Laguna Beach, and Richmond (which have abandoned theirs): to make the city less inviting to homeless people.

The Frey-Rotkin debate is archived at .

Frey spoke publicly to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, urging them to direct deputies to back off the sleepers: "They are innocent of any crime" he pointed out. See .

PeaceCamp2010 invites supporters and observers to join them tonight and in future nights to bear witness to any future harassment activity and help turn the tide in bringing Santa Cruz homeless policy into the 21st Century.

Additional coverage can be found at for "Norse" or "PeaceCamp".

1 comment:

  1. I have heard Mayor Mike Rotkin say publically this reasoning for the City's overarching policy: "to make the city less inviting to homeless people." (per above)There was a year I wondered if he and SFran's Newsom were in a race to the bottom, in terms of understanding the problems they were pronouncing conquest and blame upon. I think it's just easier for others to hear the cynicism in contrast w/Ed Frey's relatively soverign, distinctly humane and definitely Constitutional persuasion. Antagonisms aside, there's no way around this dilemma of social functioning. Before the State can exert reasoned demands on a people, it must hold the people, in some sense, together. Our leaders on all sides need to bear in mind the weight of antiquated and obsolete systems (in the mind as well as in the computers and libraries - relative to population growth). We must become BOTH more conservative AND more radical. If life is among our values, we all need to make some BIG changes.


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