Sunday, August 29, 2010

Weathering the Police Storm at City Hall

A homeless man falls asleep on the plaza in front of City Hall illuminated by police-rented
Klieg lights August 20, 2010 Photo by Becky Johnson

Article found online at:

by Robert Norse

The SCPD appears to be using a new harassment strategy at Peacecamp2010. The protest movement in its struggle to maintain a nightly presence at or across from City Hall, has faced repeated seizure of property, ticketing for new "offenses", and the changing agreed-upon standards of behavior at the protest. Political signs, their table, and the chairs they sit on--earlier reclaimed by the protesters with difficulty is now being seized again, eliminating their visible presence.

A small but persistent band of Peacecamp2010 [PC2010] demonstrators has gathered each night at City Hall, under near-blinding klieg lights powered by a smelly noisy generator, to defy the City's anti-homeless 11 PM - 8:30 AM Sleeping Ban.

In response, City police have escalated from harassment wake-up's and ticketing threats.

They moved beyond infraction citations under MC 6.36 (the Camping Ordinance which includes the Sleeping, Blanket, and Camping Bans) and threats to arrest if the protesters dare to sleep, cover up, or "encamp" a second successive night. They've tried the enforcement "strategy" used at the County Building last month-- misdemeanor tickets and arrests under the sweeping and selectively enforced "anti-lodging" state penal code 647e.

They've set up glaring lights on a platform installed in a parking spot in front of the City Hall entrance, complete with a generator, noisily spewing toxic fumes and making ordinary conversation problematic. They've rushed through without public comment an administrative edict by Parks and Rec boss, Dannette Shoemaker, making any protest or presence at City Hall after 10 PM a "trespass" offense--even though City Hall is public property, and has been open to the public 24/7 for over 150 years.

New signs posted at City Hall close access

to the grounds for the first time in 150 years.
Photo by Becky Johnson August 21, 2010

They've confiscated political signs, tables, chairs, and personal survival gear without any citations, making the retrieval of property difficult and the retriever liable to an "unattended property" citation, even though the property itself was claimed--and the claim ignored by harassing police. They closed down the police lobby on Tuesday and shut down property claim times, stonewalling those who had marched to the station on August 24 in attempt to reclaim their stolen blankets and sleeping bags.

Those who returned the following Thursday, looking for their confiscated possessions, were told that "since they weren't causing a hubub, they COULD process the return of their possessions." Clearly any homeless person associated with the protest is being punished by the denial of due process.

Protesters have moved from the City Hall grass, to the red bricks, to the front area of City Hall, to the library frontage across the street, then to the sidewalk--all under pressure from police to vacate a new area, suddenly declared "illegal".

Two days after some protest property was successfully reclaimed by "Castaway" Crow, the police confiscated and removed their chairs, table, signs, and blankets.Everything had been moved to the sidewalk to get them out of the "No Trespassing" zone, and were carefully arrayed to leave a passage free on the sidewalk. Still "Get it Done" Gary received a new category of ticket-- "blocking the sidewalk".

"The Officer told me 'You shouldn't have to swerve to walk past them,' " Gary reported.

The next night, apparently dazzled by rhetorical points made by the ever-loquacious "Ocean" police skipped citing him, only to return the following night to ticket him for "trespass" because one of his signs impinged on the red brick "closed after 10 PM" area. "Looks like my citation collection is almost complete," noted Gary. "I seem to be collecting at least one of each."

Last night Gary, one of the first protesters arrested and one of those there the longest, placed his sleeping bag in a well-lighted parking spot In front of Gary was the sputtering portable generator fueling the Klieg lights; behind him, attorney-activist Ed Frey's white pick-up truck used to haul, park, and service the only bathroom facility open after midnight in Santa Cruz--the Protest Portapotty. "What about the toxic fumes from the generator three feet away?" I asked. "Got to," he replied, "It's the only safe spot in the where approaching cars won't inadvertently park on top of you."

Gary Johnson falls asleep in the gutter to protest the Sleeping Ban without violating the new, trespassing laws. Photo by Becky Johnson August 27 2010

Will protesters get the same right to occupy space as vehicles? Not the case in public parking lots down town where Vice-Mayor Coonerty's Parking Lot Panic law made it illegal to assemble, socialize, or even sit in your vehicle. Watch this site for updates.

City Manager Martin Bernal may have trotted out a new illegitimate City strategy that ignores and crushes First Amendment rights because simple ticketing under the Camping Ordinance and the state Lodging law may not pass muster because of the acknowledged absence of walk-in emergency shelter from April 15 to November 15. Hence we we see new "trespassing" and "blocking the sidewalk" citations, abusive and repeated seizures of unmistakably First Amendment protected signs as well as vital homeless survival gear, and false inflammatory charges of criminal behavior at the site ("child molesting") without any factual back-up.

Meanwhile "Nuff Said" Nancy McCradie, a decades-long Sleeping Ban survivor and fighter from Santa Barbara, suggests fighting 647e by sleeping on top of bedding since that law specifies "in" not "on" in its wording.

Judith Scherr of Free Speech Radio News came down to Santa Cruz last week and created a radio segment being broadcast nationally about Peacecamp2010 and broadcast on KPFA radio. Hear it archived at .

Locally Bathrobespierre's Broadsides, the Free Radio Santa Cruz twice-weekly show, continues to archive developments at Peacecamp2010 at . I've answered a local hit piece against Ed Frey in the Santa Cruz Weekly at .

And the Sentinel has moved from inflammatory SCPD press releases to complete silence as police ramp up the pressure against poor people fighting an unjust law in a very hard economic time.

Becky Johnson contributed to this article. All photos by Becky Johnson.

1 comment:

  1. Great photos and copy, Becky. Thanks. See also twitter for updated blurbs.


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