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Santa Cruz Indymedia | Government & Elections | Health, Housing, and Public Services | Police State and Prisons

Resisting Repression from Bigoted Businesses and City Hall
by Robert Norse
Monday Feb 9th, 2009 3:07 PM
City Council will be doing a final vote on the "Forbidden Zone" expansion, "metering" the benches (setting a one-hour limit), and "don't pay three infractions, go to jail" 7 PM Tuesday February 10th. It's only item on the evening agenda. Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom (HUFF) will be Copwatching downtown at 5 PM in front of Borders and then moving to City Hall to provide some hot soup and hot response to City Council at 6:45 PM.
I wrote about the closed process, absurdity, and bigotry of the proposed ordinances previously ("Fast Track for New Repressive Ordinances" at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/01/26/18565877.php "Show Us Your Correspondence, Madame Mayor" http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/01/29/18566872.php).

Mayor Mathews has not made it clear if organizations (and specifically HUFF) will be allowed to make a five-minute presentation as we did at the first reading, though I specifically made such a request last week. She did make available her Mayoral correspondence, previously withheld from the public, which she held up and waved in a folder at City Council.

Also available at the reference desk in the Main Library are scores of e-mails (perhaps hundreds) sent to City Council in a campaign possibly orchestrated by the Santa Cruz Neighbors (the group Councilmember Lynn Robinson organized and used to get elected), the Downtown Association, the Downtown Management Corporation (the group that funds and monitors the "Hosts" that serve as the nose, eyes, and ears of the PD downtown), the Chamber of Commerce, and the Lower Ocean Business Association.


MEDIA COVERAGE
Closed meetings abetting this fast-track process of endorsing police crackdowns on the visible poor downtown (in the name of better business practices or "ending abusive behavior) appeared as early as November. See "Police/Merchant Crack-Down Downtown: Resistance Meetings Saturday and Sunday" at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/11/15/18551237.php?show_comments=1#18553390

More recent critical stories about the ordinances have appeared in the City on a Hill Press at

http://www.cityonahillpress.com/article.php?id=1574
and
http://www.cityonahillpress.com/article.php?id=1563

Also, check out The Cournalist (previously The Courant Times) at
http://cournalist.com/2009/01/28/santa-cruz-city-council-cracks-down-on-homeless-panhandlers-street-musicians-political-tablers-streetperformers/

Good Times did an interesting piece at

I've played audio discussion of the ordinances with Councilmember Beiers (http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb090208.mp3 --towards the end of the audio file

Vice-Mayor Rotkin's comments in a healthy exchange can be heard at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb090201.mp3 towards the end of the audio file

If I have the stomach and space for it, I'll be playing Councilmember Lane's comments on a future show. I thank all three Councilmembers for taking the time to speak to the public about them and face strong criticisms. I denounce all three for continuing to vote for ordinances that have nothing to do with abusive behavior per se and serve instead to crowd and criminalize poor people in Forbidden Zones.


RESPONDING TO REPRESSION

This "done deal" which will be ratified tomorrow night unanimously by City Council needs to be exposed, resisted, and publicized. HUFF is organizing for larger protests in March encouraging shoppers to "Think Twice Before Buying From Bigoted Businesses".

The real issues here are police harassment, selective enforcement, and laws that criminalize the poor--which are currently on the book (such as the Sleeping Ban, the current oppressive Downtown Ordinances, the Park and Levy Closure-at-Night laws, the Parking Lots and Garages Trespass law, Permit Parking Zones that ban homeless vehicles midnight to 6 AM, and the Drug Prohibition Hysteria Laws). To raise these issues effectively and challenge institutional hate crime, we need to document systematic police violation of basic human rights.

This was done in Fresno, Los Angeles, and San Diego and effectively ended nighttime Sleeping Ban laws there. Successful lawsuits against police "probation stops" were also successfully undertaken by the ACLU there. (Unlike our local ACLU which refuses to even recognize the problem)

The community successfully regained and defended public space that the Coonerty-Matthews Council of last year wanted to seize at the Drum Circle next to the Farmer's Market. We now have a larger job before us. However, the notion that the City can spend huge sums of money on police enforcement downtown (ticketing people for innocent but now illegal behavior) is one that the local community will ultimately not tolerate. Likewise, tourists advised that they're contributing their bucks for knickknacks at stores that endorse laws that effectively target the poor for "being visible" and sitting, sparechanging, tabling, or performign on the public sidewalk may decide to spend precious elsewhere. We'll see.

A flier will be posted shortly encouraging folks to come on down tomorrow to Copwatch and City Council. Even though the Council will rubberstamp this business bigotry (which does nothing to address real abusive behavior), it heartens those who have been victimized in the last year's cop crackdown to show up and speak up.

And Jumbogumbo Joe Schultz will be serving his slurpin-good vegan soup. Perhaps we can have a Councilmember dunking, though that would be a waste of tasty food. Folks might also consider bringing spare shoes to "donate" to city council as the Iraqi patriot Muntazer al-Zaidi did to the visiting President Bush (see http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jy8aSBQyoZY5JWxvLssnwEEVMTzQ ).

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Robert Norse
Monday Feb 9th, 2009 4:53 PM
The Good Times story (plus on-line comment) is "Cleaning Up Downtown Santa Cruz?" at http://www.gtweekly.com/20090126338611/news/politics/cleaning-up-downtown-santa-cruz .
Sorry I failed to include that info.

There are several groups severely impacted by The Downtown Ordinances, Sleeping Ban, etc. who haven't been mentioned in all the merchant/resident weeping and wailing: homeless vets and homeless people with disabilities. It's entirely possible that a lawsuit showing discrimination against disabled people that is implicit in the severe space restrictions will be successful. A significant percentage (perhaps as much as 30%) of homeless people nationwide are reportedly vets. Hopefully they will be heard from in the weeks to come.

The misinformation conveyed by Mathews, Robinson, and Coonerty around the "Project Clean Slate" stuff and regarding the need for making any three unanswered infractions a misdemeanor is somewhat exposed at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/opinion/ci_11656062 ("Project Clean Slate is Making A Difference") and http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/opinion/ci_11602422 ("City Officials Mischaracterize Court's Role in Addressing Downtown Problems").

Beware these token "homeless courts", however, and any expansion of them. Check out "The Corruption of Restorative Justice" at http://cohsf.org/streetsheet/2008/08/01/the-corruption-of-restorative-justice/ for a persuasive picture of what's wrong with this "solution".

For those who are wondering, after the City Council does it's prefabricated donedeal vote, the laws will be changed for the worse after 30 days. Not sure if that's calendar days or working days, but I suspect it's the former. Watch where you plant your butt. Have some friends and cameras with you when and if you decide to "just say no".
by Wilde Gurl
Monday Feb 9th, 2009 5:30 PM

Flyers to print and distribute about this week's CopWatch and meeting info....
by stat guy
Tuesday Feb 10th, 2009 5:39 AM
I think you need to go up to UCSC and take Sociology 103A (Statistical Methods) and 103B (The Logic and Methods of Social Inquiry). 33 people isn't really a valid sample number for a valid study.
by John Thielking
Tuesday Feb 10th, 2009 8:13 AM
I did find some variability in the results, such as there was zero % support for the benches law until halfway through the survey. However I find it disingenuous to argue that a small sample size invalidates the study. Surely you wouldn't expect to have to poll your entire extended family of 300 people to decide what movie to see on movie night. It is that kind of near unanimous decision that is apparent in some of the answers to some of the questions. So I stand behind my stats.
by skeptical
Tuesday Feb 10th, 2009 8:40 AM
OK, so how did you sort the respondents? Were you only going up to those who looked down and out? Were you interviewing business people? How does your study account for the 20-1 ratio of letters to the Council? How does it account for the overwhelming support show at the Council meeting?

Pseudoscience.
by John Thielking
Tuesday Feb 10th, 2009 9:19 AM
This study obviously is subject to selection bias because only those people who are comfortable with talking to petitioners would be the ones stopping to answer the survey. Those people probably like tablers and street performers. As for surveying down and out people, I would say that the same percentage of down and out people answered the survey as regular people. One homeless person didn't answer the survey because he saw that there was no money to be made by answering the survey. Most of the people answering were just ordinary well off people walking by on the mall. I did not pick out scruffy looking people in particular. Robert Norse DID NOT answer my survey, even though I brought it by the studio when he was doing his show. I guess I spaced on that one. Rico answered the survey. A couple of homeless people did answer the survey. The rest were regular folks.
by to skeptical
Tuesday Feb 10th, 2009 10:00 AM
Remember that the people who came to the meeting heard about this law passing before the "down and out " did.
And they have access to computers to e-mail the city council.
And a full belly to then take the time to show up at the meeting.
by Bill Ness
Thursday Feb 12th, 2009 2:33 AM
metering" the benches what a wonderful idea it brings income to the city for social services
and to keep programs in Oakland afloat.
the other option would be to raise the city sales tax
by Robert Norse
Thursday Feb 12th, 2009 8:54 AM

The law in its majestic equality "forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." --Anatole France

So it now goes in Progressive Santa Cruz.

At the 7 PM session of City Council, the only item on the evening agenda was the Second and Final Reading of the expansion of the Downtown Ordinance Forbidden Zones, making three infraction 'crimes" a potential misdemeanor if unattended to, and metering the benches (plus the fluff added by Matthew's secret Downtown Impro.vement Task Force.

Neither Beiers nor Lane kept their commitments to ask solid questions about the law, though Lane said he encouraged "musicians with complaints" to come to him. Rotkin repeated the same misinformation that there was "no consequence" presently for ignoring or tearing up infraction citations, which required giving the police additional "war against terror" problems (the terror of the panhandler, the sitter, the street performer, the homeless sleeper, and the political tabler).

Rotkin ignored the fact that two instances of any of these crimes within 6 months is currently an automatic misdemeanor unless lowered by the city (which it always does with sleepcrimes in order to stop jury trials, save itself money, and avoid a public defender).

I call him a liar on this issue because I brought the matter to his attention specifically on tape (see http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb090205.mp3).

During this session there was actually more public opposition to the ordinance changes than support. The merchants had hauled out their dog-and-pony show on January 27th and didn't feel the need to come back. The weather outside was cold and nasty--reflecting the nature of what was being done inside Council chambers. There were less than 20 people in the audience, compared to the estimated 300 that attended the prior meeting. The supporters knew their fix was in.

Mayor Matthews untypically allowed 3 minutes for public comment and gave me 5 minutes for my organizational presentation (she said she'd lost the e-mail requesting it in advance, but accepted my word that I'd sent it).

Joe Schultz served his usual hot spirit-sustaining soup and agreed to do a benefit meal to challenge the ordinances in future. Students from Cabrillo and UCSC agreed to do some organizing against the ordinances for a future protest planned downtown for March.

HUFF will continue to work on what is the real issue for many poor people downtown: fighting back against (legalized) police harassment through a more unified system of documentation, witnessing, public education, and legal jujitsu (the laws that they've passed also apply to tourists and customers).

The DIY Copwatch Blog, when we complete it, should be a useful tool to document police, host, ranger, and deputy harassment soon after it happens and provide the data base for seeing just who's getting cited for "bad behavior".

"Bad behavior", of course, now includes sitting in the expanded forbidden sidewalk zones, playing music that a resident objects to, serving free food if that dissatisfies a merchant, sleeping at night if you're homeless, or having a "bad attitude" towards police demands ("you're drunk", "no we don't have to use a breathalyzer", "yes we will release you at 3 AM without your property", "no we don't have to justify it in court--we dropped the charges").

Increased policing and squeezing people into smaller and smaller zones will naturally produce warm relations in the community between police and public. Contributing to a "more welcoming" downtown.

Any real attempt to deal with "bad behavior" by police, including false arrests, overcharging, mis-citing laws, selective enforcement, intrusive surveillence, and special interest security-guard behavior on the (impoverished) public payroll naturally went unnoticed and unmentioned by City Council.

Rude, angry, and abusive behavior on the street, as I've mentioned before, is nowhere explicitly dealt with in these changes, nor, largely, in the original downtown ordinances themselves. Nor are the causes and provocations that produce resentment addressed. These are gentrification anti-homeless laws that expand police powers to move people along and punish them for doing what poor people do in public spaces: sit, try to sell their possesions, perform, table for change, and beg.

If a tourist or resident says "you're a dirty beggar" to a panhandler, that's "free speech". If a panhandler says "you're a callous tightwad", that's cause for a citation for "abusive panhandling"

"The poor have to labour in the face of the majestic equality of the law, which forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

The new changes go into effect a month from last Tuesday.

Interestingly enough, other cities have defeated these kinds of laws. Most recently Northampton, MASS activists and streetfolks fought back. See http://michaelannland.blogspot.com/2009/02/poverty-is-not-crime-stops-panhandling.html

For more details on the prior Santa Cruz struggle, check out http://www.the-alarm.com/pdf/7-26-02.pdf . The Alarm (2001-2005) published many articles and letters about this struggle. Their archives can be found at http://www.the-alarm.com/pdf/index.html My thanks to Fhar Meiss for his tireless work on this paper.
by Shadow
Thursday Feb 12th, 2009 11:32 AM
A comment.

When the ordinances were read the first time Robert claimed that those in opposition to the ordinances did not have enough time to rally their forces. Even though Robert had an actual copy of the proposal before many other people had even seen it.

While it is true that there were far fewer people at the last meeting, and there were more people speaking out against the ordinances then supporting it, there were still still fewer people in opposition then at the first meeting.

Where were all the people Robert said would turn out? He had another week to rally the groundswell against the evil ordinances. Yet fewer people showed up? Why is that?

After meeting one on one with council members to make his case, none of them were swayed to Robert's line of reason.

With more time to plan an organized assault, even less people showed their enthusiasm.

This is not a personal attack, but more of an observation. After decades of HUFF being involved with the homeless community, there seems to be nothing they can call a victory. Okay, Becky said that there was a HUFF victory when a lawsuit against Robert was dismissed. But is that a victory for the homeless, or for Robert?

At the end of all these decades it seems that the homeless are in an even worse situation then before HUFF became involved.

Where's the beef?
by Robert Norse
Thursday Feb 12th, 2009 12:34 PM
We did not attempt to get a big crowd to City Council on February 10th. It was clearly a done deal. Our intention is to bring the issue to the broader community in the weeks ahead--do you want to shop at businesses that initiate and champion bigoted laws?

The organizing is going to be on the streets, in the courts, and on the net. The issue has always been the ongoing police harassment targeting homeless and street people unrelated to real criminal behavior like assault, theft, etc. Under the existing Downtown Ordinances, Sleeping Ban, Parking Lot Panic law, etc. The new changes make it worse, of course, but they essentially reinforce a dangerous rubberstamping and rahrahing of selective police enforcement--a real problem as the police state intensifies nationally.

Non-police bad behavior (even rudeness) does need to be addressed, but there has been no real open discussion of alternatives that are likely to work. As said before on these threads and at City Council, Downtown Forbidden Zones don't do it. Why then expand them? Criminalizing innocent behavior creates resentment rather than cooperation. So why expand it? If there's a sitting-on-the-bench problem, why is the same city staff secretly removing benches without public notice or hearings? To deal with the real problems, you have to involve the real people. The City is nervous that treating poor people as real people on the streets means affording them rights, which diminishes the privileges of shoppers and businesses to a "pleasant welcoming business climate" whatever else happens to be going on in folks' lives.

These are all gentrification ordinances disguised as "bad behavior" laws based on "quality of life" type arguments that are fundamentally anti-poor laws dressed up to pass constitutional muster.

The issue is whether we who want a diverse downtown are prepared to look the other way while the police selectively use the laws to remove those who "don't fit in" Will we? We'll see.

For those who want a Carmel/Capitola-like shopping environment, using the police as a merchant security force to drive poverty out of sight as much as possible is a desirable objective (and was so described in terms of "creating a welcoming business environment"). To others, the reality of people begging, performing, selling their possessions, sharing free food, is an important sign of the times and one that needs to be highlighted not hidden.

I suspect a majority of the citations issued under the Downtown Ordinances in the last eight years have had nothing to do with real abuse, but rather sitting, sparechanging, playing music, or tabling in the Forbidden Zones; of course, City Council refused to send the ordinances to the Downtown Commission to examine these stats, or to ask for the info themselves.

Becky Johnson has always suggested that the targeting of homeless people would be made clear if the actual addresses of the citations were examined under certain categories of offenses. Naturally, no Councilmember will request that, though we've asked them to.

As Copwatch becomes more organized and more people use it to report police and merchant activity, we'll have a better idea of just what's going on. To help with Copwatch give a call to 423-4833 or e-mail me at rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com

For HUFF accomplishments, check out the HUFF website (cluttered and somewhat out of date as it may be) at http://www.huffsantacruz.org. Or just consider what the gentrification gents might have done over the last two decades without vocal opposition from a number of groups, including HUFF. Folks wishing to improve our efficacy are welcome to come to our meetings, whether anonymous Shadow(s) or not.
by Shadow
Thursday Feb 12th, 2009 1:18 PM
I'm shaking in my boots.

Robert says "For those who want a Carmel/Capitola-like shopping environment........"

We all know Robert does not want that. He's already been kicked out of Carmel by his own family. Making Santa Cruz a nice place where people would want to visit would make it too much like home for Robert to handle.
by Don't make up fiction to prove your point
Thursday Feb 12th, 2009 5:08 PM
That thing about being kicked out is a lie.
By the way, you won't see much black people, much less poor people in Carmel. Good luck seeing anything but rich white folks there who would turn their nose up if they saw a person without white tennis clothes and hair styled just right for $80.00 around there.