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Harassment of local activist continues as city tries to put an end to Last Night DIY Parade
Wes Modes targeted as city tries to put an end to Last Night DIY parade
SANTA CRUZ, CA-- When local activist Wes Modes accepted a misdemeanor plea deal in December 2009 for his part in defending the Farmer's Market Drum Circle, he figured that would be the end of it. A year suspended sentence and some community service. No problem, he thought. Now the Santa Cruz District Attorney is saying that Modes violated his plea agreement by organizing the Last Night DIY parade. Here's the thing: Modes did not organize that event in 2009.
According to Last Night participants, the new infraction is the latest in a series of police harassment that Wes has received since outing police infiltrators in 2005. "Wes is being unjustly targeted for being an outspoken critic of the Santa Cruz Police Department. He's being singled out from a crowd of community organizers, facilitators and participants. It goes completely against the community spirit of this Santa Cruz celebration," said parade participant Grant Wilson. Now Modes' freedom hinges on a minor code violation for participating in a parade celebrated by the entire Santa Cruz community.
Before the Last Night Do-It-Yourself parade, the city of Santa Cruz sponsored First Night Santa Cruz, an expensive New Year's Eve event that sputtered out in 2004 due to lack of funds. In 2005, Modes and some of friends decided to pick up where First Night left off--and do it cheaper. They put out a call for performers and announced a DIY parade that would meet at one end of Pacific and march to the other. They also eschewed the city permits, which accounted for half of the official First Night budget.
When the police caught wind of the plans for the event, they sent undercover officers to infiltrate the organizing meetings for three months. Records released after the incident revealed a pattern of abuses, including infiltrating parade organizers, monitoring other unrelated groups and first amendment activities, and compiling dossiers of organizers. The city's own police auditor concluded that police had violated the civil rights of citizens and, under pressure from Modes and the ACLU, the city adapted guidelines on SCPD undercover activities.
The celebration was a great success and Last Night quickly became a Santa Cruz tradition. Families line Pacific to watch the parade, which is filled with musicians, puppets, jugglers and unicyclers. The event provided a safe and free way for locals to enjoy downtown on New Year's Eve. All the event details, including clean up and traffic control, is taken care of by the participants of the event. According to Modes, "neither I nor any of the original organizers have done anything to organize the parade in years, other than occasionally updating the website. The parade is an example of communities coming together to create a diverse and interesting celebration without the help of the city, businesses, or institutions."
No one has ever been cited for organizing or participating in the event. Until now. Many people have been public about their part in creating the event, but Modes alone received a citation in the mail for "conducting a non-commercial event without a permit." Though in recent years, city council member Mike Rotkin and the SCPD have grumbled about the organizers not paying for permits, the celebration has always been peaceful and joyous. In fact, in 2007, then Deputy Police Chief Patty Sapone commented on Last Night, saying "The city is very quiet. . . We haven’t had any major problems."
Because the charge is an infraction, Wes is not eligible for a public defender nor a jury trial. The judge refused Wes' request for a pretrial hearing and time to prepare and scheduled the trial for May 14th. This means that Wes has one month to raise money for a lawyer and prepare for trial. Wes may lose his freedom for helping to create an event celebrated by the entire Santa Cruz community.
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