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Lights, Camera, Tickets! Klieg Lights at City Hall--Throwing Light on the Shelter Shortage
To combat increasing police and city pressure against PeaceCamp2010 at City Hall and to halt ticketing of homeless people throughout Santa Cruz for the "crime" of sleeping, homeless folks and their supporters will be going to the Homeless Services Center Board of Directors meeting today at 5:30 PM to demand the Board issue a statement that there is NO shelter available except after a 4-6 week waiting period for the rest of the summer. As police "spotlight" the homeless at night with new sleep depriving klieglights, homeless activists hope to spotlight the real situation for all to see.
BRIGHTENING UP THE HOMELESS SLEEP TIME
City spendthrifts and creative police brainstorming apparently combined to set up 14' high klieg lights--such as swept the Pacific Avenue crowds on Halloween--to spotlight homeless sleepers throughout the night in front of the City Hall.
This is admittedly a harsh step up from driving away youth downtown with classical music at the Metro Bus Station or eliminating benches downtown to "move along" "undesirables" at the whim of nearby merchants.
Complimenting this dehumanization process was Tuesday's "sidewalk scrubbing"--a hosing down of the homeless area in front of City Hall and a sustained slander campaign trumpeting the Sentinel's "child molester" story. A homeless guy, previously convicted of a sex offense, was traveling with his pregnant girlfriend from San Luis Obisbo and Paso Robles.
They both sought and got help from Danielle Long, the Downtown Social Worker. Instead, in another midnight raid on PeaceCamp2010, police arrested the girlfriend on a camping warrant from Paso Robles. The next night as he sat at the PeaceCamp2010 literature table, the man was arrested as well--for the crime of failing to register. The Sentinel and Deputy Chief "Cover-Up) Kevin Vogel (see http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2006/02/20/18036851.php) are headlining this guy's failure to register as some kind of threat to the community. Thanks, but no thanks.
THE REAL THREAT: USING FALSE FEARS AS A PRETEXT FOR A POLICE CRACKDOWN
Some nights ago cops began herding and concentrating PeaceCamp2010 protesters into the small area on Center St. in front of the City Hall across from the main library. They threatened to (falsely) arrest anyone falling asleep or covering up with blankets elsewhere in the City Hall complex. Since the complex is open to the public 24 hours a day, this threat is either empty or unconstitutional. In addition both the Sleeping (MC 6.36.010a) and Blanket (MC 6.36.010b) are infractions that specifically do not allow for custodial arrests.
With PeaceCamp2010 protesters were coralled in the small area fronting the sidewalk, police further threatened that any belongings or protest materials left on the flat seating areas would be confiscated as "abandoned".
Then in a clumsy and bewildering display indifferent to its symbolic and historical significance, police set up a tower of 4 14' high klieg lights, such as was used on Pacific Halloween to light up crowds, which duplicates the conditions in Guantanamo and Pelican Bay prisons. The intense illumination is reminiscent of concentration camp spotlights. On the bright side--so far no guard dogs snarling on leashes and barbed wire--but a 24-hour First Alarm security guard is regularly lurking about. (Some folks on Pacific Avenue have also noted the replacement of softer lights there with more high intensity lights in the last half year on that street).
Powering the lights is a noisy and fume-spewing diesel generator which also "helps" by making sleep more difficult (and more toxic) for the homeless--for whom there is no legal shelter, in spite of misleading claims by city and police officials.
DISAPPEARING THOSE WHO COMPLAIN
After two days of stalling and stonewalling, the Homeless Service Center [HSC] finally issued Art, an elderly homeless local, one of their "no room a the inn" letters, which homeless people then take to court to get their false citations dismissed.
Art was one of over 30 who got misdemeanor citation for "unlawful lodging" (i.e. sleeping) at the county building at PeaceCamp2010. And the first I've heard of to get one of the HSC's standard letters.
Within a day or two after he finally got the letter, Art was given a second misdemeanor lodging citation (in spite of showing the police his letter). They arrested him for sleeping in front of City Hall and took him away in handcuffs. He has not been seen since.
IGNORING A REASONABLE SUGGESTION
Attorney Ed Frey, who started the PeaceCamp2010 protest on July 4th, suggested that police simply check with the HSC to see if there's a shelter bed available before issuing tickets (See http://peacecamp2010.blogspot.com/2010/07/mayor-mike-rotkin-debates-ed-frey-on.html). If not, don't ticket unless there's another health or safety problem--and deal with that rather than criminalize sleeping--a necessary human activity.
Police who give out citations know will be dismissed later in court if the HSC letters are presented since they establish a "defense of necessity". Since police know these letters are regularly issued and shelter is unavailable during the summer months, cops citing and harassing sleepers are guilty of nothing less than conscious and systematic harassment--punishable by law.
Daniel White, Shelter Director at the HSC, had already told another homeless man (Timothy Smith) in front of witnesses (I being one of them) that there is no walk-in emergency shelter at all any night between April 15th (when the Winter Armory Shelter closed) to November 15th (when it may reopen). White did suggest anyone could sign up on a 4-6 week waiting list. He repeated this statement under oath in court on Thursday August 5th in the Injunction trial of Anna Richardson and Miguel de Leon.
STONEWALLING ON THE SHELTER EMERGENCY
So far, the HSC's Monica Martinez has declined to give out a letter documenting these sworn statements on paper. This apparently has confused Sentinel editor Don Miller who wrote a recent editorial suggesting there was shelter available (http://www.santacruzlive.com/blogs/dmillereditor/2010/08/12/snooze-you-lose-in-santa-cruz/). Invited to correct his inflammatory misinformation, Miller has remained silent. Meanwhile Jennifer Squires continues to write articles dismissing the shelter emergency as a mere "protester claim" rather than the established fact it is.
To do so, of course, would be to expose the police ticketing practice as not only cruel, costly, and futile, but also make the city legally liable for endorsing and funding a regular form of abuse used to "discourage" homeless people from staying in Santa Cruz.
An earlier version of this story appeared on the PeaceCamp2010 website. Go there for regular updates on PeaceCamp's adventures.