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An Unfolding Witch Hunt
Santa Cruz DA files charges against longtime local activists
It's been observed that the number of activists in Santa Cruz falls somewhere along the same lines as surfers and college students - which is to say a lot. But that could all change quickly if the charges filed by District Attorney Bob Lee Wednesday Feb. 8th against 12 local activists for the occupation of 75 River St are allowed to stand. Even those uninvolved with Santa Cruz's vibrant political community will recognize the list as a "who's who" of local activists - Robert Norse, Becky Johnson, Brent Adams, Alex Darocy, and Grant Wilson. Of these folks, at least half are media personnel (i.e. they're protest photographers) while the others work on homelessness. Grant Wilson is more known for offering people rides on his rickshaw bicycle at local parades and helping bring San Francisco's acclaimed SF Mime Troupe to town. Not exactly the type of activity worthy of felony charges.
In casting such a wide net against some of Santa Cruz's more prominent activists, city attorney Bob Lee and the Santa Cruz Police Department seem to be either a) scrambling to convict anyone for the brief occupation of a vacant bank this past November; b) have a large amount of evidence against the accused (unlikely); or c) are sending a message to anyone involved with the Occupy Movement that "You have the right to remain silent."
This latter possibility is especially chilling given the declining strength of free speech rights within the United States. From the unprovoked pepper spraying of UC Davis students to the crippling of an Iraqi war veteran with a tear gas canister in Oakland this past Fall, the Occupy Movement has seen its fair share of state repression unworthy of a Western Democracy.
And yes, free speech and Democracy remain the key words on the lips of the 99% from New York to Cairo. The problem is one form of free speech is being accorded a higher value than another. While the ever-angry rabble on the Santa Cruz Sentinel comments section appears to have considerable sway in the realm of public opinion, the folks who get out and march on the streets are derided and dismissed by the corporate media. In the words of CNN reporter Erin Burnett, who deigned to visit the fledgling New York Occupy site last Fall, "Protesters? Seriously?"
A better question any mature person could ask is, what exactly is an activist if not a more kinetic version of an engaged citizen? And what is an engaged citizen if not someone who takes an active role in speaking up for justice? It doesn't require a PhD in constitutional law to understand that civic engagement remains the backbone of a functioning democracy and to prosecute the former is to persecute the latter.
It's possible the intentions behind the DA's overzealous attempt to hold someone (anyone?) accountable for last year's vacant bank occupation are benign (if not off target) but the effect remains the same - The right to free expression, as exercised by longtime local activists, will be censored.
In making a case against the brief occupation of the 75 River St building, District Attorney Bob Lee will most likely claim that folks like Robert Norse or Grant Wilson were at the protest that occurred beforehand. But being present at a protest a case for felony vandalism and trespassing does not make. To file charges on such tenuous grounds is to harken back to the days of Joe McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities - where anyone who even murmured a word of praise for progressive politics was immediately labeled a "communist" and blacklisted.
Under such circumstance, it would seem prudent for Santa Cruz's sizeable progressive community to come together and denounce the charges for what they are: a Witch Hunt.
UPDATE: KSBW is reporting that the list of accused will be expanded to 24 more people making a total of 36 http://www.ksbw.com/news/30421811/detail.html
SANTA CRUZ, California – A week ago, 11 people were arrested over the occupation of the former bank on 75 River st. on 30 November 2011. The occupation was intended to turn the space into a community center hosting a slew of services the city didn’t offer. More people may still be arrested according to mainstream news sources. Charges include a variety of felonies and misdemeanors.
There will be a solidarity demonstration today, Wednesday 15 February, at 3pm on 74 River st. in front of the Wells Fargo branch.