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ACLU Chair Closes Monthly Boad of Directors Meeting, Homeless Issues Off the Agenda
Last night the local ACLU, long notorious for its refusal to join other ACLU's across the state in supporting the trampled rights of local homeless people, underlined its authoritarian process by excluding members of the public (including ACLU members) from its Board meeting. Though Chair Peter Gelblum was the voice demanding that everyone leave, the rest of the Board remained silent, and "activist" Steve Pleich insisted that prior willingness to have members of the public present was only "a courtesy". Other than support for the statewide California Homeless Bill of Rights, likely to remain stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Pleich and the Board refused to discuss, much less take stands on upcoming anti-homeless legislation, the abusive Sleeping Ban, and other official hate crimes against the homeless.
SHUT OUT OF THE BOARD MEETING
A number of homeless advo cates and critics of police abuse showed up for the 7 PM meeting at Louden Nelson Center last night It's regularly held at that time on the 4th Monday of the month.
The ACLU has a 20 year history of ignoring homeless issues as politically inexpedient. This has often been credited to the toxic leadership of former Mayor Mike Rotkin, who has spoken out publicly in this city and others cities for Sitting Bans, the Sleeping Ban, and homeless protests. He, however, was not present when decisions to exclude were made at this meeting.
Chair Peter Gelblum announced the meeting was closed (even to ACLU members who were not Board members) and demanded we all leave the room. This was the first such demand in the several meetings I've attended in the first year and a half where the public was forced to leave. Gelblum did not suggest there were internal litigation or personnel matters on the agenda (the only legitimate justification for holding closed meetings of the City Council, for example).
Initially Gelblum insisted that the Secure Communities presentation, to be held at 7:30 PM, was also off-limits to both public and Board members. Perhaps due to my pressure, he shifted his position on that, allowing the Public in for the purposes of the presentation only. Those who wished to comment or bring issues to the Board's attention would have to wait until the tail end of the meeting, presumably in the hallway.
I interviewed my fellow deportees and will be playing those interviews at 6:30 PM Thursday night on Free Radio (101.1 FM, http://tunein.com/radio/FRSC-s47254/ . The file will archive at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb130523.mp3 (half an hour into the file).
"LIBERAL" BOARD MEMBERS REMAIN SILENT
More depressing (but not really surprising) was the response of the Board when I asked for a vote of the Board on this matter--embarrassed silence. Emboldened, Goldblum continued to demand in an authoritarian tone that I leave because "this [exclusion of the public, including ACLU members] has always been the ACLU policy".
Since that had clearly not been my experience, as recently as the March or April Board meeting (which Gelblum admittedly did not attend), I resisted this interpretation. I also was concerned about the placing of Public Comment at the tail end of the meeting at 8:45 PM, requiring that those wishing to speak publicly to the Board wait in the hallway for nearly two hours.
No one on the Board challenged this or responded to my request that the Board declare the meeting open to the public (unless for a specific internal litigation/personnel section, which even in the past had not excluded those visiting). To my surprise, Steve Pleich, co-chair declared his support for this policy. Board member Ron Pomerantz refused to support public access (leaving his partner Jane Weed in the hallway).
PLEICH AND POWER
In Pleich's case, I had the feeling he was defending his "credibility" with more conservative Board members. Or perhaps he acted in part because I had earlier pressed him in an e-mail, by phone, and in person to bring up the on-going anti-homeless measures being pressed by groups like Take Back Santa Cruz through the City Council such the perennial Sleeping Ban, Downtown Ordinances, police sweeps, and increasing curfews--which he again refused to do.
Perhaps this was simply an assertion of power. The unspoken message "I control the keys to the kingdom here and will only do what I choose to do and not be pressured." Perhaps it was an attempt to retain the additional power that Board members have when meeting behind closed doors, now that he was ascending the power structure as vice-chair.
I had also suggested Pleich accommodate members of the public by pressing for a brief public comment period at the beginning of the meeting. He refused with a sarcastic "good luck with that".
Pleich did bring up and secured local ACLU support for Ammiano's AB5--the Homeless Bill of Rights currently "suspended" in the Appropriations Committee, indeed asking for a stronger bill (at my suggestion). However, what he refused to do (and what he has refused to do for a year) is challenge local Santa Cruz laws and policies at the Board, even when he clearly had the votes to do so or could have raised the issue on principle for future passage. Supporting AB5 under these circumstances seems a token gesture, which one can put on one's resume and chat about on TV shows (which Pleich regularly hosts) without taking substantive local steps.
HISTORY OF THE PLEICH AND THE ACLU
HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) has urged Pleich (who heads a "Homeless Person's Legal Assistance" Project) to do so in the past. I have asked him repeatedly, and he has brushed off such concerns--even as homeless people's survival gear is destroyed, and people are brutalized by police (see http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_23185274/use-force-investigation-not-complete-videotaped-arrest-santa ).
The local ACLU has refused to oppose the Sleeping Ban publicly for the last 20 years--while other ACLU's around the state have been quite candid in denouncing such laws. The local ACLU chair (then Rotkin) even attempted to have me arrested for appearing at one of their announced public meetings with an "End the Sleeping Ban" sign (see http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/08/26/18443532.php?show_comments=1#18446049). (Local police ironically recognized I had a "First Amendment" right and declined to act on then ACLU chair Mike Rotkin's demand)
The current silence on basic issues is a continuation of this process and no real surprise. However this is the first time in recent memory this was mixed with an exclude-the-public process.
You can get Pleich's perspective by e-mailing him at spleich [at] gmail.com. or phoning him at 831-466-6078. To his credit, he has generally been quite responsive to phone calls (at least initially).
In another thread, a video was recently censored showing an individual on The Clean Team (now largely dominated by Take Back Santa Cruz members) harassing a homeless sleeper in a sleeping bag (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2013/05/15/18736901.php). An interview with T.J. Magallones ( http://santacruz.patch.com/groups/jeremy-leonards-blog/p/bp--fever-pitch-interview-with-sc-clean-team-founder-0c63abc71a?ncid=newsltuspatc00000010) suggests how authoritarian leadership in a group can lead to toxic consequences when internal dissent is sidelined or crushed.
I believe this is relevant to groups like the ACLU, who seem to value their political connections with the existing city power structure more than the application of their principles locally. The fear of "sticking out" and "alienating political capital" apparently extends to well-spoken and ostensibly-principled activists like Pleich, who a year ago was urging homeless people to join the ACLU to "change it". It seems even when he gets into a position of some power (Vice-Chair), he suddenly decides not to use that power even to agenda-ize issues that he otherwise gives lots of verbal support to, even when urged to do so by other activists.
It's my view that the structure of these organizations is somewhat to blame here. But unless individuals muster up the grit to challenge them, they will continue to be establishment-compliant, whatever rhetoric their members spout.
Take Back Santa Cruz has been criticized for its repressive internal structure and its lack of transparency. We need look no further than to the local ACLU and its insulated, exclusionary, and locally-irrelevant policies to understand such sickness is not limited to right-wing groups.
WHAT THE ACLU HAS DONE FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE OVER THE YEARS
The Santa Cruz ACLU has had a horrible history of ducking basic civil rights issues concerning homeless people—in my personal experience dating back to 1978 when the County was destroying vehicular shelter for many homeless families out at Scott Creek Bluff. I gave up on it years ago and have suggested that those with civil rights concerns need to form a new group.
However... It did come forward with some legal defense for some activists arrested en masse in 1994 in the Sitting Ban protests. I believe there may have been some local ACLU support for the creation of the (now dead) Citizens Police Review Board in the early 90's (though most of the support came from the Northern California ACLU, who had to be invited in by another organization).
Bob Taren did speak against Cynthia Matthew's youth curfew in 1997 or thereabouts. Don Zimmerman and even Rotkin himself expressed reservations about the Parking Lot Panic law in 2006-7 (which makes Santa Cruz nearly unique in having a law that criminalizes sitting in your vehicle in any public parking lot downtown, or socializing near it).
And, though most of the defendants were not homeless, the Santa Cruz Eleven got some partial support in an ACLU resolution, which Pleich himself pressed. Most recently, Ron Pomerantz spoke at the City Council against the Cowell Beach curfew on unanimous resolution from the ACLU at Micah Posner's urging (who then turned around and voted for the curfew),
However, time and time again when activists have come to the Santa Cruz chapter trying to get the most elementary statements of support (not even legal assistance or money), the Board has shied away from any public statements dissenting from City Council's anti-homeless policies on the most basic issues: sleeping, the right to rest in public spaces, the right to serve free food (successfully overturned by direct action), police violence, the destruction of homeless property, and selective enforcement.
So it's seemed pretty hypocritical to me to wave the flag for AB5 while not making a statement about local laws that AB5 is designed to ameliorate. It also seems strange to me that someone billing himself as a "homeless advocate" fpr over a year will not move to have our ACLU endorse what other ACLU's do around the state and country, except perhaps to save embarrassment and conflict from others in power who prefer these issues not be raised at all.
The ACLU has also been approached recently and specifically about particular Santa Cruz city ordinances and practices and buried those issues. One can't blame any one person for the ACLU's behavior. The danger is that in pandering to such behavior or remaining silent, one can become complicit and ultimately corrupted.
I sent out an e-mail last week encouraging folks to attend the ACLU meeting (something I don't usually do), considering the escalation of hostility, violence, and anti-homeless sentiment being stirred up in the community. Pleich had told me the endorsement of the California Homeless Bill of Rights was on the agenda.
Pleich himself had accurately said that he felt the weakening of the bill in the Judiciary Committee last month removed some key provisions. But why not then come out specifically for abolition of the Santa Cruz version of the abuses it was targeting in our local ordinances?
It becomes more likely that Gelblum didn't want that kind of debate being pressed by members of the public in his ACLU meeting. Perhaps that was the more specific reason for the new policy of excluding the public.
THE E-MAIL THAT MAY HAVE PROMPTED THE EXCLUSION
The Santa Cruz ACLU has yet to endorse AB 5 (the California Homeless Bill of Rights) specifically, though the Northern California ACLU has).
Nor has our local ACLU called for the abolition of the City Sleeping Ban (MC 6.36.010a) or Downtown Ordinances like the Sitting Ban that police and local bigots use daily to harass and criminalize the homeless.
The local ACLU has been silent on the Curfews around the library, city hall, levee, and parks used to criminalize the homeless at night and block political protest.
It has said nothing about the police sweeps destroying homeless property last summer nor the December 8, 2011 sweep that made 100-200 people next to Occupy Santa Cruz again shelterless.
While Take Back Santa Cruz, The Clean Team, the Santa Cruz Neighbors, and other anti-homeless groups have smeared homeless people with "addict", "illegal camper, and "unworthy" labels, destroying the City's Needle Exchange program, setting up vigilante "Public Safety" groups, and funding massive over-policing downtown, the ACLU has been oh so quiet.
When new "security" thugs were appointed to harass homeless people inside and outside of the downtown library, on the City Hall grounds, along Pacific Avenue, and in the parks, the ACLU contented itself with fund-raising and procedural issues.
Has the ACLU taken no action to rein in the SCPD's tolerance of Officer Nathan Vasquez--whose incompetence or malice sent Richard Hardy to the hospital after he was dropped body-and-face-down onto the cement in handcuffs (see http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_23119065/santa-cruz-police-probe-videotaped-arrest-injury-conclude )
The ACLU meets Monday 7 PM May 20th at the Louden Nelson Center
The Center is located at 301 Center St. at the corner of Laurel and Center.
It's time they stood for something and stood up for something. "Those who do not stand for something will fall for anything." The meeting will be public.
It might also be nice if the ACLU used some of its legal war chest to fund cheap cellphones with video capability for homeless people to protect them in this time of increased vigilante and police violence.
Steve Pleich has chaired past meetings and made quite a to do about "changing" the ACLU. However, the group has only introduced a few measures requested by politicians and strong activist groups. More fundamental ones (like homeless safety, survival, and criminalization) have been ignored or passed off to committees that never meet or take no action.
Attend the Monday meeting with signs and friends.
E-mail Pleich at spleich [at] gmail.com to demand long overdue action.
Call Pleich at 831-466-6078 to emphasize the neglected needs and real Public Safety Emergency facing homeless people outside.
I've already been warned that the Oral Communications time may be placed at the end of the meeting (clearly to deter public comment). So bring signs and a determination to be heard.
CHECK OUT WRAP (Western Regional Advocacy Project) weblinks below for more info on the Homeless Bill of Rights, coming back to the Appropriations Committee of the Assembly on May 24th.
This e-mail was sent in the spring of 2012 to the ACLU. Its distribution to ACLU members was blocked.
Board of Directors
Santa Cruz ACLU
Dear Board Members:
Specifically, Jenn, Peter, Mike, Steve--who are probably familiar with several of these issues.
I mentioned a number of these issues in at the March ACLU Board meeting, and in a subsequent letter to Peter (which I append).
Please consider issuing a public statement, seeking local legal support, or writing a letter to Mayor Coonerty regarding the following concerns:
1. Oppose the current prosecutions of homeless activists Gary Johnson and Linda Lemaster--both facing a year in jail for protest actions in the PeaceCamp2010 protests last year. The City Attorney's office is heavily involved in, if not the motive force behind these prosecutions.
2. Urge the City to reopen the City Hall, library, and police station grounds at night which were unilaterally (and illegally) closed last fall, apparently to further burden peaceful PC2010 protesters and set them up for tickets and arrest.
3. Support Public Records Act requests (as the Northern California ACLU did in 2006 uncovering the Vogel-Skerry policespying scandal) to determine the extent of selective enforcement for the “Sitting Ban” law (MC 9.50.012) and whether it is being unfairly enforced against homeless people. The City's highly restrictive Sitting Ban bans sitting on public sidewalks in business districts on all but 5% of the sidewalks, even when business are closed or vacant
4. Ask for the repeal of the City's new code sections (MC 4.04.010 and MC 4.04.015) which turn "unattended" infractions (such as sitting next to a building, sleeping at night after 11 PM, sitting on a public bench for more than an hour, drinking a beer in a public place) into misdemeanor crimes. At least nine people have been charged under this law which turns infractions into misdemeanors without any finding of guilt on the misdemeanor.
5. Examine and oppose harassment of street performers. The City's prosecution of three of us for singing the song "Downtown" with homeless lyrics at mid-day in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz prompted the longest infraction trial in Santa Cruz history in my experience with the City Attorney's office spending at least 14 hours there on the public payroll. The case is on appeal and the harassment of musicians is ongoing.
6. Denounce the City's use of costly and abusive civil injunction against two homeless people to deny Anna Richardson and Miguel de Leon a jury trial or a public defender at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars for the crime of "sleeping outside" in a city with no legal shelter for 90% of its homeless population last year. This new procedure is a way of denying homeless people access to due process.
7. Demand changing the City's unusual procedures at City Council which deny members of the public the right to speak on specific "Consent Agenda" items (which make up 3/4 of the average agenda and contain the big money items)--unlike most other cities in California.
8. Speak out on the most high-profile recent issue-- the City's false arrest of me for making a mock-Nazi salute as a silent dissenting gesture when the Mayor evicted speaker, threatened another with arrest, and cut short Oral Communications. Though this incident happened in 2002, the City Council now plans to waste more money going to trial this fall defending two Mayors--with costs exceeding $150,000 (and more than twice that likely to go to the opposing attorneys. Meanwhile repressive polices at City Council continue under Mayor Don Lane.
9. Gather information for action against the City Parks & Recreation Department whose policy of destroying homeless property taken from those in "sweeps" of the Pogonip and other areas is particularly brutal because of the need for survival gear. Fresno has already been successfully sued for this in the Kinkaid case for $2.3 million. The City of Sacramento is currently in trial.
10. Support a legal challenge for those canvassing for your own organization, some of whom were cited and subsequently barred from the Trader Jo's parking lot in downtown Santa Cruz last year resulting in a current situation that bans all signature gatherers and solicitors from the area, except those hand-picked by the property manager and Trader Joe's.
I am hopeful that some new organization will eventually rise to deal with these issues.
Feel free to contact me, of course.
HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom), the organization I work with, meets every Wednesday at 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM at the Sub Rosa Cafe at 703 Pacific Avenue.
Bob Lamonica may have been shrill and made everyone in the room uncomfortable--but not half so uncomfortable as those abandoned by the local ACLU on clear civil liberties issues that impact poor people. Robert Norse 423-4833
A month or two later I followed up with this e-mail:
From: rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com
To: pbgelblum [at] gmail.com
CC: lioness [at] got.net; jennlaskin [at] gmail.com; bob [at] cruzexpo.com; spleich [at] gmail.com
Subject: What the Santa Cruz ACLU Could Address But Will Not
Date: Mon, 28 Mar 2011 22:44:36 -0700
Thanks for your time at the meeting and your follow-up.
Though I appreciate the fact your are new on the Board (or perhaps new as a co-chair?), you must understand that homeless activists have been bringing issues like the city's Sleeping Ban (MC 6.36.010a) to the Board repeatedly for nearly twenty years now. To expect us to continue this with no acknowledgment of what past Board's have done (or rather not done) is to expect us to repeat the same requests again and again.
The reason past history is relevant is because those in positions of power and influence on the ACLU Board (such as Rotkin) and others whom the Board celebrates (such as Ryan Coonerty) seem to exercise undue influence on the Board, or perhaps (even worse) truly represent the Board's local positions on civil liberties issues that impact public spaces, public process, homeless civil rights, and police abuse locally.
If you want more information on any of these issues, I'd be happy to refer you to lots that have been written. They are all on-going issues that would benefit from (a) public statements from the ACLU, (b) a press conference urging changes in law and policy, (c) referral to the N. California ACLU for possible legal action, (d) public statements at City Council and other responsible governmental bodies, and (e) advisories to ACLU members to attend relevant court proceedings.
Some current areas of concern that might interest you:
the unjust prosecution and harassment of homeless activists involved in PeaceCamp2010 where 7 people face misdemeanors for peaceful protest against the City's anti-homeless sleeping ban from July through September last year, scheduled to go to trial in April and May
the City's outrageous closing of public areas at night criminalizing protest at City Hall after 10 PM as well as its arbitrary closure of other public spaces in order to harass groups like the Wednesday Drum Circle.
the City's new code sections (MC 4.04.010 and MC 4.04.015) which turn "unattended" infractions (such as sitting next to a building, sleeping at night after 11 PM, sitting on a public bench for more than an hour, drinking a beer in a public place) into misdemeanor crimes. At least nine people have been charged under this law which turns infractions into misdemeanors without any finding of guilt on the misdemeanor. A current law currently being ussed.
the City's highly restrictive Sitting Ban, which bans sitting on public sidewalks in business districts on all but 5% of the sidewalks, even when business are closed or vacant (MC 9.50.012).
the City's threats to prosecute those walking in the yearly DIY parade--made as recently as December--which, as mentioned to you at the meeting--severely restricted the public assembly on December 31 and was used last year in a political persecution of activist Wes Modes. Modes has been deterred from political activity through this prosecution and the chilling effect impacts others.
the City's prosecution of three of us for singing the song "Downtown" with homeless lyrics at mid-day in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz in the longest infraction trial in Santa Cruz history in my experience--and the increasingly restrictive and contradictory application of city ordinances to singing with or without amplified sound. The case is on appeal and the harassment of musicians is ongoing.
the City's use of civil injunction against two homeless people to deny them (Anna Richardson and Miguel de Leon) a jury trial or a public defender at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars for the crime of "sleeping outside" in a city with no legal shelter for 90% of its homeless population.
the City's unusual procedures at City Council which deny members of the public the right to speak on specific "Consent Agenda" items (which make up 3/4 of the average agenda and contain the big money items)--unlike most other cities in California
the City's continued prosecution of me for making a mock-Nazi salute as a silent dissenting gesture when the Mayor evicted speaker, threatened another with arrest, and cut short Oral Communications. Though this incident happened in 2002, the City Council is still funding this case--with costs exceeding $150,000 (and more than twice that likely to go to the opposing attorneys).
the City Parks & Recreation Department's policy of destroying homeless property taken from those in "sweeps"--particularly brutal because of the need for survival gear in winter.
the City police department's policy of ticketing and driving homeless people seeking shelter out into the rain over the last few weeks when they have no legal shelter.
the ACLU's failure to support its own canvassers for its own organization who were arrested and subsequently barred from the Trader Jo's parking lot in downtown Santa Cruz last year resulting in a current situation that bans all signature gatherers and solicitors from the area, except those hand-picked by the property manager and Trader Joe's.
the ACLU's failure to support meaningful civilian police review and need to establish real oversight (after its former Board Chair Rotkin voted for the abolition of the prior Board at city Council in 2003)--a vital need in Santa Cruz.
the ACLU's failure, in spite of the presence of its heavily-funded national Drug Policy Project here, and its need to look into the rising marijuana possession arrests in spite of the City's passage of Proposition K
Pick a City-funded crime, any City-funded crime. All of these issues have either been in the local media or brought to the attention of ACLU Board members (like former Mayor Mike Rotkin).
If any of these appeal to you, let me know, and I'll point you in the direction where you can get some facts. I gave up on the local ACLU years ago. In the past it has seemed a hopeless task to interest a classist organization that is heavily influenced by politicians who support these civil liberties violations. If you want to undertake it, I salute you. However, due to the past record of one ACLU Board after another, I'm not hopeful and frankly see the local ACLU as more of a cautionary tale of quintessential Santa Cruz hypocrisy (a liberal cover to raise funds, a "see no evil" posture on local issues so as not to offend City Council or the police).
It's ironic and telling, of course, that ACLU's in other cities fight hard on these issues--whether it's the Sleeping Ban in Los Angeles (the Jones settlement), or the Sit-Lie Law in San Francisco (Measure L). Or even a successful lawsuit in Fresno (the Kinkaid decision netting the homeless $2.3 million and an injunction against destruction of their property).