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Bob Lee and the Santa Cruz Eleven - Time to Move on and Let the Community Heal
Time to Close the Book on Santa Cruz Eleven Prosecutions
We are now approaching two full years since the events surrounding the 75 River Street occupation and it's appropriate that we review and reflect upon the impact this event has had, and is still having, on our community.
To refresh our recollections, remember that several of our local activists were charged with a variety of offenses arising from their alleged involvement with the occupation of a vacant bank building in December of 2011. Both local and national civil liberties groups, including ACLU Santa Cruz County and the Northern California ACLU rose to the defense of these members of our community individually and as a group based upon both the law and the facts of the case.
First, all of these defendants were either journalists, members of our local press, and/or activists committed to the Occupy Movement––and particularly Occupy Santa Cruz. Therefore, we believed that civil liberties were being broadly threatened by the continuing prosecution of these cases.
Secondly, none of these defendants "occupied" the premises in the same sense that those who remained on the property for several days did. Indeed, these defendants were participating in constitutionally protected activities either as news gatherers or as supporters of the activists inside the occupied building.
Thirdly, the charges being pursued by our local District Attorney were over broad and overreaching in consideration of the facts. Each of these defendants was charged with (1) felony conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor (Penal Code Section 182(a)(1); felony vandalism (PC Section 594(b)(1); misdemeanor trespass by entering and occupying (PC Section 602(M); and misdemeanor trespass and refusing to leave private property (PC Section 602(O). The facts in support of these charges as adduced through discovery provided by the District Attorney were both scant and unpersuasive even in the absence of any civil liberty considerations.
Fourthly, these defendants were being selectively prosecuted in a manner directly related to the existing adversarial relationship several of these defendants have with both our local police department and the District Attorney's office. According to reports published and/or broadcast by local news media, anywhere from 150 to 300 individuals entered and exited the bank building during the 75-hour occupation, including local elected officials. And, yet, only these eleven defendants have been charged.
Fifthly, significant civil liberty issues arise on the facts of this case. Although we are mindful that the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free assembly do not confer immunity from prosecution on those who choose to participate in arguably unlawful activities, it is of critical importance that clear distinctions be made between the exercise of the aforementioned rights in the context of direct political action. These defendants posed no threat to public order or private property by their actions either as chroniclers of the events or as ardent supporters of the occupiers and the occupation.
I believe this is an appropriate time for closure of the wasteful prosecutions of the Santa Cruz Eleven. It is particularly apt at this point in time in that Bob Lee will soon begin his campaign for reelection, if indeed he hasn't done so already. It is time to bring the selective nature of these prosecutions to public light and into the full glare of a public forum. Such pressure brought to bear in this context would likely have little effect on the District Attorney's prospects for reelection. But it could create a tipping point in which he might view dismissal of the charges without further drain on the public fisc to be in his best interests; to say nothing of the best interests of the people he was elected to serve.
Bob Lee, time to move on and the let the community heal.