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Striking Back Against Sentinel/SCPD Smears and "Progressive" Silence on the Sleeping Ban

by Robert Norse
A Public Records Act request to the SCPD on its City Hall activities during the "Respect the Constitution" Sleep-Out at City Hall last week and a Visit to the Sunday American Civil Liberties Union fundraiser in search of local civil liberties are coming up.

I filed a Public Records Act request a few days ago and spoke with Zack Friend, the SCPD PR man, yesterday to clarify the specific complaints that he luridly described to Sentinel report Jennifer Squires in her August 19th Sunday article. Friend has acknowledged that there were few if any 911 or regular police calls for service there, that most of the "complaints" were made "informally" in chats with him or other cops by unnamed city employees about which no written record was kept, and that he'd be getting back to me with specifics soon.

How this translates into Squires' defamatory account of "vandalism, lewd behavior and drug use by the activists, a man defecat[ing] in a bathroom, wip[ing] it on the walls, then walk[ing] into the city Human Resources Department to announce what he'd done" is most unclear. Friend didn't claim he was misquoted, however.

Through the Public Records Act and further discussion with Friend, I hope to explore Squires' quote: "Police had largely left the demonstration alone until early Saturday, when a long list of complaints about the protest reached the tipping point, according to Friend. Problems included reports of graffiti on City Hall, a woman setting up camp inside a bathroom, a couple caught having sex in a trash enclosure, marijuana use and people sexually harassing a female nighttime janitor to the point that she felt uncomfortable coming back to work, Friend said."

Squires article [] painted the protest as an unlawful unsightly camp instead of a homeless-generated well-regulated safe zone for vulnerable homeless folks to sleep in. She explicitly ignored the Jones decision that motivated the 6-Night protest--a ruling precedent in force for the last year and a quarter (and ignored by City Attorney Barisone). This new and important legal ruling made this Sleep-Out different from all previous ones at City Hall, ultimately promising to make police, city attorney, and mayoral misconduct financially accountable.

Squires ignored the focus of the protest--to spotlight police misconduct in a visible place where it could be documented instead of off in the bushes where abuses continue unseen and unheard. Squires also neglected two other purposes of the protest: to round up more plaintiffs for the lawsuit, and require the Mayor to release the City Attorney's secret memo on how the City intends to respond to Jones in a lawful manner.

So far the SCPD response has been to double their Sleepcrime ticketing rate from a year ago; Chief Ranger Wallace's camp-destroying Parks and Rec Dept rangers have swollen 7-fold; and the Morse Courts continue to refuse full access to their Sleeping Ban records.

Was the police raid early Saturday morning a political decision by police higherups in response to Squires' earlier Friday Sentinel story []? This story sympathetically and accurately presented the shelter crisis, extent of the fines, and exact wording of the Sleeping, Blanket, and Camping Bans. Such specifics are hard to come by in the Sentinel, particularly on this issue.

The Sunday story, however, shows palpable bias. The headline: "Homeless Camp-In Booted from Lawn". The highlighting of Zack Friend's horror stories as fact, even though the only citations were for sleeping (Friend insisted "it's not sleeping, it's camping", but the tickets were for 6.36.010a). The distancing from the core homeless issue: "protestors CLAIM [the Sleeping Ban] discriminates against the homeless."

It seems strange that few if any of the lurid tales mentioned by Friend were ever conveyed to the protesters. Sgt. Harms did bring coffee one morning. He also drew protesters aside, warning them about other protesters (me in particular). The afternoon before the protest was ticketed Deputy-Chief Sepone and other police gave conflicting orders on the presence of a generator being used to provide electricity for the sleepers--which the protesters followed. Sepone, however, made no mention of the other sensational charges (nor were any citations ever given).

It sounds to me like Zack's "National Inquirer" approach to the homeless was police cover for Sleeping tickets that they know will be thrown out in court (since the shelters are full); a mean-spirited attack on the homeless, as well as an attack on the right to assemble publicly at the only spot in town visible to the city officials who can change the law. The Public Records revealed may give us more of the story.


The ACLU, which has remained deafeningly silent, about homeless civil rights in Santa Cruz in general, has a Sunday August 26 fundraiser and Awards Ceremony. According to the indymedia calendar, it's at 3-6 PM at the La Feliz Room, Seymour Center, Long Marine Laboratory [contact Jenny Heth at 425-3619 for info].

Folks who want to remind this self-congratulatory gang (which includes Councilmember and Sleeping Ban stalwart Mike Rotkin on the Board of Directors) of certain local civil liberties violations they habitually overlook might check out this event. The meeting is open to the public and though donation is suggested, it's not required.

The ACLU in Los Angeles along with other organizations filed the lawsuit that resulted in the protective injunction banning nighttime ticketing of the poor there for sleeping outside in Skid Row (even for having tents). Up here, there's a panoply of excuses ranging from "no money", "no legal team", "the law is different and can't be effectively taken to court", etc. But the fundamental facts are identical: nightly sleeping tickets (more than 60 a month) for homeless people who have NO alternative.

Folks who want to convoy to the event should meet in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz at 2:30 PM Sunday after doing some sidewalk tabling and attempt some Coonerty-catching.

The wiley Vice-Mayor continues to use his lawyerly wizardry to avoid talking about the Sleeping Ban, except for the occasional quote in the Sentinel. All the while playing the humble bookseller.
His willingness to call me back has apparently been exhausted. My last two phone messages have not been returned. Coonerty, of course, refused to meet with the protesters--perhaps too busy with his constitutional law classes.

Coonerty Quotes: "I don't intend to [change the Sleeping Ban to allow people to sleep legally somewhere]...The camping ban has been in effect, I think, longer than I've been alive....This is not a new ordinance....The community already provides an amazing number of services for the homeless...The logistics of running a homeless camp — bathrooms, showers, maintenance and security — is not feasible...The problem is, I don't hear a lot of constructive solutions."

I'll be discussing these issues on Free Radio Santa Cruz tonight (August 23) at 101.1 FM ( 6-8 PM, and again on Sunday 9:30 AM-1 PM. Call in with comments at 427-3772. There may be a radio out on the mall in front of New Leaf or Borders to listen to the show, for those who are radio-logically challenged.
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Sun, Aug 26, 2007 11:42AM
Robert Norse
Fri, Aug 24, 2007 5:05PM
Becky Johnson
Fri, Aug 24, 2007 8:29AM
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