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HUFF Activist Becky Johnson: Sidewalk Singing Trial
Date Friday April 16
Time 9:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location Details
701 Ocean St. in front of the courthouse on the steps--rally to support street performers and activists who face "move along or get $445 citations". Subversive songs and makeshift cuisine are likely.

The trial begins at 10 AM in Dept. 1 (first courtroom as you pass the metal detector).
Event Type Court Date
Organizer/AuthorRobert Norse
Emailrnorse3 [at]
Address309 Cedar PMB #14B Santa Cruz 95060
Long-time homeless activist Becky Johnson is charged with "singing too loudly" in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz, which many regard as a targeted attack on her by the City Attorney who traditionally does not get involved in "citizen arrests."

The SCPD is continuing to use a "stealth censorship" policy to silence musicians and activists against whom they've "received complaints." Under cover of "citizen arrests" the cops are giving Pacific Ave. residents and merchants an unconstitutional and illegal veto to shut down musical performance and/or protest on the public sidewalk under the terminally vague "unreasonably disturbing noises" ordinance (MC 9.36.020)

The process is not "neutral" as police claim because those who don't immediately silence themselves face time-consuming trips to court, possible $445 fines, and even immediate jail (for a second citation--which is a misdemeanor).

The actual law sets a very high volume of singing or music that's allowed during the day and does NOT give residents, even those trying to sleep during the day, the right to shut down singers.

The singing must be "unreasonably disturbing or physically annoying to people of ordinary sensitiveness or harsh or so prolonged or unnatural or unusual in their use, time or place as to cause physical discomfort to any person, and (b) ...not necessary in connection with an activity which is otherwise lawfully conducted."

Police are refusing to accept "we'll sing quieter" offers and also refusing to say how loud is too loud and how quiet is okay. The only alternative is to move along and end the singing or protest.

On April 13 Judge Burdick turned down attorney Ed Frey's motion for a continuance, rubber stamping Judge Symons determination to force the case to quick trial.

This in spite of the need for time to get policy documentation from the SCPD, video tapes and other information from the complaining "sleepers" on the second floor of the St. George, and the massive documentation required to show a policy of selective enforcement. Asked attorney Ed Frey, "what's the hurry?".

Apparently the answer is "Symons says". At a prior hearing, three days after Johnson hired Frey, Symons wanted an immediate trial, and granted only a brief two-week continuance in spite of the fact that Frey goes into a full jury trial on the same day as Johnson's trial.

City Attorney Barisone's unusual appearance also complicates the case and requires more time for the defense. It also sets the resources of the City on the side of a heckler intent on closing down a homeless protest.

Barisone's only explanation for his unusual appearance was that he was 'requested' to be present by Commissioner Kim Baskett in cases where the other side has an attorney. Johnson, however, found it peculiar that Barisone had not been notified that she had an attorney--since she only got one three days before the scheduled court date.

The City Attorney in the past has rarely if ever appeared in infraction cases. In the recent case of People v. Norse, for instance, (, the City Attorney made no appearance as prosecutor.

Johnson brought two witnesses to the closed session of City Council on Tuesday (see "Sinister Street Singer Citation Hits Closed Session of City Council" at They testified--among other things--that her singing was not unreasonable, that all singing stopped and never started again, that she was never warned previously, and that the police officer refused to say how loudly people could sing and whether the singing was too loud.

I provided a tape (rather difficult to hear) and a transcript to City Council documenting that Johnson agreed to sing more quietly but needed to know how quietly.

The citing officer either mistakenly or maliciously ignored Johnson's offer.. Instead the cop claimed that Johnson's repeated questions constituted a "hostile attitude" that indicated she'd "keep singing"--the exact opposite of what the tape showed, and told the complaining citizen he'd have to have her taken to court to stop her singing.

City Council ignored all this and proceeded to give City Attorney Barisone the power to proceed at his own discretion.

On the upside, Johnson and other activists returned to the same spot last Friday and sang the same "subversive" song ("Downtown" see without incident (see

For more details see "Sing a Song, Go to Jail?" at
Added to the calendar on Thursday Apr 15th, 2010 10:11 AM

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Robert Norse
Thursday Apr 15th, 2010 4:28 PM
More discussion of the upcoming trial tonight at 101.1 FM (
by You wanted the bust
Thursday Apr 15th, 2010 6:25 PM
The entire story is told in the first few paragraphs of Becky's own blog. The arresting officer told her that an elderly couple upstairs had complained after hearing several hours of loud singing, and wanted to be able to nap/rest.

The officer told Becky ""They're happy with you protesting, they just said you were a little loud. They were willing to sign a citation. I'd rather not do that."

So there you have it.

-The complaint was filed by someone who were happy you were doing it; they just wanted Becky to tone it down after having done it so long and loud.

-The officer didn't want to cite Becky.

Clearly and obviously , this is a citation which Becky worked to achieve, per the norm of huffs historic pattern. And as such, I have no interest in supporting her case, or feeling she was wronged. This is street theater b.s. which she lives fo, as does Robert.

Go for it on your own. I support your right to do it as you see fit. But for you to try to portray it as trickery by the cops, or being blindsided, is a crock o you-know-what. It's merely the same tired, repetitive tactics of a duo who keep repeating their routine over and over and *yawn*.
Go further into the audio file of the incident ( The officer's initial statement is contradicted by her subsequent statements and behavior. Becky repeated asked the officer what how loudly she should sing in order to be legal, indicating she would do so. The officer repeatedly refused to say, making any compliance a shot in the dark.

This seems to be SCPD Pacific Avenue policy. Performers are not told to play more quietly but to stop playing and/or move along because "there's been a complaint". If they refuse to go, the police officer offers (or encourages--as in Schonfield's case) the complaining merchant or resident the chance to cite the performer for a violation of MC 6.36.020, which carries a bail of $445. There is apparently no investigation to determine if the complainer's complaint is justified ("I wasn't there" explains the officer) or has reasonable cause. Reasonable ause is required by SCPD Policy 364.4--see

Attempts to get Sgt. Harms to release Public Records or informally clarify what standards are used by the SCPD to determine reasonable cause have been unavailing. It would seem the SCPD should be required to have a policy and training for police officers to make sure that complainers aren't exercising an unconstitutional "heckler's veto", particularly in First Amendment-sensitive protest situations. However since the police seem to be working closely with the DTA as a kind of private security force, the SCPD probably won't adopt such standards until they're dragged kicking and screaming into court.

No one sang after the group was informed of the complaint. The officer interpreted the persistent question "how soft do you want us to be?" to be a cause for misinforming Reilly that the group would not stop singing. Schonfield writes in her report: "“Given the groups antagonistic comments, and constant interruptions of my explanation I saw no behavior indicative that they were going to stop singing. I advised Dispatch to call Reilly and advise him if he still wanted to sign a citation he would need to come downstairs and sign.” (See full police report at )

See also "Sinister Street Singers Cited on Sidewalk" at for an early description of the incident.
by Moondew Gomez
Friday Apr 16th, 2010 2:35 PM
So, what happened? Was she found guilty? Not guilty? Not guilty by reason of insanity? Did she get a fine? Jail time? Community service?
Some of us are just dying to know!
by Frank
Friday Apr 16th, 2010 3:03 PM
Becky Johnson, part time substitute teacher and chanteuse of questionable talent, was found GUILTY by The Honorable Judge Almquist. He ordered her to pay a fine of $250.00 or perform 35 hours of community service.

In a crushing blow for HUFF activists, Almquist also declared that freedom of speech activities had NOT been infringed upon.
by Cyrus
Friday Apr 16th, 2010 5:09 PM
I await the largely inflated, self-serving report from the two HUFFsters (I LOVE how they claimed a membership of 80 people in a recent City On A Hill article). It will no doubt highlight how the forces of evil made the guilty verdict possible, rather than the idea that maybe, perhaps, possibly, she was a loud, obnoxious person disturbing the peace.
by chirp chirp
Sunday Apr 18th, 2010 10:49 PM
So Robert and Becky lost... And the intertubes are quiet for a few days! Amazing how their losses go unnoticed but their (marginal?) "victories" are showcased all over the internets... Maybe this court fine is finally enough to shut her up?
by not kahned
Wednesday Apr 21st, 2010 7:13 AM
Robert and Becky have no time to deal with us at indy media. They are currently trying to spin this as (hell I have no idea what they are trying to say most of the time) at the Sentinal to a larger audience. . . which is what they always wanted in the first place. Good ridiance!