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Indybay Feature

Drum Circle Defense: Confronting the Crackdown

Wednesday, May 05, 2010
2:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Event Type:
Robert Norse
309 Cedar PMB #14B Santa Cruz 95060
Location Details:
Cedar and Lincoln at the new site of the Drum Circle in the Pearl Alley parking lot across from Jack's under the trees--at least where they've gathered for the last two weeks after having been driven away from their traditional spot in Parking Lot #4 next to the Farmer's Market at Cathcart and Cedar.

Last week, according to activist and drummer Brent Adams, Sgt. Michael Harms advised drummers that tickers were likely to issue this week from "citizen complaints". (See "Sgt. Harms Reportedly Issues Ultimatum to the Downtown Drum Circle: at

Drummers decided to confer this week at the Drum Circle to decide what to do.

I regard the police citation threat as another move on street culture, public space, and political activists that has little to do with substantive legal concerns or even legitimate community concerns.

Drummers and the community that comes tomorrow will decide what they want to do if police attempt to shut down the Drum Circle.

I believe the event is an important community gathering place where folks of all classes (but particularly poor people) are welcome.

The window-breaking vandalism on Saturday night may be used as a convenient pretext to move on this group of non-violent people, who have been doing downtown drumming for over a decade in this general area.

I fear that any shutdown of the event will impact other musicians and performers downtown. It will tend to encourage cops who don't respect the law and Constitution as written. It will dismay and anger others who expect more tolerance for the few cultural activities actually open to poor and homeless people.

It may lead some to believe that police and those they front for have no respect for traditional Santa Cruz counterculture. Such disrespect aggravates tensions downtown between merchants and the street community.

At the moment, some have significant sympathy for the merchants in the face of the random and senseless window breaking Saturday night. Shutting down peaceful drummers aggravates extremists on both sides.

If police are not to be seen simply an arm of the merchants, the police must abandon their "get a complaint, order a move-along" procedure. Police higherup's know--or should know--that this is not what the law is about.

I've written extensively about the misuse of the Unreasonably Disturbing Noices ordinance elsewhere (See "The Police Move-Along Mantra" in the longer story "Sinister Street Singers Trials Consolidated and Postponed Until July" at

I encourage community members to come out, witness, and support the Drum Circle--which will be facing increased pressure from those who feel that all activity in public spaces must cater to the veto of those who dislike the activity.

Bring chairs, cameras, vidcams, festive spirits, and friends.

The Drum Circle itself may not start until later in the afternoon (last week, Drummer Dave reported that drummers didn't start until Jack's closing time at 4 PM to respect the possible sensitivities of patrons athere).

But having witnesses there throughout may ensure that police do not overstep their authority and encourage drummers to exercise their rights. A meaningful dialogue and sensible decision is more likely if drummers feel supported.

It goes without saying that I urge folks to be persistent and peaceful.
Added to the calendar on Tue, May 4, 2010 8:01PM

Comments (Hide Comments)
Sgt. Harms gave a warning of future action if complaints continued.
He asked that the drummers look for an alternative situation.
The drummers have yet to decide for themselves whether to confront the police or not.
So.. to not be one of the drummers and to call for a "confronting the crackdown" seems
more like agitating than supporting. Lets let them decide. In my view, to rally them to stand ground and face certain cop activity when they may not be wanting that is using them to fight the police.
by Robert Norse
Sorry for the incomplete sentence...

It should read "Confronting the crackdown means to resist undue pressure by authorities by being peacefully present and determined to protect traditional rights."
by SC local
I agree. Let the drummers make their own decision on this matter. I want to hear from the drummers themselves, not Robert Norse. We have had enough trouble downtown! This is NOT the time to start more. If the drummers like the new spot - let them play there. Why the need to push the issue Robert - what is your agenda?
by Windsong
"Why the need to push the issue Robert - what is your agenda?" That's a very good question!! Let the folks directly involved decide what they think is best for themselves. Not a third party. And let's face it, Robert's track record with helping people lately has not exactly ended with positive results!
by Auntie Imperial
Brent Adam is NOT part of the drum circle NOR DOES HE IN ANY WAY REPRESENT IT.

He's an opportunistic, self-involved asswad... Like you Robert.

That's why you promote him.
by brent adams
thanks for the knowledgeable account of myself aunt-empire,
i've been playing at the drum circle for 6 years with the plastic barrel.
i've been involved in helping fight the various shutdowns over the past 3 year.
last year i saw that there was a need for a self-policing aspect or it was going to be shut down
or worse..
I use my full name and am 100% accountable. I don't have much respect for someone who hides behind a fake name and trashes the name of another. You are a coward and do this topic a disservice.
On the other hand I AM a narcissistic ass lots of the time.
I'll be there today as myself. How about you?
by SC local
I don't know who Brent Adams is nor do I can if he is a member of the drummer circle. I don't know who you are either Auntie Imperial. Brent's original comment was spot on. The drummer circle members should be the ones who decided their next more - NOT Robert Norse, who we all know likes nothing better than to clash with the police and the City Council.
by Out of town.
I'm hoping that people stood up to the pressure. Looking forward to swinging through town again sometime this summer.
I went to the drum circle today but it was not there.. I had heard that there was a dog bite, the cops came and chased everyone away. I later found them at the Elm St. parking lot under the huge redwood tree across behind the Catalyst. Later in doing something else, I saw this KION TV online.
There was a shot of Robert Norse being questioned by the cops as this was narated,
"Infact just this afternoon police had to break up a fight between a gypsy drum circle at the farmer's market and a man who was trying to gather people to resist the police."
Here is a link to the report.
According to this it appears that Robert Norse found himself in a fight after attempting to agitate a fight between the drummers and the cops. I have one question.. is Robert Norse in jail right now?
by Bernard G.
Guessing on the time. It was after the market was packing up. I'm only now hearing what went on, but he looked like an unhappy spaniel.
by Robert Norse
Some time after the Sentinel reporter and photographer left, Sgt. Harms, Officer Forbus, and Officer Winston dispersed the Drum Circle with threats of citation.

The Sentinel did an article on the Drum Circle (see,which ignored the 20-year history of the Drum Circle and the constitutional rights being suppressed. (I was rtold today by a long-time downtown resident that the merchants originally coaxed drummers ti come downtown after the earthquake to restore business, did the same with the Farmer's Market, then tried to drive both away in the mid-90's.)

No one was arrestedor cited--that I heard about, but police did have a heavy and nearly constant presence. I had to leave for about an hour to help one guy with his dog when my assailant got bitten by the pooch (see Sentinel story). When I returned later in the afternoon, the Circle had moved to Parking Lot #9 across from the Elm St. Mission on Elm St.

Police and media followed. After several hours and the departure of the Sentinel reporter and photographer, the police dispersed the smaller circle around the tree in the lot with threats.

According to Drummer Dave, they then told the Drum Circle to stop or face tickets because of "noise complaints".

They were also told, apparently, they'd be ticketed next week if they returned.

Videotaping was right-wing Santa Cruz Neighbors politico Deborah Ellston.

Nearby patrons at the Cafe Pergolesi (whom the Sentinel and the police didn't bother to ask) denied that the drumming was "unreasonably disturbing noise". That's the name of the law (MC 9.36.020) which police are using as a "heckler's veto" law to to harass street performers downtown.

Some drummers spoke of returning on Thursday to the original Drum Circle spot, pverrun by the Farmer's Market in mid-April.
They were apparently told by police that they'd be harassed there. Sgt. Harms "advice" was to "go to the park or the beach." Though he provided no assurance that they'd be same from police in either spot. He also suggested they "get a permit".

The Parks and Recreation Dept. has changing and tightening its permit process downtown--according to a marimba player who notes the 8-10 PM Saturday night time has been rejected by the bureaucrats without explanation.

The Street Performers Guild will be meeting within a few weeks to vote on proposed legal support for musicians threatened with sidewalk censorship during the day--as part of the ongoing low-intensity war on the poor downtown.

Skidmark Bob, another Free Radio broadcaster, was also their observing and audioing the Drum Circle His show airs Tuesday afternoon at 101.1 FM ( I'll be playing some tape tonight or Sunday morning, probably around 10 AM).

On Tuesday evening in a session closed to public input and debate, City Council voted to fund 8 more cops downtown--perhaps on the theory that more police and stepped up harassment of the homeless and street community downtown will protect more windows.

On Wednesday morning, some city council members, merchants, and police had another meeting closed to the public where police presented their defense for showing up so late to deter window-breakers last Saturday night.

I encourage street performers and sympathizers to come to the Street Performers Guild meeting and to continue to monitor and support the right of all of us to be in public spaces. We also need to support and defend community spaces which are relatively friendly to homeless folks like Sub Rosa which are now subject to FBI visits.
by Sum Dim
The dogs owner was lucky that little Barack Obama bit the other fellow and not Norse. Otherwise, there would infact be a lawsuit.

I enjoyed the story in the Sentinel. I wish they would run a funny story like that every morning. It would considerably lighten my mood as I commute over the hill :-)
by Auntie Imperial
Robert was bitten by the dog after he refused... after being requested three times... to turn off his tape recorder while talking to a couple of members of the circle.

One fellow lunged at the recorder, and it was recovered by yours truly.

When the ensuing scuffle broke up and I attempted to hand it back to Robert, the drummer lunged at it againand fell nea a dog, which bit him.


YOUare responsible for that altercation Robert. You've been told repeatedly by myself and other members of the circle to go away.

You violated two BASIC rules of journalism...

When someone tells yu to turn off the camera, or tape recorder, you DAMN WELL DO IT or else one might very well get punched out... Just ask any of the riff-raf who follow the celebrities around, and the celebrities are PUBLIC PERSONALITIES, unlike the peope at the circe, who are VERY touchy about who represents them.

You lack respect... But everyone knows you're a blatant opportunist who only cares about himself.

YOur failure to turn off the recorder led to the second rule violation. The CARDINAL rule.

A journalist should NEVER become part of the story.

Robert, you're a schmuck....
Oh, and Brent, everyone besides YOU knows who I am... I'm one of the ORIGINAL members of the Street Performers Guild... when you were just a child.

It's been made quite clear, by any number of the drummers, some whom Ive known for over 25 years, that YOU DO NOT represent them, and you were only at the circle yesterday long enough to act lke you represent us, to the 'authorities', and then, just like the opportunist you are, you vanished.

You WERE NOT at the drum circle yesterday.

You are a liar and a fraud.

by Auntie Imperial
Last year the city attempted to claim the drummers were damaging the root structure of the trees at the location near the drum circle.

They weren't.

But the Farmers Market IS!

Those roots WERE NOT exposed like that, nor had what is apparently concession drain water saturating them, when the drummers were there.


But that's OK, we're pretty sure that NO MATTER WHAT the city council claims, those beautiful Magnolia trees will be cut down over the next few years for a multi-story parking garage, which they'll no longer really need, because there will be no reason for anyone to come to Santa Cruz anymore, having become a non-nondescript chain store shopping mall.
by Karen
I love it. Now in addition to many homeless people wishing Robert and HUFF would stop speaking for them, the drum circle wants him to stop as well. In the last few months it's become apparent to the groups that Robert claims to help that he's actually doing the opposite. He's causing division and ill will among the disenfranchised just like he's done with the business community and local government. Further proof that this is about what Robert wants and not what the people he claims to champion want. With all of the things going on these days Robert and HUFF might want to reconsider their tactics and start listening to ideas and working with others rather than constantly telling people what's best for them. The old tactics just are not working anymore (did they ever?). After all, isn't this about making things better for certain groups rather than alienating them from people that can help?
by Auntie Imperial
In my haste I mistakenly mentioned Robert as the one who was bitten by the dog.


Patrick, a personal friend of mine was the one bitten after an attempt to destroy Robert's tape after his unwelcome intrusion.
by Community member
ROBERT QUOTE - "I encourage community members to come out, witness, and support the Drum Circle--which will be facing increased pressure from those who feel that all activity in public spaces must cater to the veto of those who dislike the activity.

Bring chairs, cameras, vidcams, festive spirits, and friends" END QUOTE

There were community members with video cameras - Robert, you sent the invitation to the community.....we just thought we'd join in and take the invitation.
by Stephen K
It really is amazing that Robert will tell people to come on down and bring your video camera to join in. Until someone brings a video camera to tape him. Then he's all in an uproar. How does the saying go? What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Thanks Robert, for teaching people how to document things.
by Auntie Imperial
...are you in support?

Or were you waiting for the bust of that perennial drunk/police 'crash test dummy, Brad, who walked up to them shit-faced, to use the footage as proof that the circle attracts problems?

This town is full of 'crash test dummies' for all the bullshit laws that affect people who AREN'T doing anything much more than it affects them.

FWIW, that guy has been able to get a job around here at some good paying businesses when he's sober (Longs... 7/11) and in a C&S house, because they don't have to spend the money to test him, and I, someone who doesn't drink or drug can't find work in Santa Cruz.
by Auntie Imperial
Are you in support of the circle, or figuring out ways to elicit more complaints
by Valerie Christy
All this name calling and putting people down is so immature and sad.
Is there anyone who can really say that they are perfect in how they do things?
The fact that we all want to support each other and have a good time without stepping on one anothers feet is what should be the issue here.
What do we agree on? What do we all want? Let's talk about that.

The emotional outpour is getting nowhere. Although it does seem to boost up a lot of egos.
If a few community members cannot share common goals and can only do a great job at creating wars what is the future of our human race?
Until we can find peace in our own town using forgiveness and brotherhood...we will never stop wars that drain our money resources and kill innocent people.

Like the Dr. Suess story about the war on which side of the bread the butter should be spread on. Let's stop this infernal bickering and blaming and putting people down and work together to find peace in our town and peace in our world...please? Ok?
by Robert Norse
Mainstream media, of course, is ignoring the significance of the political attack on the Drum Circle as part of the broader attempt to co-opt public space as merchant territory and brand peaceful opposition as "anarchist terrorists".

Considering the difficult circumstances, I think those drummers intent on playing downtown were relatively successful--in reassembling at Elm St., playing for a time, and not getting citations, as well as attracting some media attention--which may have encouraged the police to go more lightly than they would have. It is true that the ultimately dispersed under police threat and where they'll play next week is still apparently problematic.

Drummer Dave called in and said he and others were playing at the traditional Drum spot at 3 PM today. He may be calling in on tonight's show (see below).

I pointed out Deborah Ellston surveillance activity, because (a) she seemed to be conferring repeatedly with police, (b) she's part of an organization Santa Cruz Neighbors which seems to favor the anti-homeless laws and hold regular meetings in the Community room of the SCPD, and (c) I was wondering if she was gathering "evidence" to attack the right to public assembly--which is really the basic issue at the drum circle. I don't question her right to video, just wonder about her motives.

There's currently a broadband attack on activists, homeless people, the Sub Rosa Cafe community, drummers, and other poor people downtown--heightened by the May 1st window-breaking. It's a convenient excuse to smear everyone with the same brush.

I'll be on the air playing tape from the Drum Circle today at 6 PM at 101.1 FM and Folks of all persuasions are invited to call in at 427-3772.
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