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Growing Police Threats and Defensive Response at Occupy Santa Cruz
Police visibly invaded Occupy Santa Cruz's Tent Village yesterday around noon supposedly in search of someone who hit, shoved, or smacked a city employee. The employee was reportedly engaging in early morning high-volume leafblowing disturbing sleepers there. On the scene were police chief Kevin Vogel, Deputy Chief Steve Clark, a sergeant, several officers, and several CSO's. A threat, reportedly conveyed by Clark, warned that police would move to destroy the camp within three or four days. Clark's similar threats on October 7th frightened Occupy Santa Cruz into moving from Mission Plaza to its current location.
Accounts differ but from what I heard yesterday on the scene and saw in part, police began searching tents in search of a man accused of hitting a city or county employee.
One woman was so upset she sliced her way out of the tent in anger at the police presence disturbing what, to her, had been a peaceful scene. A police sergeant, who initially had his hand on his gun, defused the situation by taking the woman's knife, but leaving her alone. Camp activists said they'd help to replace her tent.
Baltimore and another man were arrested for public intoxication, though their companions at the tent, on the far side of the encampment, said the two were asleep and by no means drunk. When I asked Police chief Vogel, who was standing near the tent's entrance in a black business suit, what the problem was, his CSO companion pointed to an empty brandy bottle. I then asked those around if the bottle had been sitting outside visibly, and they said, "no, the police removed it from the camp and set it outside".
Call me cynical, but it seemed like something of a media set-up to justify the disruptive and disturbing police presence--especially since neither Vogel nor the CSO denied the account of the four or five residents sitting nearby that police put the brandy bottle in a visible public location, conveniently placed to justify a "public safety" action.
Were the intoxication arrests bad publicity to prejudice the public in preparation for a subsequent camp removal? Not necessarily. But if that was their objective, the media was otherwise occupied. Channel 46 was talking to activists at the Occupy Santa Cruz information table on Water Street. Perhaps the fact that it was the day of the Oakland General Strike and sympathy actions in Santa Cruz seemed more relevant. More likely the mainstream media just didn't get wind of the bust.
I was not present when the police made initial contact with the two men, who they claimed were drunk, but will be playing interviews from those present tonight on Free Radio Santa Cruz at 6:10 PM (or thereabouts). 101.1 FM. http://www.freakradio.org.
DISCRIMINATORY USE OF THE OPEN CONTAINER AND PUBLIC INTOXICATION LAWS
Having an open container is not an arrestable offense generally (and it's actually an outrageously discriminatory ordinance when enforced against homeless people, particularly when police invade a closed-to-the-public tent where homeless people are trying to get some semblance of privacy). It seemed particularly provocative at the large Tent Village. "Public intoxication" arrests are used quite regularly by police officers who want to administer a little "curbside justice' to those who have "the wrong attitude". Folks held in the drunk tank are usually released in the wee hours in the cold, often without their possessions.
Public intoxication arrests under the state penal code require, as I understand it, that a person not be able to take care of herself. I saw the two being led away from a distance, and they didn't seem unable to take care of themselves. Plus they had friends around them and were as close to their own "home" and should arguably have been left alone. The friends sitting right outside the tent insisted the two had just been speaking. Dread I, a camp activist, contacted by phone later, said he believed they were drunk, though he didn't see them at the moment of arrest.
A reluctant acknowledgment to a police officer I do not like (Deputy-Chief Steve Clark) who, in spite of his blue latex gloves, treated the homeless observers courteously and solicitously, asking them if they were having any problems. Of course, I did have my tape recorder visibly displayed.
It did sound a little like media-savvy activity on his part, though some of the homeless locals there did point out they didn't mind police doing "are you okay?" checks. They did object to the removal of Baltimore and his companion.
There were contradictory reports of an ambulance on the scene.
The Sentinel briefly reported on the arrests at http://www.swedenversusassange.com/ ("Three arrested from Occupy Santa Cruz on Wednesday") .
STANDING STRONG AGAINST A THREATENED POLICE CRACKDOWN
Those alarmed by the image of "violence", amplifed (and encouraged) by the presence of police, should consider that the 100 or so tents (housing a community of twice that number) has probably had a far lower level of violence than would have been the case had people been dispersed and living in wildcat camps along the river, in the Pogonip, or surreptitiously on private property. They are closer to restroom facilities, can engage more effectively in mutual aid, and, of course, are exercising basic rights of assembly to assist those who are rapidly heading in the homeless direction thanks to cupidity, corruption, and calcification of the economic and political system.
Later that day, attorney and activist Ed Frey advised me that the General Assembly, on motion from Chris Doyon voted to continue Occupy Santa Cruz and prepare to document and defend any police attempt to crush it in the next few days.
"Dread I" estimated the number of tents at 100-105 now. He approved yesterday's positive story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel ( "Occupy Santa Cruz camp a tale of two tent cities" at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_19244079?IADID )
He predicted if the police arrive in force, "A lot of people are going to stay. Some will move away in fear of losing their stuff. We're not planning on giving all this up."
Another less positive spin was published in the Santa Cruz Weekly yesterday ("Big Tent Trouble at Occupy Santa Cruz" at http://news.santacruz.com/2011/11/01/big_tent_trouble_at_occupy_santa_cruz ).
Alex Darocy covered the mid-day protest in solidarity with Occupy Oakland march at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/11/03/18696919.php . I encourage those who attended to write an account.
Some of us are working to put together a Daily Occupy newsletter (that represents the opinions only of those who write it, not speaking for Occupy Santa Cruz). If interested, contact me at rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com
SUNDAY ACLU BENEFIT
A Sunday ACLU benefit will be held 1-4 PM at Louden Nelson Center, though no ACLU attorneys have stepped forward yet to offer to defend Occupy Santa Cruz in the event authorities move to shut it down by force as they've tried recently in a dozen cities.
My extensive critique of the ACLU's systemic failure locally to defend civil liberties can be found at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/10/16/18693916.php?show_comments=1#18693927 . It's grimly amusing that the local ACLU has failed to defend its own fundraisers when given arrest citations at the back of Trader Jo's last year, and driven off this year by threat of arrest.
While the ACLU should be commended for its recent statement vaguely supporting Occupy Santa Cruz (see http://occupysantacruz.org/2011/10/20/aclu-supports-osc/), it's clear concrete legal and media aid is needed--so far not forthcoming.
Individual ACLU members and others who actually believe in acting locally to support civil liberties instead of dumping money into the national honey pot should contact Occupy Santa Cruz (attorney Ed Frey can be reached at 831-479-8911.
There will be some real legal work to be done if the police use the same kind of tactics they used at UCSC's Tent University in 2005
See "VIDEO: Resist and Unite: Tent University Santa Cruz, April 18" at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2005/05/11/17370621.php"Video of Arrests at Santa Cruz Tent University " at http://santacruz.indymedia.org/newswire/display/17436/index.php%22 . Unfortunately most of the video has disappeared.