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Indybay Feature

Monterey Police Take Names, Issue 'Warnings' at Latest Sit-Lie Demonstration

by Alex Darocy
Monterey Police have portrayed their enforcement of the city's sit-lie ban as a friendly process where first-time violators are simply given a "warning" when found sitting or lying on sidewalks located downtown and in other commercial districts. On May 1, community members participating in a sit-in held on the sidewalk of Alvarado Street to protest the new law demonstrated the process isn't quite that simple. More than a dozen individuals were confronted by police and forced to give them their name, date of birth, and home address as part of the verbal warning that they were in violation of the site-lie ordinance. For the past several months, community members have been organizing sit-ins to oppose the ban, which they say unfairly targets homeless people and travelers.
As the warnings were being issued, a few individuals joined the group and sat down right in front of police. Some did comply with the warning and stood up during the encounter, but the majority continued to sit. Three police officers were deployed to the scene; two issued the warnings while Sergeant Bob Guinvarch photographed several people and looked on.

Officer Roobash instructed individuals several times they shouldn't be opposing the ordinance by openly defying it.

"You need to take this to the City Council and proper channels," he said.

He asked if any of them had written the city to complain, and several demonstrators explained they had been contacting local officials since 2013 when the Monterey City Council initially discussed the matter and decided not to move forward with a sit-lie ban at that time. The council reversed course in 2014, however, and enacted a re-submitted proposal for a sit-lie ordinance.

There was some irony in Roobash, a police officer, instructing demonstrators to complain to the city. It was Monterey Chief of Police Phil Penko who pushed hard for a sit-lie ban, and he authored the 2013 and 2014 city staff reports that requested council members approve one without any alternatives presented.

Additionally, Monterey Police have dedicated an entire section of their website, which is titled "Homeless Issues," to give business owners and the public instructions on how to report homeless people to the police.

"The following information is provided to assist business people and individual community members in properly addressing incidents and concerns regarding the homeless and related quality of life issues," the Monterey Police website states.

A tab on the homeless issues page lists what it calls "related city code," a list of ten ordinances that can be applied to street people. The new sit-lie ordinance is not on the list yet, but the other laws referenced include: "begging prohibited," "camping prohibited outside of designated areas," "obstructing sidewalk or street prohibited," "11 p.m. curfew for minors," "loitering in parking facilities prohibited," and "camping in vehicles prohibited on public property from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m."

While receiving a warning for sitting at the May 1 demonstration, one person told police, "I invite you to give me a citation and I am not getting up until you do." He later explained that he wanted to be issued a citation for sitting so that he could fight it in court and have the law "invalidated."

Another demonstrator told police that he was a "homeless man" and he felt "extremely offended" that officers were attempting to prevent him from sitting on the sidewalk. He explained later how he uses alcohol to cope with life on the streets, which puts him at risk of violating the sit-lie law, and being targeted by police.

"I drink myself to sleep every night," he said.

After some time was spent debating the demonstrators, the police announced they were leaving, and that individuals who had received a warning from them would be cited under the ordinance if they were found sitting on the sidewalk again by officers.

"If we come back and you are still sitting here, we will give you a citation," Officer Roobash said.

One officer left the area completely, but Officer Roobash and Sergeant Guinvarch stationed themselves several storefronts away from the demonstration and looked on for about an hour. Most of the demonstrators continued to stay seated on the sidewalk until the end of the two-hour sit-in. Roobash and Guinvarch eventually left without issuing any citations.

The May 1 sit-in was the fourth in the series of demonstrations on Alvarado Street organized monthly by Direct Action Monterey Network (DAMN) to oppose the site-lie ordinance, which went into effect in October of 2014. DAMN has stated they are opposing it by clogging the city's "bureaucracies" with "lot's of citations."

Six Monterey police officers monitored DAMN's first sit-in in February, but never made contact with demonstrators. During the March and April sit-ins, no police were present, but individuals experienced tense interactions with My Attic Bar & Lounge owner Jason Coniglio, who threatened to call the police on the group.

The new ordinance (Sec. 32-6.2) states that sitting or lying on sidewalks in commercial districts of the city is a crime between 7:00am and 9:00pm. To issue a citation, police must first warn an individual.

"No person may be cited for a violation of this section until a peace officer first warns said person that his or her conduct is unlawful and said person is given a chance to stop said conduct," the ordinance states.

Strategically, demonstrators have scheduled the sit-ins to occur monthly, so that individuals may participate every month without risk of citation if they stand up after being warned by an officer.

The ordinance does not specifically outline in what manner the warnings are to be issued, and mentions nothing about the amount of information police may or may not request from those found sitting.

Coincidentally, May 1 was the last day on the job for Chief Penko, who announced in April his impending retirement from the Monterey Police Department.

Demonstrators say they plan to return to Alvarado Street in June for another regularly scheduled sit-in, which will coincide with the expiration of the police warnings.

For more information about Direct Action Monterey Network, see:

Alex Darocy
§Monterey City Code 32-6.2 Hurts the Community
by Alex Darocy
Officer Roobash debates demonstrators.
§I'll Sit Where I Want!
by Alex Darocy
§A Country Is Not Free If You Can't Sit In It
by Alex Darocy
Officer Roobash debates demonstrators as Sergeant Bob Guinvarch photographs them.
§Monterey Police Sergeant Bob Gunivarch
by Alex Darocy
§Homelessness Is Not A Crime
by Alex Darocy
Officer Richardson issues warnings for sitting on the sidewalk.
by Alex Darocy
§Alvarado Street
by Alex Darocy
Add Your Comments

Comments (Hide Comments)
by G
Clearly Monterey is targeting, violating equal protection.

"Additionally, Monterey Police have dedicated an entire section of their website, which is titled "Homeless Issues," to give business owners and the public instructions on how to report homeless people to the police."

Higher courts have been quite clear about such abuses.

Desertrain v. Los Angeles (2014)

"Section 85.02 provides inadequate notice of the unlawful conduct it proscribes, and opens the door to discriminatory enforcement against the homeless and the poor."

Papachristou v. City Of Jacksonville (1972)

"Those generally implicated by the imprecise terms of the ordinance -- poor people, nonconformists, dissenters, idlers -- may be required to comport themselves according to the lifestyle deemed appropriate by the Jacksonville police and the courts. Where, as here, there are no standards governing the exercise of the discretion granted by the ordinance, the scheme permits and encourages an arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement of the law."

"Of course, vagrancy statutes are useful to the police. Of course, they are nets making easy the roundup of so-called undesirables. But the rule of law implies equality and justice in its application. Vagrancy laws of the Jacksonville type teach that the scales of justice are so tipped that even-handed administration of the law is not possible. The rule of law, evenly applied to minorities as well as majorities, to the poor as well as the rich, is the great mucilage that holds society together."

As Monterey joins the many other petty tyrannies revisiting institutional oppression, mocking rulings that hold jurisdiction over their unaccountable abuses; perhaps it is time to consider, with great seriousness and gravity, the continued existence of such tyranny.

"To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world."

I'm almost exhausted, are you?
by Mike Novack
"Officer Roobash instructed individuals several times they shouldn't be opposing the ordinance by openly defying it.

"You need to take this to the City Council and proper channels," he said. "

That's IF one is choosing to take the "legislative approach" to get an ordinance changed which one disagrees with but believes to be legal. It is PERHAPS excusable that a police officer (who HAS to consider all laws valid; not the role of the police to disagree) says that.

But if one wishes to challenge the legality of a law in the courts, one HAS to have an actual case. Courts will rarely sit in judgement until then. While the law has an undeclared intent to act against the homeless, it is of course worded so as to affect everybody. For persons who are NOT homeless to openly defy the law is an appropriate route to get courts involved.

It of course could ALSO be a protest. Even if one does not expect a court to overturn a law one considers unjust, one way of protesting the law, especially one with minor penalties, is to have large numbers of people defy the law. Publicize the matter, jam the courts with nonsense prosecutions, etc. Maybe somebody needs to give Officer Robash a copy of "On Civil Disobedience" so he can see this is a long standing tradition.
by todota
beginning to agree with banner drop in Oakland.
by foooki
pig fuck American Nazi bastard cops.
by Robert Norse
As Monterey activists were demonstrating to demand the return of the right to rest yesterday, Santa Cruz activists served coffee and fliers in front of the Main Library. We signed up more opponents of the planned "No Parking for the Homeless" in the streets around the Homeless (Lack of) Services Center, cooked up behind closed doors by the SCPD, the Public Works Department, and various businesses on Fern, Coral, and Limekiln Streets. We gathered 53 signatures in the last few days

Later on Friday two HUFF activists supported the right to assemble at Elm and Cedar (near or across the street from the Cafe Pergolesi) which police and security guards have been regularly attacking with false "obstructing the sidewalk" threats and tickets. The activist weapon: prominently displayed video equipment. Apparently the presence of folks and recording does make a difference. Officer Winston, reported hung out for half an hour, but didn't demand youth gathering there move on--as police and security guards have been doing with regularity. You have a "right to stand" on the sidewalk if you move out of the way for passersby when requested to do so.
Even if you're young, homeless, or a traveler with a backpack.

Ironically, it is illegal to sit down on the same sidewalks (on Elm St. or along the Pergolesi side of Cedar St.) as well as anywhere in the Elm and Cedar City parking lot (even in your own vehicle, legally parked). As it has expanded the mini-police state for homeless people, the Santa Cruz "no sitting" law (MC 9.50.012) is much harsher than the Monterey law and has been on the books for more than two decades now (and reduced legal sitting space downtown to less than 1% of the sidewalks). Though free-standing commercial signs in front of businesses are blatantly illegal, no store owner or manager has, to my knowledge been fined or otherwise sanctioned.

One possible strategy for the bold: If you're being harassed for sitting down on the sidewalk on or near Pacific Avenue--or see it happening to someone else--request the cop issue a citation. To the nearest business hosting an illegal free-standing sign on the sidewalk in violation of city law. There's at least one on every block. Video or audio recording would help, but a witness is also okay.

If--as is most likely--the cop declines to issue the citation, note his name and badge number, the time, sign location, and name and address of the criminal shop. File a complaint with both the SCPD and the City Manager, and post it on indybay. Ask to speak to the cop's superior if he refuses to be helpful. Document it as you go.
by panarchist
nice activism. pigs probably showed up because that bar owner called them. won't he be surprised when you show up again june 5th. since there is no penalty if you don't get another ticket for 30 days.
you're executing a great strategy, direct action civil disobedience without injury to your freedom.
we can all learn from your clever action.
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