HOMELESSNESS AND POLITICAL REPRESSION, THE GREEN PARTY FAILS THE TEST IN SANTA CRUZ.
By STEVE ARGUE
Green Party City Council Person Tim Fitzmaurice and "progressive" Democrats Christopher Krohn and Keith Sugar were swept into office out of a ground swell of opposition to plans for expansion of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in 1998.
At that time many had the illusion that these three were going to over turn the cities sleeping ban (a city law making it illegal for the homeless to sleep at night), and confront the repressive nature of the Santa Cruz Police Department. Those illusions were soon shattered.
During Tim Fitzmaurice's past three years in office he has opposed lifting the sleeping ban. In 1998 the City Council was under public pressure to end the sleeping ban. At that time Fitzmaurice did support a successful measure that lowered the fine for sleeping outside or in a vehicle from 2 to . But Fitzmaurice voted with the majority on the council against lifting the sleeping ban. The vote was Sugar and Krohn for lifting the sleeping ban, Fitzmaurice, Biers, Rotkin, and Hernandez against.
This year (2001) when newly elected Council Member (D) Ed Porter tried to bring the issue up for discussion Mayor Fitzmaurice broke the rules of city hall by vetoing the discussion. Porter, in a Gore like fashion, did not fight the violation of democracy.
Fitzmaurice's stand against the rights of the homeless is in clear violation of the platform of the Green Party, which opposes anti-homeless laws. Because of this fact Green Party member Robert Norse has pushed for the Green Party of Santa Cruz to hold Tim Fitzmaurice accountable. Yet instead of the Green Party officially distancing themselves from Tim Fitzmaurice for his policies against the homeless they have demonized Robert Norse for criticizing their beloved Green Party mayor. Many of these attacks on Robert Norse are of a personal nature despite their clear political motivations.
It is the obligation of any political party to hold those they elect to power to the positions of the membership of the party. If a political party does not do so its political platform is only worth so much toilet paper. This has been the case of the Democrat Party for years. It is the case with the past three years of Green Party power in Santa Cruz as well. If the Green Party truly represented change it would kick Fitzmaurice out of the party for his violations of party policy and violations of human rights, rather than defending him.
The anti-activist and anti-homeless nature of the Santa Cruz Police has been there since before the Green Party took office. In the 1980s the Santa Cruz Police, according to court testimony of fellow officers, carried out beatings of homeless people they called operation code blue over their radios. What code blue meant was that officers were to arrive on the scene where they beat homeless people to death.
Sandy Loranger did jail time for feeding the homeless soup. When the judge offered her counseling instead of jail Sandy Loranger replied, "I am beyond rehabilitation." Film footage shows B.D. was tackled and pepper sprayed by Santa Cruz Police when he was merely giving a speech for the rights of the homeless on a downtown sidewalk. In a similar manner film footage shows Jim Cosner was tackled down and arrested for taping up a poster of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal on a downtown fence.
The repression and abuses have continued since the election of Fitzmaurice, but the Green Party in office has done nothing to stop them.
One year before the election of Fitzmaurice homeless and anti-police brutality activist John Dine was shot and killed by Santa Cruz Police Officer Connor Carey. The claim by Police Chief Belcher was that John Dine was pointing a toy gun at the officer before he was shot. Yet none of the many independent eyewitnesses backed up that claim.
Even the Citizen's Police Review Board (appointed by the City Council) recognized that John Dine was not pointing a gun. Yet the Citizen's Police Review Board (CPRB) claimed not to be contradicting Chief Belcher in their findings despite telling an entirely different story.
The CPRB's report stated that the shooting of John Dine was justified because he was reaching for what appeared to be a gun. Because of activism, too much of the truth had gotten out to the public for the CPRB to stick with Chief Belcher's version of a pointed gun, but they continued the cover-up with this new falsified version of events where John Dine is supposedly reaching for what appears to be a gun. The independent eyewitnesses refuted this CPRB version of events as well.
Some of the eyewitnesses had become so upset about the cover-up by the city government, DA, and the corporate media that they became activists in trying to get out the truth and punish those responsible.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel, one of the main corporate newspapers in Santa Cruz, continues to refer to John Dine as "a deranged man who was pointing a toy gun at police".
On November 12, 1998, the one-year anniversary of the police murder of John Dine, a protest 100 people was organized demanding an end to the cover-up. Speakers at that event included newly elected City Council Persons Christopher Krohn and Keith Sugar along with myself. The following day a photo of all three standing in front of the demonstrators was prominently displayed on page 2 of the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
That same day, November 13th, I was brutalized and arrested by Santa Cruz Police Officer Garner. The pretext for arrest was that I was selling newspapers without a license. Yet the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is very clear about protecting freedom of press. It states, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." In fact the city law, on paper anyway, also allows the selling of newspapers. Officer Garner's request for a license brings my arrest and beating to the level of absurdity because the city does not even have a license that it issues for selling newspapers in the first place.
Up until November of 1998 the police regularly harassed and at times ticketed those who distributed more truthful news than can be found in the corporate media. Those papers include the newspaper Street Spirit which advocates human rights for the homeless, various socialist papers, and the revolutionary unionist paper: The Industrial Worker.
I was released without charges after four days in jail and after being brutalized by arresting officers on the street, and also being beaten by sheriffs in the county jail. In addition Christopher Krohn and Keith Sugar were criticized in an editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel for their participation in the November 12th demonstration. After facing that criticism Krohn and Sugar shut their mouths about police brutality, including in the cases of John Dine and myself.
I, on the other hand, knowing that freedoms have to be fought for, was back out on the street selling newspapers immediately after my release from jail. I also spoke out on the radio, TV, and in the newspapers for freedom of press. As a result of my actions and other activists publicizing the case, the police have, for the most part, stopped violating the right of people to buy and sell newspapers in the City of Santa Cruz. The one exception I know of was in 2000 when I was once again threatened with arrest for selling newspapers. I refused to back down and eventually the police backed down instead.
My attorney, Kate Wells, and I have also filed a lawsuit in federal court for the Cities violations of the constitutional rights of the people of Santa Cruz to free speech. The attorney for the City, who works for the Green / Democrat City Council, is arguing that it is not legal to sell newspapers in Santa Cruz. A Federal Judge, however, has ruled that not only was my arrest a clear violation of constitutional rights, but that the way the City is trying to defend its actions now shows that it is City policy to violate constitutional rights. The City attorney's office, again under the control of the Green / Democrat City Council, is appealing the ruling and continuing to argue against the First Amendment Constitutional right to freedom of press.
Green Party Council Person Tim Fitzmaurice along with Krohn and Sugar did nothing to defend freedom of press when I was arrested. In fact Fitzmaurice's appointee to the so-called Citizen's Police Review Board, Green Party member Arne Leff, voted that the police acted properly in arresting me for selling newspapers.
The Green Party of Santa Cruz moved further in the 2000 elections in their opposition to freedom of press. They endorsed Arne Leff in his run for city council.
These are not small questions. They involve the protection, or not, of the most fundamental free speech rights. Freedom of press is difficult enough in America as it is without arrest because of the lack of advertising and accompanied low budgets that those who try to get out the truth have to deal with. John Dine can no longer pass out flyers or participate in protests to end the sleeping ban because he is dead. The fact that Connor Carey is still on the police force, serves as a powerful warning to other would be homeless activists that they may die for their convictions.
The silence of the City Council only helped to promote this repressive atmosphere. The City Council is the boss of the police through City Manager Dick Wilson, who they have the authority to fire. Repressive and murderous cops have to be taught that there are consequences for their crimes.
Other activists for the rights of the homeless have had their rights trampled by the police under the past three years of Green Party / Democrat Party rule in Santa Cruz as well. These have included James Nay who was arrested for writing things in chalk on the sidewalk opposing the sleeping ban, and David Silva who was arrested and given a psychiatric evaluation for asking City Council, "What's it going to take, self emollition to end the sleeping ban?"
Activist for the homeless, Robert Norse, was illegally arrested on September 19th and on October 3rd for circulating a petition at the Farmer's Market asking for an end to police harassment of musicians, artisans, and activists by the Santa Cruz Police at the Farmer's Market. The Farmer's Market is held in a publicly owned parking lot and as a public gathering space courts have ruled even on private property such as malls, that the First Amendment still applies. The need for the petition was partially inspired by the threat of police to arrest peace activist John Theilking for a literature table he had set up on September 5th.
Judge Stevens later dropped the charges against Robert Norse in court along with dismissing the attempt at an injunction against him, but the arrests were another clear violation of the free speech rights of the people of Santa Cruz. These arrests have been coupled with the Green / Democrat City Government's blatant fencing off of most of the areas that used to be used for free speech tables at the Farmer's Market.
Activists regularly pass out fliers, set up literature tables, and circulate petitions at the Farmer's Market for many causes. In 1999 rent control activist Bob Lamonica and activists for freeing U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal were threatened with ticketing and potential arrest by Officer Howes. Activists for both causes spoke out against the violation of their rights, and in the following weeks they defiantly set up literature tables and were left alone.
Coupled with these blatant attacks on free speech is constant low intensity warfare of harassment against human rights activists, the homeless, and street artisans and musicians. As the police often say to their victims, "This is Santa Cruz, we can find a law for anything." In 2000 Robert Norse was ticketed for sitting at the base of Tom Scribner's Statue. Charges were later dropped when he produced a photo of City Council members doing the same thing. K.C., who has attended a number of demonstrations, was ticketed for blowing bubbles, which the officer claimed were projectiles being thrown into traffic. That charge was dropped when it made the national news.
When dealing with the homeless the police often illegally steal backpacks, vehicles, and identification. The police confiscations of identification have now become especially serious with the Cities emergency shelter program through the National Guard Armory now requiring identification to be admitted into emergency winter shelter. There is no Santa Cruz emergency shelter in the summer except that which takes months to get into and only lasts one month. The new rule gives the police one more opportunity to victimize the homeless. The new rule also victimizes undocumented immigrants who may need emergency shelter.
Santa Cruz Police have stopped me five times under the manufactured pretext of j walking, which carries a heavy fine. One of those tickets was thrown out of court and I was later arrested for another I refused to pay. The police also took my car without legitimate legal pretext and arrested me that same day for watching, without intervening, the police hassle a homeless man. I never got my car back, but the charge for witnessing police misconduct and then becoming a victim of it myself was thrown out of court, after a tape of the incident made by activist and Free Radio DJ Vinny Lombardo was played for the judge. While this harassment was taking place, according to witnesses, a photo of myself with drawn in wire rimmed glasses and a goatee was hanging on the police station wall.
Emboldened by years of repression and harassment against the homeless and activists dealing with local issues, the Santa Cruz Police attacked anti-war protesters on May 22, 1999. By Sgt. MacMahon's own admission it was a lawful protest until the police intervened. The protest was against the US bombing of Yugoslavia. The target of the protest was a Democrat Party fundraiser where Democrat Representative Sam Farr was giving a speech. Sam Farr had the nerve to vote for the war and then turn around and say on the news "Give peace a chance." Protesters were demanding an end to the war and exposing Sam Farr's real policies. Police brutalized protesters and five were arrested.
One of the main culprits in the attack was Officer David LaFavor. He had stated a couple years earlier to activist David Silva that it was his goal to clean the scum off of the streets of Santa Cruz. When asked who the scum were he listed the homeless, political activists, and street musicians. David Silva warned the City Council about LaFavor at that time.
The first person arrested, without reason, was Kao Ling Lao. The charge against her, Disturbing the Peace, was later thrown out of court. She was grabbed by police and taken through the crowd to a waiting patty-wagon. Angry protesters wanted to know what she was arrested for and followed the police to the patty-wagon, which they peacefully surrounded and blocked its exit. As if to inflame the protesters to react with another provocation, the police then went after the only two people in the crowd who were carrying small children.
Videotape shows Officer LaFavor passing up other protesters and walking up to Julien who is holding her four-year old child. LaFavor immediately grabbed Julien's wrist and put her in a pain compliance hold. A man with an infant was also grabbed by Officer LaMoss. Officer LaFavor then drags Julien around the patty-wagon and stops in front of me with Julien's child screaming in fear and Julien screaming in pain, her hand turned purple from the pain compliance hold. I demanded that LaFavor stop torturing the woman. LaFavor did not comply with my reasonable commands. I then used the force necessary to stop the crime he was carrying out, I punched LaFavor in the nose. Julien and her child were then able to escape.
Nassim Zarriffi stepped in against the other case of police child abuse, where he came up from behind and pulled LaMoss's arm up saying, "You're hurting the baby," in a situation where the baby was getting pressed in between the arresting officer and the father. The father and child were then also able to escape as the police turned on Nassim Zarriffi. He was charged with Misdemeanor Assault on an Officer and Misdemeanor Resisting Arrest, I was charged with Felony Assault and Battery on an Officer and Misdemeanor Resisting Arrest. In addition Jim Cosner and Vinny Lombardo were charged with Resisting Arrest. The arrested became known as the Santa Cruz 5 and gained support in Santa Cruz, around the country, and around the world.
Due to massive pressure demanding justice, the Citizen's Police Review Board found that excessive force was used against Julien that endangered her child, and against myself when I was arrested. Despite these facts I was convicted in court due to the actions of a hostile judge, Judge Attack, the incompetence of my attorney, Ben Rice, and the conservative nature of the jury. I endured 7 months in the Santa Cruz County Jail where I was beaten by guards and faced other abuses from authorities.
Officer Lafavor no longer works for the City Government. According to a source in the City Government LaFavor was given the choice of being fired or resigning. He has, however, after resigning gotten a job in another police department.
Today the slander against the May 22 demonstration continues on the national TV show called "Great Police Chases." They have repeatedly shown falsified video completely out of sequence showing me punching LaFavor, but removing the video of Julien and her child before the punch and replacing it with other video of Officer LaFavor. The show, after deliberately falsifying the events of the demonstration also mocks the protesters for being pacifists. Opposing America's unjust wars and bombing of civilians does not necessarily make one a pacifist.
When I ran for City Council the Santa Cruz Sentinel repeatedly referred to me as "the cop puncher" while other candidates like Arne Leff were referred to by their professions. In this context Arne Leff would more appropriately have been called the constitution crusher.
Despite the clear video tapes showing the violence and abuses of the police, no member of the Green / Democrat City Council ever took any action on behalf of the Santa Cruz 5 and the right to protest while we were still facing charges. Fitzmaurice's silence can be contrasted to the decision of the membership of the Green Party to put out a statement demanding the charges against me be dropped and LaFavor be fired.
Will the Green Party be hi-jacked nation wide by opportunist career politicians who protect the status quo while the majority of membership is unwilling to make any significant moves to hold them accountable? The experience in Santa Cruz suggests it will.
The unwillingness of the Green Party to seriously take on police abuses and anti-poor laws with their position of power reflects a petty bourgeois reformist outlook, rather than a revolutionary outlook of the poor and working class. The program of the Green Party sees the owners of small businesses as the counter weight to evil multi-national corporations and see their maximum program as one where small businesses are the base of the economy. The reality in Santa Cruz is that most of these small business owners are the biggest proponents of anti-homeless laws and the culprits in paying some of the lowest wages that cause homelessness.
In opposition I promote methods of class struggle against all exploiters who trample on the rights of the poor and working class whether they be big or small. I call for doubling the minimum wage. Any business that can't pay a living wage should be driven under. I call for rent control to curb the gouging of the landlords. I call for firing the city manager, the chief of police, and Officer Connor Carey as a first step towards curbing police abuse. I call for an end to anti-homeless laws. I call for the city employee's living wage to be extended to part time employees paid for with cuts in the six digit salaries of the likes of Dick Wilson. I call for the unity of working and poor people against the bosses and their government and call for an end to all racist, sexist, and homophobic policies. I oppose US wars to subjugate the people of the world to U.S. corporate interests. I oppose the degradation of the planets ecology for the profits of the capitalists. I support the people in organizing unions, strikes, demonstrations, alternative media, and anti-capitalist and worker's political parties to take on the power of the capitalist system.
It is on this platform I ran for office while being homeless in 2000 and received close to 3,000 votes, and it is on this platform I may run again in 2002. This was very respectable given the fact that 3 of the winners only got around 8,000 votes and did it with much more money. But whether I run or not, and whether I win or not, change will only come through all who are fed up with the system taking an active role in making change.