[Photo Credit, by Bradley Stuart from Indybay. Human rights activist, Ed Frey, speaking, has been ordered to six months in jail starting August eighth.]
USA: Human Rights Activist Ordered to Six Months of Jail,
More Repression Scheduled in Santa Cruz, California
By Steven Argue
On July 24th Judge Moody ordered human rights activist and attorney, Ed Frey, to begin a six month sentence, ordering him to check in for jail at 9:00 AM on August 8th, 2012.
Ed Frey was arrested in 2010 for protesting on the Santa Cruz County Courthouse steps. He was opposing Santa Cruz laws that make it illegal for the homeless to sleep at night. Ed Frey’s only act of civil disobedience was sleeping outside in solidarity with the homeless. In Santa Cruz, the human rights of the poor to even survive are routinely violated on the most basic levels. Sleep at night and covering-up with blankets are both illegal in Santa Cruz for people outside or in a vehicle. Ed Frey was arrested protesting these laws at a three month protest that was called “Peace Camp 2010”. That protest initially started in response to a 63 year-old homeless minister, Robert Facer, being ticketed for sleeping on the beach on a night when all of the homeless shelters were full. Peace Camp 2010 initially attracted many homeless people and other activists, but it was eventually shut down through police repression.
Other activists still facing abuse stemming from that 2010 protest include Gary Johnson and Linda Lemaster. Gary Johnson, like Ed Frey, has also already been sentenced to six months in jail. On August 24th Gary Johnson will be subjected to a hearing similar to Ed Frey’s most recent one. At that time, Gary could also be ordered to begin his six month sentence. Activist Linda Lemaster is scheduled for jury trial on October 15th for sleeping at Peace Camp 2010 as well.
In addition to prosecuting protesters for sleep “crimes”, the Santa Cruz courts are currently persecuting nine protesters who were part of a three day occupation of an abandoned Wells Fargo Bank in 2011. The abandoned building was seen as having potential use as a community center and shelter for people without housing. Each activist is facing two felony charges and two misdemeanor charges and could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison if found guilty. These activists have become known as the Santa Cruz 11 due to the original number of defendants. Seven are still being prosecuted.
The Santa Cruz 11 are being prosecuted for a peaceful occupation that included a policy, posted to the wall, of carrying out no vandalism. Yet, protesters have been charged with “felony vandalism”, “conspiracy to vandalize and trespass” (another felony), and two types of trespassing misdemeanors. These charges are not backed by actual evidence. None of the Santa Cruz 11 were arrested on the scene and six of the 11 who were charged are high profile journalists who have been critical of the Santa Cruz Police Department and/or Santa Cruz City Council. Not targeted for police repression were individuals present who are more friendly to the status quo, like former Santa Cruz Mayor Katherine Beiers.
On August 20th, seven of the Santa Cruz 11, Cameron Laurendau, Robert Norse, Becky Johnson, Gabriella Ripplyphipps, Brent Adams, and Franklin Alcantara will be appearing in the court of Judge Burdick for their so-called “crimes”. As opposed to this kind of repression being carried out by the local liberal capitalist government of Santa Cruz, the Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Party demands the charges against the Santa Cruz 11 be dropped. Instead of seeing the occupation of a bank as a crime, we call for the nationalization of all banks without compensation. And we call for the proletarian seizure of all unused buildings under the control of the banks to provide shelter and housing for those who need it. Meanwhile, the local Democrat Party, which controls the Santa Cruz City Council, sends out their cops to carry out repression against people in the community demanding justice.
Likewise, the liberal government of Santa Cruz sends out its cops to harass the homeless. Numerous laws on the books are there specifically to target the homeless. This includes MC 6.36.010, a law that makes the acts of sleeping or covering up with a blanket punishable by $100 to $200 fines. For the homeless this is often unpayable. Democrat Mayor Don Lane recently passed another law that makes ignoring three sleeping tickets a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. And a third Santa Cruz City law now also makes any third infraction (of any kind) an automatic misdemeanor as well.
During Peace Camp 2010, however, the Sheriff’s department and Santa Cruz DA chose to arrest and prosecute Peace Camp 2010 activists under a much harsher California state law. The law they used was the so-called “Unlawful-Lodging Law” 647e. At the time of their arrest, those found guilty of violations 647e could be punished by up to six months in jail. Since that time, however, the Democrat controlled State legislature doubled the penalty. The reality in courts has now been laid bare, that under this law the act of sleeping, either by people who are homeless or people protesting in solidarity with the homeless, is punishable by up to a year in jail. Since the arrests at Peace Camp 2010 this same so-called “Unlawful-Lodging Law” 647e was also used to attack Occupy Santa Cruz and a number of Occupy activists did face 647e charges.
Gary Johnson and Ed Frey were convicted of sleeping in 2011 and sentenced to six months in jail. Their convictions were secured in the court room of the notoriously pro-police and anti-homeless Judge Gallagher, nicknamed “Grim Gavel” Gallagher. Revealing the political nature of the draconian sentences, Judge Gallagher told homeless activist Gary Johnson he “could get some sleep in jail”.
In June, 2011, with the courts facing a public outcry after two weeks in jail, Ed Frey was released on bail pending appeal with his bail of $50,000 dollars (for sleeping) reduced to $110. Supporters quickly passed the hat and Ed Frey was released from jail on bail. Gary Johnson was similarly released the next week. Those six month sentences, however, have continued to hang over the heads of Ed Frey and Gary Johnson and now the oppressive capitalist state is demanding Ed Frey do the time, starting August 8th.
Another protester charged at that time, Eliot Anderson, was freed by a hung jury that failed to convict him. A juror said of the case, “Anderson should not have to gas his dog to try to get into a shelter to legally sleep.”
In the trial of Gary Johnson and Ed Frey many potential jurors were upset by the fact that they were to sit through a two week trial for the “crime” of sleep. One example was an elementary school teacher who said, "When I first came to Santa Cruz, I lived in my van for three years. During that time, I was hassled, arrested, and jailed. There is no way I could be impartial in this case considering the pain these people are suffering." A number of potential jurors said similar things, but of course they never made it onto the jury. People who are aware of what is going on generally don’t make it onto juries in the United States. Such dumbed-down juries do as they’re told, as this one did, in a typical manner when they were told they weren’t allowed to have their own opinions. In the oft repeated mantra of blind stupidity and injustice in America’s capitalist courts, Judge Gallagher told the jury, "Even if you disagree with the law, you must follow the law."
Four protesters were convicted under 647e for sleeping at the protest. Two did not show up for the absurdity of sentencing and warrants were issued. Ed Frey and Gary Johnson were offered 400 hours of Community Service and 3 years probation for sleeping. In response, Gary Johnson who is homeless, asked, "How can I take probation to obey all laws, when you've defined "sleeping" as lodging to the jury, making it a misdemeanor crime? How can I not sleep for six months during probation?" Judge Gallagher told him “he could get some sleep in jail.” On basic principle and inability to comply, both Gary Johnson and Attorney Ed Frey turned down probation and were then sentenced to six months in jail.
This was reminiscent of an earlier Santa Cruz case where Sandy Loranger did time in jail for feeding the homeless soup. When the judge offered her counseling instead of jail Sandy Loranger replied, "If feeding my fellow man is a crime, I am beyond rehabilitation."
Peace Camp 2010 was simply an act of free speech. It was a peaceful protest with the only act of civil disobedience being the illegal act of sleeping outside. Protest facilities included a port-o-potty provided by Attorney Ed Frey. This helped provide the homeless with a safe place to sleep for months, despite the city government’s failure to provide such needed relief for its citizens.
In addition to Gary Johnson’s six month sentence, Gary Johnson has now also been convicted of additional counts of sleeping since that protest. This is for sleeping last winter outside of the Santa Cruz courthouse with a sign that read “Sleep is Not a Crime”. On those additional counts of sleeping, Judge Gallagher sentenced Gary Johnson to 2 years in prison on a suspended sentence, which means the sentence could be carried out if Gary Johnson is later harassed by police and found guilty of additional “crimes”.
The “Unlawful-Lodging Law” 647e for which Gary Johnson and Ed Frey were arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced was also recently used in Santa Barbara. This was in August 2010 when the Santa Barbara Police ticketed Courtney Caswell-Peyton, a Santa Barbara disabled woman who fell asleep in her wheel chair. She showed-up for court worried about the possibility of getting her first conviction for any crime. Facing strong protest in that case, the Santa Barbara DA dismissed the charge in the “interests of justice”. While happy about not being convicted, she left court saying she was still homeless and questioning why she had no place to sleep.
Unlike the Santa Barbara dismissal, Gary Johnson and Ed Frey were convicted in the notoriously bad Santa Cruz courts. Judge Gallagher is making an example of them for standing-up against the anti-homeless laws of Santa Cruz and California.
“Unlawful-Lodging Law” 647e states, “Who lodges in any building, structure, vehicle, or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or in control of it” “are guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor". According to the Santa Cruz courts, Santa Barbra Police, and the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s department, “lodging” means the same thing as “sleeping”. In May 2011, this same anti-homeless law 647e was made even worse with the State Legislature making a second violation punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. So now homelessness in the state of California is punishable by up to a year in jail if one is caught sleeping twice.
Voting for this worsened anti-homeless law were Democrats and Republicans alike, including local Santa Cruz Democrat and darling of many reformist liberals, Bill Monning. He voted for that increased penalty at the same time that people who actually stand-up for human rights were fighting against it with their personal freedom on the line. Not a single Democrat or Republican voted against.
As the California state government, dominated by Democrats, passes anti-working class austerity and extremely harsh anti-homeless legislation, the Democrat holding power in Washington DC, Barrack Obama, wages wars in an increasing number of the world’s countries. These are wars for the profit of arms manufacturers, oil corporations, and other imperialist capitalists. Likewise, Obama locks-up suspected whistle blower, Bradley Manning, for exposing U.S. crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bradley Manning is accused of releasing the helicopter footage that shows U.S. troops nonchalantly gunning down civilians including journalists, first aid respondents, and children in cold blood. Instead of charges of murder for those who committed it, it is Bradley Manning who goes to prison under Obama while Obama has publicly stated his opinion that Manning “is guilty”. Likewise, trillions of dollars that could be used in a saner socialist society for housing, healthcare, jobs, and education are instead squandered on war under this insane capitalist system.
Meanwhile, the local Democrats in power in Santa Cruz send out their cops to silence protests for human rights for the homeless, to silence protests against the trillions of tax dollars given to the banks, and cut the hours of care under the In Home Support Services program by 3.6% in 2011, hours of care that are needed to keep the disabled, elderly, and dying living and in their homes. While the Democrats of the Santa Cruz City Council support the city’s anti-homeless laws and police repression, they oppose measures that would help fight homelessness like an increase in the minimum wage and have been part of carrying out austerity that includes the lay-off of workers and cuts in homeless services while at the same time hiring more cops.
As the current crisis of capitalism threatens the break-down all that is left that is civil in our society, the Democrats charge ahead with the Republicans in making sure it is the poor and working class who pay for the crisis of capitalism, not capitalist profits. All reformist dreams of the Democrat Party in any way being a source of any sort of “hope” should be abandoned in favor of recognizing reality. Labor unions must abandon their illusions in the Democrats and stop giving them our money and instead prepare to fight by putting union dues into strike funds. The true power of labor will never be found groveling at the feet of hostile Democrat politicians. Instead, labor has the potential to win demands by shutting down the profits of the capitalists.
As opposed to the Democrat’s program of more war, more cops, criminalization of poverty, political repression, and austerity; labor must move forward with our own demands. Those could include a massive jobs program to house the homeless and slow climate change, the seizure of housing foreclosed by the banks to be used by those who need it, and an end to capitalist medicine in the United States, a major cause of debt, homelessness, and death. Without an independent fight-back of the working class, using the power of the strike for political demands, the situation will just continue to grow bleaker.
A revolutionary workers’ party should be built to advocate and lead on just such a class struggle program. To remain a tool of the working class in the long run such a party also needs to have an anti-capitalist program for the building of socialism. Political parties without a clear and rapid revolutionary anti-capitalist program, once in power, just become mere rulers over the inherent injustices of the capitalist system. Instead of capitalism, an egalitarian socialist economy in the United States with production based on human need rather than capitalist profit could easily provide everyone with a job, housing, health care, and free education. Such a society needs to be built on principles of workers’ democracy rather than Stalinist dictatorship or American style dictatorship of the wealthy.
The alternative to socialist revolution becomes increasingly clear as capitalist society becomes less and less able to take care of its people; climate change caused by capitalist greed becomes an increasing threat to the future of human civilization; the capitalist state becomes increasingly repressive; and the leading capitalist countries plunge the world into war after war of imperialist domination and conquest. As the great German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg said in 1918, our alternatives are socialism or barbarism.
Stop the Repression! Overturn the Convictions of Ed Frey and Gary Johnson! Drop the Charges Against Linda Lemaster!
Drop the Charges Against the Santa Cruz Eleven!
End Laws making it Illegal for the Homeless to Sleep at Night!
Nationalize the Banks! Seize Housing From the Banks for those Who Need Housing!
Expropriate the 1%! For a Socialist Planned Economy to Provide Housing, Jobs, Healthcare, and Education For All! No Rent Charged Above 10% of Income!
Smash the Capitalist State in a Proletarian Revolution! Disband all U.S. Police Forces, Prisons, and Courts (all of which are anti-poor, anti-working class, and racist). Build a Proletarian Democracy!
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