Tuesday, March 3, 2015

96 Hours of Action Begins at UC Santa Cruz

During the first week of March, students across California are mobilizing for "96 Hours of Action" by organizing demonstrations to be held over the course of four consecutive days to shut down, they say, "the racist, classist, corporate, militarized police state." The actions are in response to the recent University of California tuition hikes, but they also link the shrinking budget for education in California to the expansion of prisons and policing. On March 2, UCSC's 96 Hours of Action began with a noon-time rally, and two different marches across campus.

"The same people benefiting from racial oppression are the same people benefiting from education debts. The state of California is failing its people by investing in police and prisons instead of public education. It's time to reject this assault on our communities and stand together for education and the end of police violence," an event announcement from UCSC students read.

After rallying at Quarry Plaza at noon, students at UC Santa Cruz marched around campus, making their way through several buildings, including McHenry Library.

A second march was held later in the afternoon with students carrying several large and cumbersome looking bags with the word "debt" written across their surface. The bags were actually filled with balloons, and the individuals carrying them pretended to struggle with them, using street theatre to describe the serious financial burden many students face. As the group made its way around campus, traffic was blocked intentionally for short periods of time.

Multiple actions have been planned for each day on March 3 and 4 at UC Santa Cruz, and the 96 Hours of Action will culminate with a campus-wide strike with picket lines at both entrances to the school on March 5.

Noon-time Rally at Quarry Plaza

Marching through McHenry Library

Students Struggle with Debt Across the UCSC Campus

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Community Members Take A Seat on Monterey Sidewalk to Protest New Sit-Lie Ban

In October a new law went into effect in the City of Monterey making it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks in commercial districts. In response, activists staged a sit-in on the sidewalk along Alvarado Street in Downtown Monterey on February 13, and they say they plan to make it a regular event. Individuals with Direct Action Monterey Network (DAMN) organized the demonstration because they believe the law targets individuals without homes, travelers, and the impoverished.

"No person shall sit or lie on a commercial sidewalk or on any object brought or affixed to said sidewalk, from 7:00am until 9:00pm," the new ordinance (Sec. 32-6.2) states.

At the demonstration, community members sat on the sidewalk and held protest signs with messages such as "Don't Criminalize Poverty," "Homelessness Is Not A Crime," and "I'll Sit Where I Want!"

Many people walking by asked what they were protesting. One person sat down immediately with the group on the sidewalk when told their action was in opposition to the new sit-lie law.

A social worker passing by with her children was astounded to find out it was now illegal for people to sit down on the sidewalk. She told demonstrators, "That's terrible! If they are not doing anything, they should just let them!"

One older resident said the demonstration reminded him that "everything is negative here." He linked the new sit-lie law to how climbing on the train at nearby Dennis the Menace Park, which was a favorite pastime of his childhood, was no longer allowed.

Two people walked by and asked each other what the group was doing, and when they read the signs, one of them said to the other, "I'm guessing they are clearing out all the hobos."

"It must be about the hobos," the person repeated.

The demonstration also drew quite a bit of attention from the Monterey Police Department. Five different officers were monitoring the protest less than a block away on foot, and two patrol vehicles drove by. One officer photographed the demonstrators. Additionally, two security guards employed by Uretsky Security were on patrol and in the area the whole time.

Alvarado Street in Monterey.

Four of the Monterey police officers monitoring the demonstration.

Full text of sit-lie law from the Monterey municipal code

Sec. 32-6.2 Prohibiting sitting and lying on commercial sidewalks at certain times -- Exceptions.

(a) Sitting on Commercial Sidewalks at Certain Times Prohibited. No person shall sit or lie on a commercial sidewalk or on any object brought or affixed to said sidewalk, from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., except as provided in this section.

(b) Exceptions. The prohibition in subsection (a) of this section shall not apply to any person sitting or lying on a commercial sidewalk:

1. Due to a medical emergency;

2. On a wheelchair or other device that is needed for mobility;

3. On a public bench or bus stop bench that is permanently affixed to the sidewalk;

4. Operating or patronizing a commercial establishment conducted on the public sidewalk pursuant to an encroachment permit;

5. Participating in or attending a parade, festival, performance, rally, demonstration, meeting or similar event conducted on pursuant to and in compliance with an event permit or other applicable permit. This section shall not be construed to prohibit persons from obtaining such City permits; or

6. Who is a child seated in a stroller.

These exceptions shall not be construed to allow conduct that is prohibited by other laws.

(c) This section shall not be applied or enforced in a manner that violates the United States or California constitutions.

(d) Necessity of Warning Prior to Citation. 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 change to stop said conduct. One warning by a peace officer to a person who is violating this section is sufficient for a thirty (30) day period as to any subsequent violations of this section by said person during said period.

(e) Commercial Sidewalk -- Definition. As used in this section, “commercial sidewalk” means all sidewalks in front of property designated on the City’s General Plan map for mixed use areas, as shown in Appendix A to the ordinance codified in this chapter.

(f) Penalty. An administrative citation may be issued to any person who violates this section, or a violation may be charged as an infraction. (Ord. 3503 § 2, 2014)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

In Memory of Fallen Officers, Activists Postpone Rally Opposing Attack Vehicle Purchase

Activists organizing to oppose the police purchase of a $250,000 Lenco BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) postponed a rally scheduled to occur during today's Santa Cruz City Council meeting. Members of SCRAM! (Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization) changed plans when they found out the Santa Cruz Police Department officers who were killed in 2013 might be honored at the same time as their rally.

Harry Meserve of SCRAM! speaks to council members.

The BearCat rally was postponed when it was realized that a resolution declaring February 26 as "Baker-Butler Memorial Day" was on the council's agenda to honor SCPD's Elizabeth Butler and Loran Baker, who were shot to death while on duty in 2013. Activists thought community members might want to gather in the City Hall courtyard to honor the fallen officers after the adoption of the resolution, as they have done in the past during similar council actions.

Protests against police militarization have been held at the previous four Santa Cruz City Council meetings. Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs had been setting up large tables and serving food outside of council chambers for the rallies, as well as distributing protest signs, but today they did not.

During today's oral communications period, Harry Meserve spoke to council members on behalf of SCRAM! Meserve is also a member of the Santa Cruz chapter of Veterans For Peace.

"In a desire to acknowledge the work of the police, and in memory of Sgt. Loran Baker and Det. Elizabeth Butler, we have decided to forgo the opportunity to speak to you on the BearCat. Individuals will, of course, speak in oral communications on various issues, including perhaps the BearCat, but we as SCRAM! will reserve that right until a future opportunity to speak," Meserve said.

"You know that we feel strongly about the BearCat and its acquisition by the City of Santa Cruz. We are looking forward to the opportunity for the community to make its case on the BearCat," he said.

That opportunity may come in March.

The BearCat was approved by a 6-1 vote during the council's consent agenda on December 9, which many community members feel was an attempt by Santa Cruz police and city staff to sneak the purchase past the public. Mayor Don Lane and Council Member Micah Posner have since indicated they plan to bring back the issue back to the council's agenda sometime in March, but their statements have not addressed activists' full list of demands, which call for the BearCat order to be rescinded.

SCRAM! members have articulated their demands as follows:

1) to bring the BearCat back onto the SC City Council agenda for a full public hearing and to rescind the approval

2) to establish a long term policy for grant applications and acceptance in the City that ensures timeliness, transparency, full public disclosure and input

3) to help develop and implement policies that prevent military equipment from flowing into law enforcement agencies throughout Santa Cruz County

Community members opposed to the BearCat purchase are planning to rally again at the next Santa Cruz city council meeting on Tuesday, March 10.

Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel, Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark, and Sgt. Mike Harms (from left to right) were present in council chambers during the discussion of "Baker-Butler Memorial Day."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Santa Cruz Dream Inn Workers Go on Strike

Workers at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn began a two-day strike today, prompting the hotel to close its restaurant, Aquarius. Cooks, Waiters, Bartenders, Bell Persons, Front Desk Clerks, Room Cleaners, Maintenance Workers, and all other employees are refusing to work, and picket lines are scheduled for the front of the hotel from 6am-10pm for both days of the strike. Workers approved the action after months of failed contract negotiations with owners, who have been expecting them to accept a three-year wage freeze.

This afternoon, workers carried signs in front of the hotel with messages such as "Dream in Workers Cannot Afford 3 Years Wage Freeze," "Workers Love Their Jobs and Their Community. A Fair Wage Will Help to Live Here," and "Dream Inn Workers Ask for A Fair Contract Now!"

One of the many march chants workers called out in unison today as they walked the picket line was, "Dream Inn, Rich and Rude, We Don't Like Your Attitude!"

Dream Inn's management has taken over work responsibilities at the hotel, and a flyer handed out by workers is encouraging customers to demand a refund.

"Tell management you expect workers and customers to be treated better," the flyer stated.

Workers at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn are members of Unite Here! Local 483, the labor union that has represented hotel, restaurant, and other service workers in the Monterey Bay since 1937.

Workers are presently without a contract and have been negotiating with the hotel since mid-2014. Owners have proposed workers take a three-year wage freeze followed by 1% and 2% raises in the fourth and fifth years. Monthly pickets of the hotel began in September, and in mid-January, 96% of workers voted to go on strike. The union says the Dream Inn's management has not met with them since that time or made any effort to try and reach an agreement.

The union has said that because business is "booming" at the hotel, with summer-time reservations now being made for some rooms costing over $500 and $600, the Dream Inn should be "ashamed" of their demand.

The picket line is scheduled to occur until 10pm tonight, and from 6am to 10pm on Saturday, February 21.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Family and Friends Remember Phillip Watkins, 23-Year-Old Killed by San Jose Police

Family, friends, and community supporters came together on February 14 for a candle light vigil to honor 23-year-old Phillip Watkins, who was shot and killed by two officers with the San Jose Police Department on February 11. About one hundred people attended the vigil, and many spoke about what a positive person Phillip was, and how he changed their lives.

Phillip was the father of a young girl, who was at the vigil with her mother, Phillip's life-partner. Also in attendance was Phillip's mother and sisters, and his partner's mother.

Phillip attended San Jose High and De Anza College, playing on the football teams of both schools. Fitness and exercise was his passion.

One of Phillip's sisters who spoke at the vigil described her brother as "always giving what he had for others," and she recalled that whenever the ice cream man would come around their neighborhood during their childhood, Phillip would always share his money with her so that she was sure to get what she wanted.

"Now is the time to live through Phillip," she said. "That's what keeps me ok."

One family friend handed out cards for loved ones to write their memories of Phillip on, so that they could be saved for Phillip's daughter to read one day.

Co-workers of Phillip's from Walmart said he was always nice to be around. A number of people who worked with Phillip at Walmart attended the vigil, including a manager of the store. They described how they "built" the Walmart where they all worked. They were its first employees, and they worked there from the moment the foundation was laid, helping to establish every inch of the store. As a result they felt bonded to each other, and Phillip, in a special way.

Laurie Valdez helped facilitate the vigil. In February of 2014, Valdez lost her life-partner and the father of her son, Antonio Guzman Lopez, when San Jose State University police officers shot and killed him as he was walking home from work. A year later, the details of his death still aren't clear. Police have claimed he was a threat due to a tool he was carrying at the time, and Valdez has filed a lawsuit against the department.

Phillip's family didn't speak about the details of his death at the vigil.

The somber gathering was held at the location of Phillip's killing, which is near the corner of Alma and Sherman Street in San Jose.

The two San Jose Police officers who shot Phillip were identified as Ryan Dote ( #4006) and James Soh (#4075), both of whom have eight years on the job, according to a February 12 press release issued by SJPD to announce the killing had occurred.

Police say they were called to a residence on Sherman Street on February 11 by a person who told them there was "a male breaking into his home armed with a knife." The press release also stated that he said, "he was locked in an upstairs bedroom with his children and requested help from police."

Police say that when they arrived on the scene they spotted Phillip Watkins with a knife in his hand, and he was running towards them. They say they warned him to stop, but shot and killed him when he would not. Police say they later determined it was Watkins himself who had called police to the home, which some have speculated was an attempt to entice them into to killing him as an act of "suicide by cop."

A picture of the knife police say they found was included in the press release. The photo revealed that it was a small knife with an approximately four inch blade.

RIP Phillip Watkins 1992-2015.

Phillip's partner speaks, while holding his daughter. Phillip's mother and sisters look on.

Laurie Valdez speaks, with Phillip's mother and sisters.

Writing down memories of Phillip for his daughter.

BearCat Battle Moves Forward in Santa Cruz, City Council May Revisit Issue in March

February 10 marked the fourth consecutive Santa Cruz City Council meeting where residents have protested the police purchase of a $250,000 BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) funded by two Department of Homeland Security grants. As with the previous protests, community members again rallied in the City Hall courtyard and entered Tuesday's council meeting as a group to speak out against the purchase of the armored attack-style vehicle during the open communications period at 5pm.

City council chambers.

A large group of community members hoped to speak to the BearCat issue, but Mayor Don Lane did not add any time to the oral communications period, as he had done at the previous two city council meetings when attendance was high. As a result, some people were not allowed to speak.

However, Council Member Micah Posner, along with Lane, announced that they would be bringing the BearCat issue back to the council's agenda in March.

"What is anticipated to come up to the agenda in March," Mayor Lane said, "is both the vehicle use policy and the discussion of the system for procurement going forward on larger items like this and the grant program, how we accept grants."

Lane said there would be time for the public to discuss the BearCat issue at the meeting in March.

Community members continue to call for the BearCat order to be rescinded.

The announcement from Lane and Posner addresses some of the subjects of interest cited by community members organizing with SCRAM! (Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization!), but the group's three demands remain as follows:

1) to bring the BearCat back onto the SC City Council agenda for a full public hearing and to rescind the approval

2) to establish a long term policy for grant applications and acceptance in the City that ensures timeliness, transparency, full public disclosure and input

3) to help develop and implement policies that prevent military equipment from flowing into law enforcement agencies throughout Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz City Hall.

Sherry Conable of SCRAM! speaks.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs table outside of Council Chambers.

Police Chief Vogel speaks about fireworks as community members entered the chambers.

Speaking to the city council.

Vietnam Veteran Frederick Baker of Veterans For Peace speaks to the council.

Ron Pomerantz of SCRAM! speaks to the council.

Community member wearing a "BearCat" around their neck.

Council chambers.