Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Sergeant Butch Baker at Occupy Santa Cruz, October 15, 2011

Today marks six years since Sergeant Detective Loran "Butch" Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler of the Santa Cruz Police Department were killed. On February 26, 2013, Baker and Butler went to the home of Jeremy Goulet to arrest him on sexual assault charges. After about 10 minutes of speaking with him, Goulet agreed to come out, but he then exited the house from a different door in order to ambush and shoot the officers with a handgun he secretly had in his possession.

Over the years, I have received quite a few questions about the photos featuring Sgt. Baker that I took at Occupy Santa Cruz in 2011. The one photo I published of Baker has had a life of its own, eventually finding its way to the Santa Cruz Police Department itself. Several years ago Deputy Chief of Police Rick Martinez thanked me for taking it and told me a print of it was hanging inside the Santa Cruz Police Department. I knew that a copy of it had been gifted to the department by activist Abbi Samuels during the Freedom Sleepers protests at Santa Cruz City Hall in 2015. From time to time, while I have been photographing other protests, a number of police officers have approached me to speak about the photo.

I originally published it in an Indybay article online, along with a number of other photos from the October 15, 2011 Occupy Santa Cruz protest. Later, I printed it up when I was invited to show some of my work at the Occupy Santa Cruz art show held at the Resource Center for Nonviolence in April of 2012. When I wasn't able to personally pick up and retrieve the photos from the RCNV at the end of the show, I simply left them there for the center to use if they so desired. A short while later, Abbi saw them sitting there in an extra room and asked me if she could have some. I didn't think much of the photo again until several years later, after Sgt. Baker lost his life.

Abbi contacted me in 2013 or 2014 rather excitedly. She had been looking at the photo one day with a friend, and they figured out Baker was one of the police officers prominently featured in it. She asked me if I knew if it was really Butch Baker in the photo, and I told her that it was.

I caught up with Abbi recently to ask her about her recollections of gifting the photo to the police department.

She told me she thought that sharing the photo might, "spark goodness inside others."

"It was strange that I ended up with that photo from Occupy," Abbi told me. "Once I found out it was Butch Baker, there was this strong feeling that it was no longer mine to keep and that I should give it to someone who may see the beauty of it, such as his family or friends."

"I Just had an intuition," she said.

The photo depicts Sgt' Baker and another officer from the SCPD speaking to an activist from Occupy Santa Cruz who is sitting in the street. The activist was part of a group of Occupy Santa Cruz members who initiated the sit-in on Water Street to "occupy" the street. The sit-in itself occurred after a long Occupy Santa Cruz march to protest at three of the major banks downtown as part of a global day of action for the occupy movement.

As marchers neared the Santa Cruz County Court House on their return from protesting at the Bank of America branch on River Street, approximately a dozen people sat down on the Water Street Bridge and began a short occupation of the roadway, which forced its closure by police.

The activists eventually left the bridge and marched to the court house, where they began a "meditation sit-in" in the middle of Water Street. At this point, many Occupy Santa Cruz members opposed the blocking of the street, and they managed to get everyone but one meditator up off of the road. When the other activists spoke with him, he communicated that that he would get up and leave the roadway if the police officers on scene asked him to. Steve Pleich, a member of Occupy Santa Cruz's legal working group at the time, then conveyed that message to the police, and two officers, one of whom was Sgt. Baker, approached the meditator and politely asked if he would stop blocking the road. He agreed immediately and exited the roadway without incident.

The  deaths of Loran "Butch" Baker and Elizabeth Butler has affected the Santa Cruz community very deeply. Many locals wear the "Never Forget" shirts that were produced following the officers' deaths, which is not an idle gesture. Many who lived in Santa Cruz and experienced the news reports, or were part of Baker and Butler's extended family, will deeply feel the loss of these officers forever.

All of these photos of Sgt. Baker taken at Occupy Santa Cruz except for one have never been released or seen by the public before.

To view the report featuring the photo of Sgt. Baker I originally published on Indybay in 2011, see:

Friday, February 8, 2019

Rest in Peace Sherry Conable

In shocking news to the Santa Cruz activist community, Sherry Conable was identified as the woman found dead on Cowell Beach on the morning of February 4. Sherry participated in and organized countless political demonstrations and anti-war events over the course of decades in the Santa Cruz area. She will be dearly missed.

Sherry holds her iconic peace wreath at a demonstration at the Santa Cruz City Council in March of 2015 to protest the SCPD purchase of a Bearcat vehicle.

According to early media reports, the cause of her death has yet to be determined.

Independence Day 2014, Ocean Street, Santa Cruz.

Independence Day 2016, Ocean Street Santa Cruz

Sherry speaking to protest the SCPD purchase of a Bearcat vehicle in front of City Hall in February of 2015.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Community Survival Camp Established at Santa Cruz Post Office

In response to the planned closure of the River Street homeless campground, community members in Santa Cruz have established a survival camp at the downtown post office. At 11pm on November 15, nearly two dozen individuals had set up spaces to sleep along the sidewalk in front of the large postal building, which is a landmark downtown. "Please join us for a peaceful night's sleep while celebrating the constitution and supporting the human right to sleep. Everyone is welcome, whether you have a home or not," an event announcement for establishment of the survival camp read.

Earlier in the day on November 15, the City of Santa Cruz announced the closure of five parks due to fire danger, including Pogonip, Arana Gulch, Moore Creek, DeLaveaga, and Arroyo Seco. These latest park closures in Santa Cruz follow the closures of San Lorenzo and Grant Street Parks in October, which were literally fenced off from the public for "public safety" reasons, according to the city. Additionally, the city has closed the restrooms at San Lorenzo Park for much of 2018, and permantly restricted the public's access to the restroom at Louden Nelson Center/Laurel Park.

City policy hast left homeless individuals continuing to be shuffled around the greenbelt. Homeless encampments have swelled around the city, including a new camp between Gateway Plaza and Highway 1, and some camping on Santa Cruz Main Beach.

One reason community members decided to establish a survival camp at the downtown post office is due to the recent decision by postal officals to construct a permanent fence around the building. That decision was in part to prevent community members from sleeping in the landscaping, but also to discourage Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs from sharing meals there, which the group has done since 2012. The permanent fence was installed in October of this year, and a huge number of "no trespassing" signs have been plastered along its length. A temporary fence had been in place since March of 2017.

The River Street Campground, which is funded and operated entirely by the city, opened in February of this year after authorities dispersed a large homeless encampment that had developed at San Lorenzo Park between 2017 and 2018. The cost to operate the campground was estimated by the city to be $90,000 a month, for an average of 50-60 guests per day.

It is unclear how long individuals will camp at the post office. Robert Norse, of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF), said the group may decide to sleep at other locations.

The establishment of a community survival camp in Santa Cruz has been endorsed by The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, End Solitary Santa Cruz County, WILPF - Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Santa Cruz, WRAP - Western Regional Advocacy Project, Santa Cruz Code Pink, Conscience in Action, Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs, HUFF, Homeless Depot, HomeFree, and The Freedom Sleepers.

The Santa Cruz Post Office

 Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs and Robert Norse of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom

Friday, November 16, 2018

City of Santa Cruz Announces Park Closures

Due to a recent string of "suspicious" fires, the City of Santa Cruz announced on November 15 the closure of the following parks: Pogonip, Arana Gulch, Moore Creek, DeLaveaga, and Arroyo Seco. "Police and Fire Investigators have aggressively investigated every fire, which has resulted in five arrests in the past four weeks," a press release from the city states. The parks will be closed indefinitely.

The Rincon Fire

While police have arrested at least two individuals specifically for arson, a press release issued by Cal Fire on November 9 charges that some of the fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains originated from "illegal campsites."

The Rincon Fire has been the largest of the recent fires in the area, burning 17 wooded acres and coming very close to homes in the Paradise Park area along Highway 9.

The homeless community has received some backlash from individuals on social media. Some of the comments have been preserved by the group "Take Back Santa Cruz from TBSC" on their Facebook page. One called those involved with the recent incidents, "tweakers with fire".

City policy leaves homeless individuals continuing to be shuffled around the greenbelt. These latest park closures in Santa Cruz follow the closures of San Lorenzo and Grant Street Parks in October. As a result, homeless encampments have swelled around the city, including a new camp between Gateway Plaza and Highway 1, and some camping on Santa Cruz Main Beach.

An air tanker drops fire retardant on the Rincon Fire

The Pogonip Fire on November 13

Monday, March 13, 2017

Downtown Streets Blocked in Santa Cruz During International Women's Day Strike

On March 8, striking community members marched through downtown Santa Cruz in solidarity with Women's Strikes organized around the world on International Women's Day as a follow up to the massive Women's Marches held on January 21, 2017, the day after the Inauguration of Trump.

One group participating in the March 8 demonstration was the UCSC March Collective, who invited the public to join in the call for solidarity with, "women, trans and queer people, muslims, immigrants, people of color, sex workers, survivors of violence, currently and formerly incarcerated people, and oppressed people everywhere." The march collective invited people of all genders to join the action, stating in an event announcement that, "We strike because we can't afford not to care."

Multiple events were planned for International Women's Day in Santa Cruz. The downtown march began at Louden Nelson Center and made its way to the Santa Cruz Town Clock where speakers were heard in front of the clock and in the street, where many of the participants held space at the big intersection at Water and Pacific.

Streets were blocked for nearly an hour and a half, during which time several frustrated drivers exchanged angry words with the demonstrators. To divert traffic, police set up one road block on Water Street, but left the other streets unattended.

Instead of using police resources to direct traffic away from the demonstration and ensure public safety, the department instead chose to direct officers to monitor the event from multiple locations. One officer was stationed on top of the hill above the clock tower, and appeared to be video recording demonstrators who were blocking streets. One officer monitoring the demonstration was parked on Front Street, some distance away from the action.

As a result, one man attempted to drive through the demonstration with his large truck. A group immediately surrounded the man's vehicle to prevent him from plowing through people. They kept him at bay for nearly a half an hour while he revved his truck's engine, periodically lurching the vehicle forward inches a time, and dangerously wedging further into the mass of people.

Looking to report the man in the truck, a number of individuals who felt physically threatened walked over to the one location on Water Street where police were directing traffic. Eventually demonstrators were able to convince the man to turn his vehicle around. After he drove away police followed him, catching up to him one block away.

Santa Cruz Police Lieutenant Christian LeMoss spoke with the driver while two other officers with the department surrounded the truck to protect the man. Though there were no "protesters" in sight, and only one other photographer on the street in addition to this reporter, one of the officers kept his hand placed on his gun, while the other prominently displayed a long billy club at his side.

The driver of the truck was neither arrested or cited.

LeMoss spoke to the man from the passenger side of the vehicle, on which the phrase "I am a Racist" had been etched onto the truck's door. A report airing on KSBW later in the evening on March 8 stated that police were still investigating an incident of vandalism to a vehicle that occurred during the demonstration, however the report did not identify the make of the vehicle, or any further details.

The first observance of Women's Day was organized on February 28, 1909 in New York by the Socialist Party of America. The holiday was mostly celebrated in communist countries and by international socialist movements until it was officially adopted by the United Nations in 1975.

An event announcement for the Santa Cruz Women's Strike explained the background for the action:

"Following the January 21st Women’s March against Trump, the largest single protest in U.S. history, women in over 30 different countries have called for an International Women’s Strike -- a Day Without A Woman -- on March 8th, 2017, International Women’s Day.

"March 8th will be a day of action organized by and for women who have been marginalized and silenced by decades of neoliberalism, and who are further threatened by Trump and his misogynist, racist policies. We call for solidarity with trans and queer people, Muslims, immigrants, people of color, sex workers, survivors of violence, currently and formerly incarcerated people, and oppressed people everywhere. We invite people of all genders to join in.

"We demand an end to gender violence, and that rapists and sexual harassers be held accountable. We demand an end to ICE raids and deportations in our communities. We demand an end to police brutality. We demand free healthcare for all, including full access to reproductive and gender-affirming care. We demand free, community-centered child care and elder care. We demand full and free access to education. We demand affordable housing and a living wage.

"Against the open white supremacists in the current government and the far right they have given confidence to, we stand for an uncompromising anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism. This means that movements such as Black Lives Matter, the struggle against police brutality and mass incarceration, the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the demand for open borders and for immigrant rights and for the decolonization of Palestine are for us the beating heart of this new feminist movement. We want to dismantle all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.

"On March 8th, we call on people of all genders to pledge to go on strike, to refuse work and school, and to join us in building a new international feminist movement that fights not only against Trump, but against the conditions that produced Trump -- racial and sexual violence, environmental destruction, imperial wars abroad, and an economic system that puts profit before people. The only way we can move forward is together."

Ernestina Saldaña of the group Sanctuary Santa Cruz speaks

Reverend Deborah Johnson of Inner Light Ministries speaks

A Santa Cruz police officer appeared to be recording the demonstration from Mission Hill

A Santa Cruz police officer monitors the demonstration from Front Street

The driver who attempted to plow his truck through the group of people

Police speak with the driver of the truck