Sunday, October 16, 2016

Santa Cruz Police Shoot and Kill Man on Westside

Officers with the Santa Cruz Police Department shot and killed a man outside of a home on the corner of Chace and Getchell Streets, in a residential neighborhood, on the west side of Santa Cruz. Preliminary reports from the media have stated that a 32-year-old man experiencing mental health issues was charging police with a gardening rake when officers deemed him a threat and shot and killed him at about 3:30 am on October 16.

What appears to be a small rake lays in the street at the scene of the police killing that occurred on Chace Street on Sunday morning.

At noon on October 16, police were still processing the scene. A small garden rake could be seen lying on Chace Street, with a numbered evidence marker next to it. In addition to SCPD, deputies with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office were also processing evidence.

Commercial media outlets have reported that police were initially called to a home on Chace Street after the victim had attempted to enter the residence and was making threatening statements towards those inside.

As of the publication of this article, the Santa Cruz Police have not made any information about the killing available to the public.

UPDATE (10/18)

More information about the Santa Cruz police killing on October 16 has been released to the public.

Sean Smith Arlt is the name of the person killed. He was 32.

Arlt was in the backyard of a house on Chace Street when police first encountered him. They say they ordered him to leave.

Once Arlt left the backyard and advanced towards officers with the garden rake, approximately 20 seconds passed before a single officer fired two shots to kill him. Police say they attempted to tase Arlt prior to shooting him during that 20 second period as well.

At no point did Arlt make physical contact with the officers as he was advancing towards them.

According to a press release from SCPD dated October 17, there is an audio recording of Arlt's killing:

"Based on the audio recording, once Mr. Arlt emerged from the backyard, this situation unfolded in approximately 20 seconds. Because of the rapid succession of events, the officers did not have the opportunity to dialogue and negotiate with Mr. Arlt."

Chace Street

Police focused much of their efforts on the interior of the garage of one home on Chace Street.

A deputy with the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Getting a Good Night's Sleep at City Hall with the Freedom Sleepers

After a chilly series of summer nights for people on the street in Santa Cruz, temperatures have increased, and so has attendance at the Freedom Sleepers community sleepouts held at city hall. About three dozen sleepers made it through the night at the sleepout held on August 30, and attendance was nearly as high at the sleepouts organized on September 6 and September 13. Since July of 2015, the Freedom Sleepers have gathered to sleep at city hall one night a week to protest local laws that criminalize homelessness. September 13 marked the group's 62nd sleepout.

The Freedom Sleepers at Santa Cruz city hall at the 61st community sleepout organized on September 6-7.
Presently, the only location in downtown Santa Cruz where people on the street are able to sleep regularly as a group is at the weekly community sleepouts organized by the Freedom Sleepers. Homeless sweeps conducted by the Santa Cruz Police Department beginning in January of this year have for the most part cleared the downtown area of groups of people sleeping together in other locations, such as at the post office.

The sleepouts have attracted quite a bit of attention from the police. By sleeping at city hall, the Freedom Sleepers, some of whom have fixed housing of their own and some of whom do not, are engaging in a civil disobedience protest that directly violates the city's camping ban, which outlaws sleeping anywhere in public between the hours of 11 pm and 8:30 am.

Many of the organizers of the sleepouts, which are organized as political protests, are hesitant to describe them as a completely safe place to sleep, but one of the founding Freedom Sleepers, Robert Norse of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF), has described them as "safe zones" that are a "safer" place to sleep.

"A lot of the homeless people have come up to several of us and said that this is the only night of the week they can get an uninterrupted night of sleep," said Abbi Samuels, who is also one of the founding Freedom Sleepers.

"To me that's so sad that there is only one night a week they can get 7-8 hours of sleep," she said.

"I have been able to get a good night's sleep too," Samuels said of her own experience of sleeping at city hall with the Freedom Sleepers.

The primary demand of the Freedom Sleepers has been the repeal of the city's camping ban ordinance, but Samuels believes some immediate relief for homeless people could be attained by amending the ordinance.

"I think people should be able to sleep at government and public facilities," Samuels said.

"City facilities should be re-zoned," she said.

Early on during the protests, the Freedom Sleepers attempted to sleep in the large lawn area located in the center of city hall's courtyard, but sleepers in that area were subjected to citation during the many police raids the Freedom Sleepers experienced. The city hall courtyard is a no-trespassing zone and is closed to the public at night between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am.

Additionally, city staff has actively worked behind the scenes to make it more difficult for individuals to sleep at city hall. In October of 2015, the Parks and Recreation department began the process of removing the grass lawn at city hall and replacing it with spiny plants, new pathways, and rock features, as part of a landscaping project that has rendered the area hostile to those looking for a place to sleep.

"It's horrible, it's a subtle way to get rid of homeless people," Samuels said. "I am so livid."

She recalled how soft the lawn area was, and how people could sleep on it comfortably.

Samuels says she learned in October of 2015 that the landscaping changes were intentionally designed to prevent people from sleeping in the area from Don Lane, who was the mayor of Santa Cruz at the time.

The Freedom Sleepers had moved their primary sleep location to the sidewalk before the changes in the landscape were initiated by the city, and the sleepouts continued unabated, but the loss of the lawn area is a constant reminder and sore point for the group.

In addition to those looking to sleep with a group of people, the Freedom Sleepers attract a large number of people who are in need of life necessities and other basic supplies, such as food, clothing, and blankets or bedding.

On August 30, Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs estimates they shared 200 servings of food or more at city hall before that evening's sleepout, which was in addition to food donations made by other organizations that day.

"We had to make more food," said Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs about the August 30 sleepout.

"I have never seen so many eager for food at a Freedom Sleepers sleep out. It seems like we are getting more people seeking food each week," he said. "America is in crisis."

The Freedom Sleepers have indicated the sleepouts will continue indefinitely at Santa Cruz city hall.

Community Sleepout #61 on September 6-7

Community Sleepout #61 on September 6-7

Community Sleepout #61 on September 6-7

Community Sleepout #61 on September 6-7

Community Sleepout #60 on August 30-31

Community Sleepout #60 on August 30-31

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Santa Cruz Residents Rally to Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

Residents in Santa Cruz gathered at the Town Clock on September 13 as part of a national day of action to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and to support the Standing Rock Sioux and the Native Americans protecting the land and the water near the tribe's land. "Join us to call on President Obama to instruct the Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the permits for this dirty oil pipeline," an announcement for the event in Santa Cruz read. "The movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline is growing stronger by the day, and it's time for all of us to rise up and play a role in this fight - no matter where we live. "

The rally at the Town Clock, which was organized by the Earth Democracy committee of the Santa Cruz Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, brought together a large, energetic crowd. As rush hour traffic passed by, community members held signs inscribed with statements of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and others, such as: "Mni Wiconi - Water is Life," "People Over Pipelines," "Make America Native Again," "Protect the Soil - Stop the Oil," "Keep it in the Ground," and "Clean Water is A Right! No More Broken Promises!"

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project, also known as the Bakken pipeline, is a $3.8 billion project to build a 30-inch diameter pipeline to carry oil 1,172 miles across four states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. If built, the pipeline is projected to transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day, with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels per day or more, from the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.

The construction of the pipeline has been widely opposed for a number of reasons relating to its impact on the environment.

Environmental destruction is occurring at the location of the oil fields due to the fracking process of oil extraction. Waterways and the land the pipeline will cross are at risk due to the likelihood of oil spills, which will also have health effects on residents living near the project. Additionally, use of the oil that passes through the pipeline will have an effect on climate change, and will increase dependence on fossils fuels.

The project is also opposed because the ongoing construction has violated the land rights of sovereign Native American tribes by crossing ancestral lands without the proper consultation of tribal groups. The construction process has also desecrated Native American sacred sites and burial areas.

Environmental groups say the the pipeline project is not about energy independence, but about big business because the oil will most likely be transported to the Gulf Coast and exported.

The Bakken Shale formation of oil deposits, located between Montana and North Dakota, is estimated to contain as much as 4.3 billions barrels of oil, possibly more. Through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, oil production in the formation reached 80 million barrels in 2009, making North Dakota the second largest oil producing state in the United States, behind Texas.

Oil production at the Bakken Formation is so high it has a global effect on human health and the environment.

According to a study led by the University of Michigan, about two percent of the ethane emitted into the atmosphere worldwide is emitted by the Bakken Formation. Ethane is a pollutant that impacts human health negatively, and raises the temperature of the atmosphere.

“Two percent might not sound like a lot, but the emissions we observed in this single region are 10 to 100 times larger than reported in inventories,” said Eric Kort, a University of Michigan assistant Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering who co-authored the study.

“They directly impact air quality across North America,” he said. “And they're sufficient to explain much of the global shift in ethane concentrations.”

The oil fields themselves directly impact the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

Over the summer, a youth group organized on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation named ReZpect our Water brought a petition to stop the pipeline to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Oil companies keep telling us that this is perfectly safe, but we’ve learned that that’s a lie: from 2012-2013 alone, there were 300 oil pipeline breaks in the state of North Dakota," the petition states.

In Iowa, the pipeline will cross all major watersheds, including many with waterways that are already impaired.

Since construction began, Native Americans representing hundreds of nations and tribes, joined by Indigenous people from around the world and other supporters, have gathered in North Dakota to engage in actions to protect the water and the land. Many more tribes have sent letters of support to the Standing Rock Sioux as well as financial donations and goods. At the pipeline site in North Dakota, a number of people have locked themselves to heavy machinery in civil disobedience. Actions to oppose the project have also been held in the other three states the pipeline is proposed to cross.

Last week, three federal agencies announced that a short length of the pipeline construction would be temporarily halted near the site of the Standing Rock actions. Construction has continued on other segments of the pipeline, however, and water protectors in North Dakota have warned that the pause there is simply a delaying tactic being used to diffuse the resistance efforts.

Water protectors continue to call for supporters to organize solidarity actions to target the financial institutions that are financing the project, as well as the pipeline companies that are attempting build it, which includes the Michels Corporation, the primary contractor.

Dakota Access, LLC, which is a subsidiary of the Dallas, Texas corporation Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., is in charge of construction of the pipeline. The co-founder of Energy Transfer Partners, and current Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, billionaire Kelcy Warren, has become the public face of the project.

Ownership of the project is divided between several large, multi-national oil companies. Energy Transfer Partners owns a 45% stake in the project, Sunoco Logistics Partners owns a 30% stake, and Phillips 66 owns a 25% stake. Additionally, Enbridge Energy Partners is looking to buy a 28% stake in the project, and Marathon Petroleum Corp is attempting to buy a 9% stake.

The construction costs of the pipeline are being financed by a $2.5 billion loan made through several banks. The primary lenders are Citigroup, TD Securities and Mizuho Bank. Solidarity protests have been held internationally at various branch locations of all three of these banks.

In Santa Cruz, more actions to oppose the pipeline have been planned.

On Sunday, September 18, community members will gather at the Town Clock at 1 pm for a "family friendly" rally to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

On Sunday, September 25 at 3 pm, Livity Rising and Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs will host an event at the downtown Post Office. An event announcement describes it as an action in solidarity with, "Sacred Stone Camp’s effort to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and the call for Obama to free Native American political prisoner Leonard Peltier."

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Following the Chinatown Homeless Sweeps, A New Tent Community Thrives at Salinas City Hall

In the wake of the Chinatown homeless sweeps that displaced hundreds of people in downtown Salinas in March of this year, a small but thriving tent community has established itself at Salinas City Hall, where a group has been camping out every night for over four months.

Salinas City Hall on the evening of July 30

On the evening of July 30, 20 tents were set up around the courtyard area of Salinas City Hall, and several people were sleeping out in various locations without tents.

"You can call it a sort of silent protest," said Van Gresham as he sat reading near his tent, which was located on the walkway outside of the city council rotunda.

"We're hoping they will give us a place to go," he said.

Gresham, who is without fixed housing, is a member of the Monterey County Homeless Union, a coalition of unhoused and housed community members who are organizing the campouts at city hall.

He is also the Editor of Voices of the Street/Voces de la Calle, a bilingual newspaper dedicated to homeless and social justice issues in the Salinas area. Gresham has been living in a tent since the city impounded the recreational vehicle in which he was sleeping in the Chinatown area. The vehicle is registered and up to date with all state regulations, he says, but the fees the city has levied against it have been so high he is unable to pay them.

Individuals first started sleeping at Salinas City Hall on March 22, the night before the scheduled sweep of the homeless community in the Chinatown area was to begin. The sleepout was organized to build support for an action organized by the homeless union to physically block city work crews from evicting homeless residents of the area, and to prevent the removal of their possessions.

Homeless sweeps in Chinatown have have been conducted by the city on a regular basis in the past, but community members knew this sweep would be different due to the recent passage of an anti-camping ordinance by the Salinas City Council that now allows for the city to quickly remove "bulky items" stored on public property. Additionally, the new ordinance outlaws setting up tents on public property between the hours of 6am and 6pm. Prior to the passage of ordinance 2567, there were no restrictions placed on the erection of tents on public property, and outside of the city parks, Salinas did not have any ordinances that directly addressed camping on city property.

Chinatown residents, supported by the protesters, were able to prevent the homeless sweep from proceeding on March 23, however work crews arrived the next day with the police, and the homeless tent community in the Chinatown area was eventually cleared.

On the day of the attempted sweep on March 23, Jill Allen, the Director of Dorothy's Place, announced publicly in Chinatown the organization's response to the sweeps, which was a commitment to house 200 people within 90 days. Dorothy's place hosts a transitional residence and a women's shelter in Chinatown, and provides hot meals through "Dorothy's Kitchen," in addition to hosting a health center and as a drop-in center.

A week later, the Monterey County Homeless Union announced they would be camping out every night at city hall until their demands were met. Their primary demands were that Jill Allen live up to the commitment to house 200 people by June 20, and that the city repeal ordinance 2567. Also included in their list of demands was the expansion of homeless services programs around the world, and a safe place (building or lot) in every city for homeless individuals to stay without punishment. The homeless union also put out a call for the donation of tents, sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows.

In early May, the homeless union announced they had experienced a "significant increase" in the number of people sleeping at city hall after the Salinas Warming Shelter closed for the season, and they again were seeking more donations of sleeping equipment. The call was successful, and the union was able to expand the number of people being sheltered at city hall.

Gresham said there have been very few problems or security issues in the four months the tent community has located itself at city hall.

"I would consider it a safer haven," he said. "I think some of the women appreciate that."

Gresham said the homeless union was hoping to obtain a temporary permit to establish an officially sanctioned tent city in Salinas.

He said during the four months they have been at city hall, the space has been kept clean, and with very few exceptions, people have followed the city's new ordinance and have packed up the tents by 6am each morning.

On June 20, the homeless union organized a press conference at city hall to denounce Jill Allen and Dorothy's Kitchen for not living up to the commitment to house 200 people.

According to a press release from the homeless union, Dorothy's Place is, "almost the only point of entry into the HMIS database system to connect people with housing availability within Monterey County through the current list of service providers."

They say the Dorothy's Place caseload is basically at capacity, and the process of housing people has been particularly slow because, "there is not a ready accessible inventory of placements available for people who would be a good fit."

The city of Salinas does offer additional shelter services, such as the Warming Shelter program during wintertime, but those services don't offer the same flexibility in lifestyle that is possible within a tent community, according to Gresham.

"Warming shelters don't offer enough personal liberties," he said. "It's better to be able to come and go, and not lose your freedoms because you are looking to stay warm."

Gresham also noted that within the existing services provided by governmental agencies, "there's almost no representation by the homeless guy himself."

He's hoping that official support for a homeless tent community, and some funding from the city, would change that.

"We're hoping as a peer group we can regulate ourselves," Gresham said. "At least we would be able to represent ourselves."

As for the future, Gresham said the Monterey County Homeless Union is also looking to expand the union to other cities, and more supplies are always needed. 

Van Gresham, the Editor of Voices of the Street/Voces de la Calle, reading near his tent

Van Gresham

Despite the very neat looking appearance of city hall, campers received a cleanup notice recently