Saturday, April 25, 2015

Statewide Coordinated Actions to End Solitary Confinement Continue

Statewide coordinated actions to end solitary confinement continued on April 23, and were held in Eureka, Los Angeles, Oakland, Point Reyes, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Cruz, and nationally in Philadelphia. In Santa Cruz, community members held their second monthly vigil overlooking the sea at the Santa Cruz Lighthouse. Across the state, activists have begun to coordinate vigils and protests on the 23rd in response to a call from the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers to designate a certain date each month as Prisoner Rights Day to call attention to prison conditions. The Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers were among an estimated 30,000 California prisoners who refused meals and work assignments in a 2013 strike. Their principle demand was to end the state’s use of indefinite solitary confinement.


Actions are held on the 23rd of each month to represent the 23 hours or more per day inmates held in solitary typically spend in isolation.

"People are locked up in small concrete cells the size of a bathroom for years and decades, without fresh air, without sunlight, some for over 40 years," Willow Katz of Sin Barras said at the Santa Cruz vigil. Sin Barras is a Santa Cruz based group working to end solitary confinement and other inhumane prison and jail practices, and is one of the co-sponsors of the statewide coordinated actions.

Organizers chose West Cliff Drive for the location of the vigil because of its proximity to the sea. They have found that people incarcerated in solitary confinement often express a desire to be near the ocean.

At the vigil, community members formed a semi-circle in front of the Lighthouse. Speakers were heard, and Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs served food. An altar was arranged for Robert C. Fuentes, who passed in 2014. Fuentes was held in solitary confinement for over two decades in various prisons in California. His sister spoke to the inhumanity of solitary confinement at the previous vigil, and she is in close contact with members of Sin Barras.

The group participated in chants such as "Prisoners' Lives Matter, No More Deaths" and "Security for Who? Shut Down the SHU."

"SHU" stands for Security Housing Unit, and is pronounced "shoe." SHU facilities are the section of a prison dedicated to the long-term confinement of inmates in isolation cells.

A number of people using the Lighthouse area for recreation passed by the vigil, and some stopped to listen, or to read protest signs. One surfer wearing a wetsuit, and with a large board in hand, browsed through the information relating to prisons that was displayed on a table by activists near the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum.

Future actions were announced at the vigil. On May 23, community members in Santa Cruz will gather again at 11 am in front of Ideal Restaurant, between the Boardwalk and the wharf, and Direct Action Monterey Network (DAMN) is planning monthly actions to begin June 23 in Monterey County.






Altar for Robert C. Fuentes.

Willow Katz of Sin Barras.

Members of Sin Barras lead a group chant.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs.

Dru Glover of Project Pollinate speaks.




Friday, April 24, 2015

Santa Cruz City Council Members to Initiate Discussion of Local Minimum Wage

Mayor Don Lane, Vice-Mayor Cynthia Mathews, and Council Member Cynthia Chase have submitted a proposal to be heard by the Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday, April 28 which if passed, will direct city staff to research the subject of a local minimum wage.

The minimum wage is currently $9.00 an hour in California, and is scheduled to raise to $10.00 an hour in 2016, as set by state law. Communities across the state, however, have created higher minimum wages for their localities either by the voters passing ballot initiatives or through the action of city councils. "The Fight for 15" has become a common rallying call for those advocating for a $15.00 an hour minimum wage.

Lane, Mathews, and Chase have not suggested a specific dollar figure they have in mind for a minimum wage in Santa Cruz in the agenda report they submitted to the city council.

The agenda report states: "While the issue of income equality is an important reason to consider adopting a local minimum wage for Santa Cruz, the exact level of a minimum wage level which is fair to City residents and the business community is a much more complex matter and requires careful consideration and discussion. For this reason, we are asking the City Council to consider starting this discussion by first seeking professional technical assistance to help determine a potential minimum wage that best meets the various needs of our community, focused on employers with five or more employees."

In 2006, a campaign to create a living wage in the City of Santa Cruz met opposition from the likes of Neal Coonerty of Bookshop Santa Cruz (who was Mayor of the City of Santa Cruz in 1994) and other downtown business owners, such as Lou Caviglia, the owner of Clouds and Louie's Cajun Kitchen (both businesses have closed since that time) and Mark Guluarte, the owner of Acapulco Restaurant (which also eventually shut down).

The minimum wage increase was ultimately unsuccessful when put before voters in Santa Cruz in 2006. To defeat the measure, a coalition of businesses, which included Bookshop Santa Cruz, raised about $100,000. Supporters of the living wage, which included labor unions, only raised about $30,000, according to reports.

The current city council proposal represents a completely different dynamic at play, seeing that Chase, Mathews, and Lane are indicating a certain level of support for a local minimum wage right out of the gate, and they only need the vote of one more council member to move forward.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sheriff Hart Requests $47,925 to Fence Out Protesters from Santa Cruz County Jail

Sheriff Jim Hart is making an 'emergency requisition' in the amount of $47,925 to install a seven-foot tall, 364-foot long gated iron fence in order to close off the area of the Santa Cruz County Main Jail's parking lot that is most commonly used by community members for public assembly and political demonstrations. Hart has specifically stated that recent political demonstrations held at the jail are the reason for building the new fence. Due to the lack of a continuous sidewalk along the Blaine Street side of the jail, the installation of the fence will essentially push protesters on to the street if they want to continue to assemble on that side of the jail. The Sheriff's Department expenditure request has been placed on the consent agenda of the April 21 Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The proposed fence.

Sheriff Hart explains his justification for the necessity of the fence in the April 21 agenda report: ".....following and in conjunction with the Highway 17 demonstration and closure, protesters blocked the driveway from Blaine Street to the garage, requiring Sheriff's deputies to clear a path for an inmate transportation van returning with inmates from court appearances." 

"There have also been incidents within the last year wherein protesters walked to the garage doors, pounded on the doors, and caused disruption," Hart states.

For years, the Santa Cruz County Main Jail has been the location of political demonstrations, and two months ago the Board of Supervisors took a different action to limit movement around the main jail at the request of Sheriff Hart. At the February 10 meeting, board members unanimously voted to approve a trespassing ordinance that now makes it a misdemeanor to move within "designated security perimeters" around the exterior of the jail. The security perimeters were defined as being any area surrounding the jail that is fenced.

Community members voiced their strong opposition to the ordinance, and in response, Board members required the Sheriff's Department to specify, in a photo of the jail, exactly what locations outside of the jail would be considered the trespass zone under the new law. Before passing the ordinance, both the Sheriff and individual board members assured the public that the trespassing measure was not created to target peaceful political demonstrations.

Community members with the group Sin Barras and others unsuccessfully organized to oppose it. In speaking out against the trespassing ordinance, Sin Barras cited a statement made in the 2013-14 Santa Cruz County Grand Jury report that referenced a rally the group held at the jail in response to the deaths of multiple inmates at the facility.

"An April 6, 2013 protest march, organized by the Santa Cruz activist group Sin Barras, is an example of the community reaction to these deaths.[11] Other groups, such as the Good Samaritan Mobile Medics, the Santa Cruz 11, and the Homeless United for Friends and Freedom (HUFF) also participated in the march. After marching from the Town Clock tower to the Main Jail, multiple speakers spoke out against the in-custody deaths, conditions at the jail, and the CFMG [California Forensic Medical Group] outsourcing decision," the Grand Jury report stated.

Titled "Five Deaths in Santa Cruz: An Investigation of In-Custody Deaths," the report was released by the Grand Jury in May of 2014, and highlighted many breaches of jail protocol related to the care of the five inmates who died in the Santa Cruz main jail.

Since August of 2012, six people have died while in custody at the Santa Cruz County Main Jail.

At that April 6, 2013 demonstration at the jail, a large group of community members assembled in the area Sheriff Hart is presently requesting to fence off.

Demonstrators in the area of the jail to be fenced off. Photo from the April 6, 2013 rally.

Demonstrators in the area of the jail to be fenced off. Photo from the April 6, 2013 rally.

This area of the jail's parking lot would also be fenced off. Photo from the April 6, 2013 rally.

Community members use the area to protest a variety of issues. This demonstration was held on July 31, 2013 to support the California Prison Hunger Strikers who were seeking an end to solitary confinement.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Emeryville Police Chief Misquotes Thomas Paine, Says "Human Nature is Corrupt"


Emeryville Police Chief Ken James speaks with members of the public and appears to completely misquote Thomas Paine, suggesting they read 'Common Sense' because, in the words of James, Paine said, "human nature is corrupt." James brings this up to explain why humans need to be governed. "The reason that we have government is because we cannot control our vices," James states. "We need a government to control our vices [...] Government came into effect to give protection from those who are stronger," he says. When he is questioned about the government controlling its own vices, he dodges it. Here is an actual quote from Paine: "man, were he not corrupted by governments, is naturally the friend of man, and that human nature is not of itself vicious." (pg. 116 of 'Rights of Man')

This video was recorded on November 25, 2011 when Police Chief James was present and observing community members who were participating in the annual protest that marks the desecration of the sacred Ohlone shellmounds that were once at the location of the Bay Street Mall.

Later in the video, James mentions Native American Casinos during the conversation in an effort to discredit indigenous political movements.

The words from James are especially relevant, and on some levels add more context, to the February 3rd killing of Yuvette Henderson by Emeryville police.

For photos of the protest, see:

10th Annual Black Friday Demonstration to Protest Desecration of Sacred Ohlone Shellmounds

For videos of the protest, see:

AIM Song at Protest Against the Desecration of Ohlone Shellmounds

Ohlone Song at Protest Against the Desecration of Sacred Shellmounds

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Body Camera Systems for Police Approved in Capitola and Salinas

In the last week, the city councils of two different cities on the Central Coast, Salinas and Capitola, approved the purchase of body camera systems for their police departments.

Salinas


The Axon body camera.

The Salinas City Council on April 14 voted to approve the purchase of enough body cameras to outfit every officer in the Salinas Police Department with one. The SPD is now authorized to purchase 70 Axon body cameras manufactured by TASER International, Inc. through a five-year contract, and at a total cost of $388,106.06 with the first year total operating cost at $123,542.50. TASER International is also the manufacturer and distributor of the Taser electroshock gun.

According to Salinas police, the video system features a "30 second pre-event buffer" and was described in the city council agenda report as follows: "It is Bluetooth enabled to allow officers to enter metadata, such as report numbers, names of persons recorded, and locations, prior to uploading captured video. The captured video is later sent directly to Evidence.com, a cloud-based secure storage location that can only be retrieved by the submitting officer or a police supervisor."

"Police staff believes body worn cameras are an important tool in modern policing and will be valuable in improving transparency, accountability and in enhancing community trust; therefore, staff requests immediate action," the agenda report states.

In 2014, officers with the Salinas Police Department shot and killed four community members, which triggered mass protests and wide-spread calls for police accountability in the city.

Angel Ruiz was killed on March 20 by Sergeant Mark Lazzarini, Officer Daniel DeBorde, and Officer William Yetter; Osman Hernandez was killed on May 9 by Sergeant George Lauricella and Officer Derek Gibson; Carlos Mejia-Gomez was killed on May 20 by Sergeant Danny Warner and Officer Josh Lynd; and Frank Alvarado was killed on July 10 by Sergeant Brian Johnson and Officer Scott Sutton.

Also in 2014, Jaime Garcia died after an officer with the Salinas Police Department shot him with a taser gun on October 31.

Capitola

The 4RE camera system manufactured by Watchguard Digital Systems.

On April 9, the Capitola City Council unanimously voted to approve a request from the Capitola Police Department to use $100,501.31 in Supplemental Law Enforcement State Funds (SLESF) to purchase a dual video system for police vehicles and body cameras. The Capitola police will be the first police agency in Santa Cruz County to outfit all of their officers with body-worn cameras.

Capitola Police Chief Rudy Escalante told council members the department had obtained quotes from several companies, and that they had decided to choose the 4RE camera system manufactured by Watchguard Digital Systems, which is, "rated number one around the country," he said. Escalante said they spoke to several other police agencies who were "very pleased" with the equipment.

The department is now authorized to purchase nine vehicle cameras, two motorcycle cameras, and 20 officer-worn body cameras. The body cameras will be operated when an officer presses a button, Escalante said, but that both the body-worn and the car-mounted cameras have a "record after the fact" feature, and that the audio and video the camera captures could be accessed by the department at a later date. When asked by a council member if the cameras could be viewed "live," Escalante said, "I don't think so."

Escalante told the council that individuals will be notified during police interactions before they are recorded, and that footage is for "internal use" only, unless there is a public information request. Public requests will only be granted in certain situations, he said.

Patrol vehicles will be equipped with cameras mounted on the front side-mirror in order to capture a 180 degree frontal view, as well as cameras (with audio) pointed towards the back seat area of the automobiles.

Escalante said the "benefits" of using the equipment were to, "enhance opportunities to capture evidence," "assist in patrolling anti-social behavior," "provide impartial and accurate evidence collection," and for, "greater insight into service delivery." He also quoted statistics from Rialto Police that purported to show use of force incidents went down by 60%, and officer complaints went down by 88% after that department began using body-worn cameras.

However, organizations such as the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) have criticized the incompleteness of the Rialto report, and for not telling the whole story about the effects of police wearing body cameras. The NLG cautions there are many unresolved legal and civil rights issues regarding the police use of Personal Digital Recording Devices (PDRDs).

"PDRD video is treated as evidence first and foremost," Rachel Lederman of the NLG wrote in 2014. "This means that regardless of whether the video has captured illegal activity, or is being used in an investigation, it is not accessible to the general public – at least not without an attorney and a federal lawsuit, and even then, it may be difficult and take months or years to obtain the complete videos."

"If the cameras are to create greater police accountability, it is essential that the videos be made immediately accessible to the public – and that the public (including Copwatchers and NLG Legal Observers) continue our own independent documentation of law enforcement actions."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Supporting the HWY 6 at Their Second Court Appearance Together

The six UCSC students arrested and charged in association with the March 3 blockade of Highway 1 (where it meets Highway 17 in Santa Cruz) returned to court on April 8. As the six defendants and their attorneys made their second appearance as a group before Judge Denine Guy, a prosecutor indicated the District Attorney's office will not offer them a plea deal to reduce misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and creating a public nuisance. The Santa Cruz DA also desires a restitution amount of $19,000 be paid.

The HWY 6 defendants, family members, and supporters gather in front of the Santa Cruz Court House.

Buttons were printed up and distributed that had the following messages on them: "Stop Political Repression At UCSC - Free The HWY 6!" "Slugs Against First Amendment Suppression - Drop the HWY 6 Charges," "Sit Down Fight Back - Support the HWY 6," and, "Repeal the Suspensions - Reject the Regents!" 

Food Not Bombs arrived an hour before the students' scheduled appearance and served hot oatmeal as family members and supporters mingled near the entrance of the court house.

While the six students appeared upbeat and energetic before, after, and during their court appearance, they still face quite a few challenges. The University has suspended them until Spring of 2016, and if they return to school they will be forbidden from participating in any "political activity" on campus.

One of the defendants has suggested ways the six students can be supported:

* Talk to friends, faculty, and family about the suspensions, University repression, and the infringement on student's rights
* Attend upcoming rallies and hearings (dates TBA)
* Circulate their Go Fund Me
* Sign the Petition to drop the criminal and student judicial charges
* Donate money, groceries, or house supplies to help these students get back on their feet
* Write a statement of support, op-ed, or testimony for the student movement, the Black and Brown Lives Matter movement, the 96 hours of action, and/or civil disobedience
* Write a testimony of your experience with higher education debt and public education
* Have your student or community organization write a solidarity letter or organize a fundraiser for the Slugs who are being punished for speaking up for student’s rights and/or denouncing student repression
* Write a character statement for a member of the HWY 6 (detailing your experiences with them, and their impact on your life/community)
* Make art, music, crafts and spread the word about student repression
* Change your profile picture to one of the support pictures!

The March 3 highway blockade took place during the "96 Hours of Action" student demonstrations at UC Santa Cruz, which were organized to oppose education cuts, tuition increases, and the intersection with racist, institutional police violence.

Defendants and supporters meet before court.

'Support The HWY 6' buttons on the Food Not Bombs table.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Resisting the Sit-Lie Ban and Business Owners in Downtown Monterey

Community members opposing the City of Monterey's new sit-lie ban held their third sit-in on Alvarado Street on April 3. Individuals with Direct Action Monterey Network (DAMN) and other supporters returned to the same location of the previous two demonstrations and faced increased pressure from business owners, who expressed more aggressively their desire for the group to either move the location of their gathering, or leave the downtown area altogether and stop protesting.


The sit-lie ban, which was approved by the Monterey City Council in the summer of 2014, went into effect in October. Sitting or lying on commercial sidewalks in the city is now a crime between the hours of 7:00am and 9:00pm. To receive a citation, an individual must first be warned by police. "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 [chance] to stop said conduct," the ordinance (Sec. 32-6.2) reads.

"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."

In response, demonstrators have scheduled protests to occur monthly, so that people can sit on the sidewalk freely and participate every month without risk of citation.

"If they really want to have such a discriminatory law (which clearly targets homeless people and travelers), then let's clog their bureaucracies with lot's of citations! There are no fines if you don't do it again for 30 days," a statement announcing the intent of the sit-lie protest explained.

"At previous demonstrations no participants were cited, a clear sign of selective enforcement. We will continue challenging this law, which is only one expression of Monterey's war against people without homes!"

At the first sit-in in February, there was a large contingent of Monterey police officers monitoring the action, but no citations were issued. At the March sit-in, there were no police present, however local business owners, including My Attic Bar & Lounge owner Jason Coniglio, approached demonstrators in an attempt to get them to leave.

The sit-ins begin at 4:00pm and end at 6:00pm. On April 3, one of the operators of My Attic asked the group that they vacate the area in front of the bar at 5:00pm when it was scheduled to open for business.

The demonstrators refused, and a lengthy argument ensued. The operator of My Attic became frustrated and before leaving, shouted from the doorway of the bar at the group to, "get off your fucking ass and do a job." Most of those sitting on the sidewalk replied emphatically that they had jobs.

Later during the protest, Coniglio told demonstrators that they were not allowed to sit next to the front of the bar, because that portion of the sidewalk underneath the building's second-story balcony was private property. Demonstrators refused to leave the area, and Coniglio photographed them and threatened to call the police. The police never arrived and no one was cited during the sit-in.

Before photographing the group, Coniglio asked them, "do you think anyone will go into my business with all of you out here?" A few minutes later a couple walking together approached the demonstrators, read all of the protest signs they were holding, and then entered My Attic and took the seats at the bar that were nearest to the sit-in. One of the two customers could even be seen changing clothing inside of My Attic, and standing in socks for a short period of time in the establishment.

It was complaints to city staff from Monterey business owners about homeless people and "travelers" congregating in the downtown area that originally brought the sit-lie issue to council's attention in 2013.

Reactions from downtown visitors walking and driving by the April 3 demonstration was overwhelmingly positive, and in support of the sit-in.

One passerby, a professor at Cal State University Monterey Bay, thanked the demonstrators.

"I want to thank you for being the social conscience of this nation," the professor told them.

video




Arguing with the operators of My Attic Bar & Lounge.


Jason Coniglio, owner of My Attic Bar & Lounge, photographs demonstrators.


Alvarado Street.

Customer changes clothing inside of My Attic.