Monday, January 21, 2013

Can a Black Photographer Take Pictures in Santa Cruz without Being Harassed by the SCPD?

After being stopped by officers with the Santa Cruz Police Department in Downtown Santa Cruz over the summer, photographer Craig Burton explained in a video interview that he was taking a picture of a child in public and that his subsequent detainment by the SCPD was a case of racial profiling.

Burton was clear in stating that his stop by the local police was unwarranted and that they should have known that he was not a predator. Though the authorities did not apologize to him or treat him politely, he didn't blame them, they were just doing their job he said.

Burton instead focused on liberals in California, in general, as the source of the problem, stating that, "people act like they are really liberal, but they are not really liberal." He later added, "As you can see, this is Santa Barbara now."

When officers Winston and Warren arrived in their patrol vehicle and first caught up to him that day on Locust Street, Burton said he was told by them to sit on the sidewalk.

Winston later told him, "that's what we do with everybody."

A third police officer arrived in a patrol vehicle, Officer Conner, also of the SCPD.

They told Burton to sit down three times, and said not to make them ask again, Burton recalled.

Burton, with Officers Winston and Warren on Locust Street.

He said he then complied, and he gave them his name. They then ran a check on him, and Burton described the process as a "sit down and 21 questions."

As they questioned him, Burton took pictures of the police officers.

"I've got all rights to take pictures of who I want to," he said, to which Officer Winston replied, "it's all good."

After a short waiting period, "they realized I'm not on parole or probation."

After being released from the detainment, Craig Burton made it clear to Officer Winston of the SCPD that what he had just gone through was not "cool."

"I know you are just doing your job and shit, but that's not really cool dude...Make me sit on the ground like I am a suspect."

Just minutes after they were done with Burton, Officers Winston and Warren became involved in another stop just feet away from where they had first detained him. Officer Conner remained in his patrol vehicle for some time after Burton was set free, partially blocking traffic with his patrol vehicle on Cedar Street.

Burton explained that at approximately 2:30pm he had taken a picture of, "a little Indian kid who had a little head wrap."

He recalled not having seen someone wear a head dress like that before.

"I don't judge on pictures, it's not my say what's good and what's bad, my job is to take pictures and keep a document of everything I see," he explained.

Burton described himself as being from Los Angeles, and that he also lived in Iowa City, Iowa, and other places, but mostly he self-identified as being from the midwest.

"Taking pictures, as a black guy, in don't go through all this shit, but in California, I'm a motherfuckin thug here."

After his encounter with the police, Burton continued to take pictures as he spoke about what had just happened.

"I guess they are not used to seeing people taking pictures and stuff, and somebody said I was taking a picture of a little kid, and as you see I take pictures of everything and all things, but since I took a picture of a little kid...they treat me as a predator."

Though he felt that the officers from the Santa Cruz Police Department were not polite to him during the stop, Burton said, "he's just doing his job, I understand that, no problem."

Burton did feel, however, that their attitude was different towards him before they knew if he had a criminal record or not. "I don't have nothing and they cant get me on anything," he explained, adding, "but if they would have had anything, it would have been a whole different story."

Burton chose to instead point the finger of blame at those who live in the Santa Cruz area, stating that, "people act like they are really liberal, but they are not really liberal," but he was also very clear when he stated, "I still think it's profiling."

"This shit right here is so blown up, just for taking a bloody picture," he said.

Burton has learned a lot about how to conduct himself when traveling around the country, in order to minimize interactions with the police.

"One thing about traveling, If you are a smart traveler, you make sure you have no warrants, because you don't want to get harassed like this," he said.

Avoiding the police effects what equipment Burton feels comfortable carrying with him as he travels. "There is a reason why my backpack is so lite and I don't carry a bed roll; why I try and wear a white shirt and jeans," he explained.

"I realize since I've been hitchhiking since I was 17 years old, and like I was saying I am 40 now, some places got kind of burnt, and some places are cool, but some people talk the good talk, but they don't really walk the walk, and this is one of those places."

Burton said that when traveling around California, "sometimes you get these yuppies."

"There aren't that many African Americans taking pictures nowadays, not like they used to," he observed.

"I told the officer...if I see anything diverse or unique or different, I will take their picture and we will go through this all over again. I have all rights."

"I go through this shit every fucking day, it's so fucking shameful," Burton said.

"I'm just glad you were here. I'm glad they didn't catch me in the restroom, there would be no witnesses this time," he concluded as he laughed, half-joking.

The events described in this article, and the interview with Craig Burton, took place on August 19, 2012.

To see Craig Burton's photography, visit his flickr page, at:

Craig Burton on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, August 22, 2012.


Unknown said...

I'm a white woman whose lived here about ten years. When i first moved here from Alabama, admittedly still a very racist/sexist/homophobic place, a grown woman who grew up around here asked me if we still had racism in Alabama.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

You’re certainly correct about Santa Cruz and how frightened people are. One reason is they are misled, for some reason because it's a small town or seems so, and people don't expect "big city" crime, knifings and shootings downtown, armed robberies, rapes in broad daylight etc. All citizens deserve to be safe, and they put pressure on the cops to bare down on any slight infraction or "suspicious person." This comes from the national theories, popular now, about "heading off crime." At the same time, racism is everyplace; I've seen friends of mine overlooked in bars and restaurants because they have dark skin, and the many tales a Latino friend tells about suspicion--he walks into Scotts Valley Holiday Inn and "you'd think we just walked in off the streets of South LA." People watch my Mexican daughter-in-law when she goes into stores on San Francisco. Racism leaves a dark blotch on America, but I can't help but think we can change it. After growing up in racist Oklahoma, I make a special effort to point it out to people when I see it.
At the same time, as a photographer I try to avoid taking photographs of children without their parents permission, and also ask adults for permission. I've had homeless guys threaten me in Santa Cruz just because I had a camera and didn't even aim it at them. Permission is always good!