Friday, October 30, 2015

Calls for Resignation of Salinas Police Chief Continue at Police Brutality Day Protest

To mark the National Day of Protest Against Brutality, community members in Salinas rallied in front of city hall on October 22, where the family members of Jose Velasco, Frank Alvarado, and Angel Ruiz all spoke. Ruiz and Alvarado were among five unarmed Latino men killed in separate incidents in 2014 during encounters with the Salinas Police Department. Velasco was severley beaten by a group of Salinas police officers in 2015. Individuals held signs in front of city hall and joined in several group chants, including energetic repetitions of the phrase "Brown Lives Matter" and choruses of "Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Chief McMillin has got to go!"

Calls for the removal of Salinas police chief Kelly McMillin have been consistently expressed at protests against police brutality in Salinas, which have been organized regularly since May of 2014 when a video of the killing of Carlos Mejia by two Salinas police officers went viral. Up to that point Mejia was third person killed by Salinas police during the year.

"We demand an immediate removal of police chief McMillin just like you saw in Ferguson and you saw in Baltimore," Salinas resident Ana Barrera said at the October 22 rally.

"He's negligent, he does not supervise his officers, he does not reprimand his officers. He does not even do any kind of work that would help bring peace to our city. Instead we see a spike in gang violence and we see these police officers continuing to beat on our people," Barrera said.

"The Department of Justice has come here and all they did was a dog and pony show," she added.

Barrera, family members, and many other supporters have been critical of the DOJ and local investigative bodies that have allowed the Salinas police department to essentially, "police itself," she said.

"We in Salinas are calling on our state, we are calling on our federal government, and we are calling on the United Nations: Please hear our case," Barrera said.

"We need to see that these police officers, that these police chiefs be put in a court, whether it is an international court, we demand justice now," she added.

"Brown lives matter and we're here in solidarity with the families. We demand justice."

The father of Frank Alvarado, Frank Sr., spoke at the rally.

Frank Alvarado was shot and killed by Salinas police in July of 2014, who later explained they thought the cell phone he was in possession of was a gun, so they had to defend themselves when responding to a call of a family dispute.

"Today, we haven't gotten justice. Why? Because the answer is so easy. The mayor used to be a police officer, a detective, connected to the DA," Frank Sr. said.

Current Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter had, "promised things that were never done," Frank Sr. said.

"They always lied to keep Salinas clean," he said.

"Sooner or later their time is going to run out," Frank Sr. said, and that city officials would have to answer, "all of their questions," someday.

"We don't stop until we get justice, no matter what," he said. 

Frank Alvardo Sr. displays a new portrait of Frank

Rita Acosta, the mother of Jose Velasco

Ana Barrera

Salinas City Council Member Jose Castañeda speaks to the press

Frank Alvarado Sr.

Waking the Freedom Sleepers

On September 22 community members protesting the criminalization of homelessness in Santa Cruz returned to city hall for their eleventh sleepout. A sizable group again made it through a night of sleep at city hall, though Santa Cruz police woke everyone up as a group at about 5:30am.

Police have conducted regular raids on the sleepouts since they began on July 4, but they employed a new tactic on September 22. They informed individuals that the city needed the area cleared in order to steam clean the sidewalk, and that workers would be arriving within the hour. All of the sleepers complied, and as the protesters were eating breakfast in front of city hall, the sidewalk was eventually steam cleaned.

Sleeping next to the flagpole at Santa Cruz city hall

Police cite person sleeping next to flagpole during the first raid of the evening

Police and security guards during the first raid

Protesters line the sidewalk as police conduct the raid

The city rents lighting units to dissuade the sleepers

Freedom Sleeper

Police wake sleepers at 5:30am during the second raid of the evening, telling individuals they needed to move to accomodate the steam cleaning of the sidewalks

Monday, September 21, 2015

First Alarm Security Guards Violently Detain Woman at Santa Cruz City Hall

On the evening of September 15, two First Alarm security guards, Nathan Hammack and Ken Hietala, violently detained Christina Latic Barnes, a black woman who had been peacefully sitting on the lawn in the courtyard of Santa Cruz City Hall during hours the area is open to the public. The security guards were employed by the city to monitor the Freedom Sleepers, who held their tenth in a series of all-night sleepouts at City Hall organized to protest local laws that criminalize homelessness.

On September 15 at around 8pm, Nathan Hammack and Ken Hietla were patrolling the City Hall courtyard when they suddenly approached Barnes, who was sitting with a friend on a blanket on the lawn.

When Barnes stood up, Hietala then walked behind her and stood very near to her body. Hammack also quickly moved in.

"I was bombarded by two men," she recalled in an interview conducted later that evening.

She was standing next to her blanket, and within an area that was delineated by other possessions of hers that were casually laid out on the lawn close to her.

Barnes said she was stretching her arms and she accidentally touched Hietala, which is when the trouble began.

He told her she had assaulted him and that she was under arrest for battery.

"He was within my physical reach for no legal reason," she explained. "He was within my boundaries."

It is unclear which of the two security guards placed the handcuffs on her, but she said she thought they were adjusted especially tightly in order to intentionally cause her physical pain.

"Purposely, it was done," she said.

Barnes was also barefoot through the entire incident.

After she was handcuffed, Hammack attempted to take control of Barnes' body. She writhed in pain from his tugging and prodding, and in response he told her numerous times to stop "resisting" the arrest.

"I was not resisting," Barnes said. "I was hurting."

The two struggled physically back and forth and Hammack stated loudly to those present that Barnes had just bit him.

Briefly they both stopped tugging at each other, and Hammack dragged Barnes along on her feet to the front entrance of City Hall.

"Stop resisting, it's gonna go a lot easier," Hammack said to her firmly.

When in the front area of City Hall, Hammack pushed Barnes down into a sitting position on the stone retaining wall that surrounds the civic complex.

Over the span of the incident, Barnes asked Hammack many times to stop hurting her, and she also asked for a female security officer because she felt that Hammack and Hietala were touching her inappropriately. When seated on the stone wall, she began to push at both guards with her feet in what appeared to be an attempt to move them away from her.

Hammack responded by grabbing her with both hands and slamming her body on to the stone wall. She screamed and continued to say, "stop."

When she was dropped on to the stone wall, she landed on her abdomen. The guards the shoved her face first into an agave plant that bore sharp, spiny leaves.

The security guards grabbed on to Barnes tightly and twisted her legs and body in order to flip her over. At one point her back was bent backwards as Hammack pinned her down to the retaining wall.

Barnes attempted to communicate and plead with the guards through the entire incident that the handcuffs they put on her were far too tight.

Angry onlookers surrounded the guards as they threw Barnes around on the stone wall.

"Stop hurting her," they shouted repeatedly, though no one physically intervened.

At least four people video recorded the incident at close range.

Hietala used his walkie talkie to request a police backup. When Rodney Dukelow, the first officer from the Santa Cruz Police Department to arrive, he led Barnes away from Hammack and Hietala, and walked her to his patrol vehicle.

He provided some real relief for Barnes, she said. He worked to properly adjust the handcuffs that were placed on her by the First Alarm guards. She shrieked loudly in pain during the process.

"When the police officers came and tried to finish the arrest, I proceeded to get them to loosen up the handcuffs because First Alarm was not cooperating with my requests" she said.

Five additional police officers arrived and positioned themselves between Barnes and the large group of protesters that had amassed on the sidewalk in front of City Hall since the melee had begun.

Center Street was packed with police vehicles parked in the middle of the street.

Police politely escorted Hammack across the street from City Hall, where an officer briefly questioned him. She then photographed two areas on his body that he alleged were physically impacted by Barnes during the incident.

One officer on the scene could be heard calling for assistance, and the SCPD's Lt. Christian LeMoss arrived a short time later. There were many witnesses and police took down the accounts of what they saw.

After a brief stay in county jail, Barnes returned on foot to City Hall at around 1am. She was in physical pain, but in good spirits. She said she had been treated fine in jail and that she was arrested on the charge of battery.

When asked where on her body she was hurt, she said her right hand hurt and her arms were, "still swollen."

Additionally, she was bruised all over her body, she said.

Earlier in the day, Hammack openly exhibited abusive behavior towards a variety of individuals present in the City Hall courtyard.

Two different individuals stated that they had seen Hammack trying to coerce Barnes into leaving the City Hall courtyard, even though she wasn't breaking any laws and it was her right to enjoy the space.

A short while later, Hammack could be heard telling another individual, "If you touch me I will arrest you, handcuff you, and drag you to jail." The person Hammack threatened appeared to be maintaining a safe, respectful distance from him.

First Alarm Security Services was founded in Santa Cruz County. According to their website, the company employs more than 600 security guards throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Through growth, experience, and acquisition, First Alarm has become a name widely recognized for safety and dependability," the website states.

"Our mission is to enhance life and safety."

"At First Alarm we have a high level of accountability to our employees, our customers, and the communities we serve," the website further states.

Over a hundred individuals have stayed the night at City Hall as part of the Freedom Sleepers' community sleepouts, which began on July 4. The city government has not been supportive of the protests, though, and city staff has directed the police to aggressively crack down on them.

Hammack and Hietala have Barnes on her abdomen on the stone retaining wall
Twisitng Barnes on to her back

Hammack gets in the face of a witness to the assault on Barnes

Officer Rodney Dukelow adjusts the handcuffs

Hietala looks on as police take away Barnes

Police officer photographs the alleged impacts on Hammack

Nathan Hammack of First Alarm Security Services

Ken Hietala of First Alarm Security Services

On UCSC Move-In Day, Activists Greet Students with Message: Free Speech For Palestine

On September 17, the first move-in day for Fall quarter at UC Santa Cruz, students and community members at the main entrance of campus displayed signs opposing Senate Concurrent Resolution 35 (SCR 35), which was introduced this year in the California Senate. On its surface SCR 35 is legislation that addresses anti-Semitism on the University of California campuses, but critics caution the measure has the potential to limit the free speech activities of those seeking justice for Palestine.

To communicate to both new and returning students, community members displayed signs at various locations leading up to campus. A sign that read "Palestinian Lives Matter" was placed on the pedestrian overpass that crosses Highway 1 near Mission Street, and at the main entrance of campus, community members held a large banner that read "Free Speech For Palestine."

Another sign placed at the entrance to campus proclaimed visitors were, "Entering Occupied Territory."

The demonstrators say academic freedom is under attack, as well as student activism on campus, as is the ability for those at the university to discuss issues related to their own economic freedom, and to participate in the BDS campaign. BDS stands for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel in response to its occupation of Palestinian land, and human rights violations and war crimes against the Palestinian people.

According to one student who was demonstrating to oppose SCR 35, her take on the legislation is that, "any time you are critical of Israel, it is anti-Semitism."

"So that would include BDS too," she said.

The student, a senior at UCSC, said she criticizes the United States government in the same manner she criticizes the Israeli government, and she holds both to the same standards, regardless of where she is a citizen.

Critics say the introduction of the measure has been part of a pro-Israel orchestrated political campaign to restrict free speech in the University of California system.

SCR 35 urges each of the UC campuses to adopt a resolution condemning all forms of anti-Semitism and racism, but critics oppose various segments of the measure that link hate speech to political debate, and the discussion of events in the Middle East.

One line in the measure that could stifle debate has many critics particularly concerned: "The Legislature joins with people everywhere in unequivocally condemning all forms of anti-Semitism and rejecting attempts to justify anti-Jewish hatred or violent attacks as an acceptable expression of disapproval or frustration over political events in the Middle East or elsewhere."

SCR 35 has been opposed by legal organizations across the state.

In April, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the National Lawyers Guild-Los-Angeles, sent a letter to the California Senate Education Committee urging them to amend the resolution.

"SCR 35 fails to distinguish between constitutionally protected political speech and unlawful acts; and it perpetuates a mischaracterization of critiques of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic. We are concerned that the legislation as written can be used to stifle political expression. Moreover, the resolution’s vague language and reference to an over-broad definition of anti-Semitism serve to trivialize instances of actual hatred, making them harder to recognize and confront," the letter states.

The main entrance to the UC Santa Cruz campus

Santa Cruz Police Make More Arrests at City Hall Sleepout #9

On September 8, community members protesting laws that criminalize homelessness held their ninth in a series of group sleepouts at Santa Cruz City Hall, which is closed to the public at night. At least three people were issued citations, and two others were reportedly arrested for participating in the latest protest. Despite that, a large group stayed through the night and slept at City Hall.

Since the sleepouts began on July 4, police have consistently attempted to disperse protesters away from City Hall and its garden courtyard by conducting raids. In the process, many participants have been issued citations, and several have been arrested.

One individual taken to jail on the evening of September 8/9 had been holding a protest sign and speaking loudly about the injustice of the police raids as people were being cited in the courtyard. She was arrested when she began to walk away from two police officers who were attempting to communicate with her. She had been standing on a flat, open section of the brick walkway that serves as the main entrance to the City Hall property. The area is only feet from the public sidewalk, but is considered by police to be part of the "no trespassing" zone.

To discourage individuals from sleeping at City Hall, portable stadium lighting units have been employed by police during the last two protests, and "no parking" hoods were placed over parking meters on Center and Church Streets to distance protesters from their cars.

The lighting units are placed in front of the courtyard where protesters have been setting up sleeping locations, and have been guarded all night by a team of First Alarm security guards who also watch over the protest.

Additionally, a no trespassing zone was established and maintained around council chambers while the September 8 city council meeting was in session. Food Not Bombs had previously been using the area to cook and share food.

During the police raids, protesters generally leave the courtyard area of City Hall and sleep on the sidewalk. The group decided early on at a general assembly that this would be the tactic used whenever the police arrived. This was a strategic decision, since the sidewalk around City Hall is exempt from the sit/lie ordinance, and sleeping there narrows the laws applicable to the protest. Many of the protesters want to be cited specifically for sleeping, while others have stated they are also concerned with issues more broadly related to the right to sleep or protest 24 hours a day at Santa Cruz City Hall, the center of local civic life. 

No trespassing zone around council chambers

The Santa Cruz City Hall courtyard

City council meeting

City Hall before the police raid

Person arrested for being in the red brick area adjacent to the public sidewalk

Police brought her to the center of City Hall and briefly processed her arrest there

Lt. Christian LeMoss (far right, with billy-club) of the SCPD led the raid

The Freedom Sleepers port-a-potty