Sunday, March 29, 2015

Coastside Vigil in Santa Cruz Protests Use of Solitary Confinement

On March 23, coordinated actions were held statewide in California to oppose the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails. Protests were planned for Eureka, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. In Santa Cruz, community members gathered on West Cliff Drive for a rally and candlelight vigil. "We have decided to hold this gathering on the coast because so many people locked up in solitary confinement talk about their desire to see and be near the ocean," an event announcement for the Santa Cruz vigil read. Organizers say future actions will continue to be held statewide on the 23rd of each month to symbolize the 23 hours per day prisoners in solitary are held in the "complete isolation" of their cells.

As surfers made their way to and from the busy Santa Cruz surf spot, Steamer Lane, the rally was held on the lawn next to the Santa Cruz Lighthouse, which also houses the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. The rally featured guest speakers who described the toll solitary confinement (also called Security Housing Units, or the SHU) can take on human beings.

Cynthia Fuentes-Sevilla spoke in memory of her brother Robert "Robio" Clement Fuentes, who was held in solitary confinement for over two decades in various prisons in California. She spoke about how solitary was not only hard on him during his battle with cancer, but also how hard it was on her family who tried desperately to get him the medical attention he needed.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, prolonged solitary confinement causes, "a persistent and heightened state of anxiety and nervousness, headaches, insomnia, lethargy or chronic tiredness, nightmares, heart palpitations, and fear of impending nervous breakdowns."

Other documented effects include, "obsessive ruminations, confused thought processes, an oversensitivity to stimuli, irrational anger, social withdrawal, hallucinations, violent fantasies, emotional flatness, mood swings, chronic depression, feelings of overall deterioration, as well as suicidal ideation."

"Solitary confinement has been defined as torture by the U.N., yet the U.S. puts more people in solitary and for longer periods than any other country," stated a press release from the Santa Cruz based organization Sin Barras, which helped plan the demonstration at the Lighthouse. "California continues to use the practice in violation of international law and in violation of the US policy against cruel and unusual punishment."

"We seek to build organized, community-based pressure outside prison walls, and to amplify the demands of prisoners who continue to call for the end of torture," the press release stated.

As an example of exactly how small solitary cells are in reality, demonstrators outlined a 7 by 11 foot area in blue tape outside of the Surfing Museum, and labeled it "solitary confinement cell."

Members of Sin Barras also emphasized that solitary confinement exists within the Santa Cruz County Jail system, including the juvenile facilities. Jail officials may have some other name for it, a member of Sin Barras said, but as long as an individual is locked in a single cell by themselves, they consider it solitary confinement.

The statewide actions to be held on the 23rd of every month are a response to proposals made by Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers' in November of 2013, which stated:

“We want to consider the idea of designating a certain date each month as Prisoner Rights Day. On that date each month prisoners across the state would engage in peaceful activities to call attention to prison conditions. At the same time our supporters would gather in locations throughout California to expose CDCR’s [CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] actions and rally support efforts to secure our rights. We can see this action growing from month to month as more people inside and out become aware of it and join our struggle.”

Those individuals were among an estimated 30,000 California prisoners who refused meals and work assignments as part of a 60-day hunger strike in 2013, whose principle demand was to end the state’s use of indefinite solitary confinement. Activists say it was the largest hunger strike in U.S. history.

In Santa Cruz, community members will return to West Cliff Drive and the Lighthouse on April 23 for the second protest in this series of actions to oppose solitary confinement.

Willow Katz of Sin Barras speaks.

Santa Cruz Lighthouse.

Cynthia Fuentes-Sevilla speaks.

Lyrical I performs.

Altar for Michael Zaharibu Dorrough and Robert "Robio" Clement Fuentes.

Solitary confinement cell.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Santa Cruz City Council to Revisit Issues Surrounding BearCat Purchase

On Tuesday night, the Santa Cruz City Council will revisit issues surrounding the council's decision in December to approve the police purchase of a $250,000 Lenco BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) with Department of Homeland Security grant funds. The BearCat is on the council's March 24 agenda and will be addressed at 7pm. The agenda report for the meeting states that the vehicle's use policy will be discussed, as well as a proposal to clarify the process of submitting grant applications to the city council. Overflow seating for the meeting will be available at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.

At City Hall on March 10, Joy Hinz holds an issue of the Scotts Valley Times with SVPD's armored vehicle on its cover, and the headline "Bargain for SWAT team 'Tank'."

Since December, community members have rallied to protest the BearCat purchase at City Hall before every city council meeting, and the group SCRAM! (Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization!) was formed. After each rally, the group enters council chambers together with protest signs, and individuals speak to the council about the BearCat during the open oral communications period. 

Santa Cruz police first described the type of vehicle they wanted to purchase as an "emergency rescue vehicle" at the city council meeting on December 9, but they did not list any of the specific models they were considering, and they did not list any of the nearby police agencies who already possessed similar vehicles.

Police claimed the nearest armored vehicle would take 3-4 hours to deploy in an emergency and was located in Santa Clara County, but activists later found out that the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department owns two armored vehicles and the Scotts Valley Police Department owns one.

The initial agenda report proposing the BearCat purchase was prepared by Deputy Chief of Police Steve Clark and approved by Chief of Police Kevin Vogel, who outlined its use as follows: "It is intended for use in emergency events including, but not limited to life-threatening public safety events, natural disasters, mass casualty incidents, high-risk medical emergencies."

After pressuring the police and the city for more answers, it was found out that the vehicle would also be used to serve search warrants, which to activists is not considered an "emergency response" use. This revived a decades old debate regarding the militarization of police and the necessity of SWAT teams in Santa Cruz.

Community members also believe that the BearCat was placed on the council's consent agenda with little notice on December 9 in an attempt to sneak the purchase past the public. The consent agenda is generally reserved for items on the council's agenda that are not considered controversial.

On Tuesday night, the city council will consider a new proposal that will require council authorization for the submission of grant applications for awards exceeding $100,000 in value.

"Whenever possible, Council approval of a grant application for significant projects, programs or equipment should precede any request to other governmental bodies for letters in support of the application, regardless of grant value," the meeting's agenda report states.

Members organizing with SCRAM! continue to outline their demands as follows:

1) to bring the BearCat back onto the SC City Council agenda for a full public hearing and to rescind the approval

2) to establish a long term policy for grant applications and acceptance in the City that ensures timeliness, transparency, full public disclosure and input

3) to help develop and implement policies that prevent military equipment from flowing into law enforcement agencies throughout Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz City Hall.

Raging Grannies perform.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs.

Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs.

Abbi Samuels of SCRAM! speaks.

Ron Pomerantz of SRAM! speaks.

Steve Pleich of SCRAM! speaks to the council during the oral communications period.

Council chambers.

Still speaking to the council as he walks out.

Raven Davis of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF)

Sherry Conable of SCRAM!

City Hall was decorated with protest signs.

SCPD removing signs on the request of city staff.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Supporters Pack the Courtroom for the Highway 17 Six

Supporters packed a Santa Cruz courtroom today for preliminary hearings concerning the six UCSC students who were arrested for blocking traffic on Highway 17 on March 3 to protest tuition increases. Today's hearing was the first time all six of those arrested have appeared together in court, and they all have legal representation now. None have pleaded guilty to the charges they face, which include misdemeanors for "resisting arrest" and creating a "public nuisance."

The six UC Santa Cruz students and their attorneys assemble before the judge for the first time as a group.

Judge Denine J. Guy set the next hearing date for the defendants for April 8, and said the issue of restitution could come up as part of the proceedings.

During the highway blockade on March 3, the students sat across multiple lanes of the roadway and locked themselves to garbage cans full of cement. It took officers with the California Highway Patrol several hours to release them and clear the traffic lanes.

In response to the highway blockade, the UC Santa Cruz administration suspended the six students from entering all campus facilities, which has left them without access to their homes, food plans, health care, and education.

Judge Denine J. Guy speaks with the students and their attorneys.
Speaking with supporters.

Supporters provide solidarity to defendants.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Community Members Continue to Protest the Sit-Lie Ban in Monterey

Individuals with Direct Action Monterey Network (DAMN) and other community members returned to Alvarado Street in Monterey on March 13 for a second sit-in. They are protesting a law that went into effect in October that makes sitting or lying on commercial sidewalks a crime from 7am until 9pm. DAMN's first demonstration against the sitting ban was held on February 13, exactly one month prior, and they say they plan to return again next month for a similar action. The idea to schedule the protests monthly was a calculated decision. The phrasing of the new law states that if an individual receives a warning from the police to stop sitting, they must not sit on the sidewalk again for one month, or they can be cited and or arrested.

"Join us as we sit and lie in solidarity with the homeless, travelers, and all people targeted by police and their brutality," an announcement for the March 13 event read.

DAMN members are not using the word "brutality" lightly. As recently as two months ago they received a first hand account of police officers in Monterey physically beating a homeless person who had been lying on Alvarado Street's sidewalk.

Those sitting during the demonstration held protest signs, and after reading them, one of the first people to pass the group said loudly, "Next thing you know, you can't walk!"

A few minutes later Jason Coniglio, the owner of My Attic Bar & Lounge, asked them if they weren't unfairly targeting his business, since they had already demonstrated in front of it once before.

One of the demonstrators then asked him if he had spoken out against the sit-lie law, and Coniglio did not respond.

Another downtown business owner spent a good deal of time sharing his list of complaints about street people with the group of demonstrators. One of his claims was that over the years he had offered jobs to a number of different people who he had seen panhandling, and none had ever taken him up on the offer of work.

In May of 2013, when the Monterey City Council was first considering a sit-lie ban, Monterey Chief of Police Philip J. Penko authored the staff report that explained a sit-lie ban proposal was brought to them because for several months city staff had received complaints about "a decreased sense of safeness" in downtown Monterey, around Fisherman’s Wharf, and long Roberts Road and Garden Road. Fred Meurer, who was City Manager at the time, told council members that the bulk of complaints came from the Old Monterey Business Association membership. The council decided at that time not to study the concept further, but increased pressure from the business community and the police led to a sit-lie ordinance being passed in 2014.

During DAMN's first sit-lie protest on February 13, there was a strong police presence on foot monitoring the group's activities, but not so for the second protest, and so far no one has been warned by police to stop sitting at the demonstrations.

The next sit-in is planned for April 3 at 4pm in font of Walgreens on Alvarado Street in Downtown Monterey.

A downtown business owner shares his list of complaints about Street People with the demonstrators.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Video Surfaces of Santa Cruz Police Officers Hitting and Tasing Man

A video has surfaced of Santa Cruz Police hitting and tasing Oliver Howard in front of the court house on October 13, 2014, in what multiple witnesses called excessive force at the time. The woman who recorded the video can be heard saying, "I hate cops" and "this is so fucked up" as the events unfolded. After the violent takedown by officers, Howard was taken directly to the hospital. He was never booked into jail and apparently was never charged with any crime. Since that time, one of the witnesses filed a formal complaint with the Santa Cruz Police Department, which triggered an external review.

Those on the scene that day say Santa Cruz Police hit Oliver Howard with a baton, tased his bare body, piled on top of him, wrenched and twisted his limbs, and grinded his face and body into the ground.

"I did not feel the man he was pursuing was dangerous or a threat to the officer or me," witness Debra Ellis stated in October. "The man being pursued appeared scared and confused," she said.

Two of the witnesses that day told Ellis their vehicle had been pulled over on Water Street by the first officer on the scene that afternoon (later identified as Ryan Kiar of the SCPD). When the officer was talking to them from outside of their car, Oliver Howard pulled up behind them in his vehicle. She said Howard exited his car and approached the officer, asking him about dead bodies and dead body parts in Santa Cruz and why weren't police doing something about it. She said Howard then walked away and was pursued by the police officer.

To read more about the incident, see: Witnesses Report Excessive Use of Force by SCPD during Arrest near Court House

96 Hours of Action Concludes at UCSC with Successful Campus Shut Down

Students at UC Santa Cruz concluded four days of protests against tuition and fee increases with a campus-wide strike and shut down. Dubbed "96 Hours of Action," the series of demonstrations were also organized to address issues of mass incarceration and the expanding police state. At 4:30am on March 5, picket lines were established at the West Entrance and at the corner of Hagar and Coolidge, and a majority of the cars attempting to enter the school were turned away. At around 7am, the UCSC administration announced that faculty, staff, and students should not attempt to enter campus. The strike triggered the shut down of both main libraries on campus, as well as the book store, the express store, and most of the dining halls. Students reported their classes had been canceled by professors, and the school appeared as it does on the weekend, with only a few cafes open.

Students link arms as they block the West Entrance of UC Santa Cruz.

The very first students to arrive at the West Entrance were not exactly sure how to proceed. Some were carrying protest signs. They arrived in small groups, and after a short discussion, they decided to stand in the crosswalk, link arms, and block the entrance while waiting for more people. There were more than enough students to fill up the physical space that stretches across the road. A few minutes later, several student organizers arrived with food and beverages, more protest signs, megaphones, and the larger banners that students held all day.

There were some categories of drivers who were allowed to enter campus. When approaching the picket line in their cars, Health Services staff members presented their work identification cards and showed flyers printed up with large crosses and the statement "PLEASE ALLOW TO PASS." Likewise, those living in student family housing were admitted to campus quickly when presenting their identification.

Many requests to enter campus were put to a vote by those on the picket line. Some of those who were allowed to enter after a vote included a student bringing their friend medication for pneumonia, a man who was over 90 who couldn't walk inside, a student who rented a Zipcar who said he would be charged an additional $50 dollars if he didn't get on campus to return the vehicle, and the wife and children of the Crown Provost.

Students eventually voted to concluded the shut down at 5pm and march to the base of campus. Those blocking the West side of the school were met by those blocking the East side, and together they stood across High Street to watch a performance by the cast of "The Congressladies," who had canceled their performance scheduled on campus for that evening to honor the strike.

After the performance concluded, and evening fell, the group of demonstrators dispersed with some encouragement from Sgt. Bush of the Santa Cruz Police Department.

There were about a dozen various police officers, including UCSC Chief of Police Nader Oweis, on scene at the base of campus near the end of the shut down. Although there were literally scores of University of California riot police ready and waiting who had been brought in from the Bay Area for the week, they were never deployed, and all day there was only a minimal police presence anywhere near the picket lines.

Student protests have been held continuously at UCSC since November of 2014, when the University of California Regents voted to increase tuition by more than 25% over the next five years.

Organizers described the purpose of the 96 Hours of Action in an event announcement:

"This is a call to action for students of all Universities, Community Colleges, High Schools, Middle Schools past, present, and future to stand up for free public education and shut down the racist, classist, corporate, militarized police state. The same people benefiting from racial oppression are the same people benefiting from education debts. The state of California is failing its people by investing in police and prisons instead of public education. It's time to reject this assault on our communities and stand together for education and the end of police violence.

"Stand with your California's students to demand a free, non-oppressive, non-corporate education. We call upon your collective voices and bodies to end this state-sponsored violence against black and brown individuals, end this war against low-income communities, shut down the school-to-prison pipeline, and prioritize PEOPLE OVER PROFITS! STUDENTS OVER SUITS!"

The West Entrance at sunrise.

Blocking Coolidge Dr. on the East Side of campus.

Blocking the corner of Coolidge and Heller.

A Program in Community and Agroecology (PICA) student distributes vegan food.

Marching from the West Entrance to the base of campus at 5pm.

Blocking High Street at the base of campus.

The cast of "The Congressladies."