Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Despite Heavy Police and Security Presence, Campers Make it Through the Night at City Hall

On Sunday night members of local homeless rights organizations held their second community campout at Santa Cruz City Hall. Making it through the entire evening at City Hall was no easy task for the group, which was comprised of some individuals who have homes of their own to sleep at and some who do not. The campers wrangled with Santa Cruz police, who rousted them out of their sleep spots in the City Hall court yard at 1am after insisting the area be vacated. Many, however, returned to their spots after the police left, and most were able to sleep through to the morning hours. Group sleepouts have been organized in Santa Cruz to call attention to local laws that render it a crime to sleep outdoors in public, and are also a response to the drastic cuts to day-services that occurred at the Homeless Services Center in June.

The July 19 sleepout began with a march through downtown Santa Cruz where activists carried a portable shower stall to show it off to the public. After arriving at City Hall about two dozen individuals set up places to sleep shortly before sunset, and a table was set up where free vegan sandwiches were served.

One man setting up a small tent commented that he had a nice home and that he was there to protest.

One man occupied a small space on the lawn at City Hall using a sleeping bag provided by organizers. He slept next to his wheelchair.

Earlier, participants had discussed as a group what they would do in the event of a police raid. At least eight individuals were cited for refusing to leave City Hall at the first community sleepout the group held on July 4. Several maps of the area surrounding City Hall were displayed, and the merits of where to sleep in relation to the specific laws that would be violated were debated.

Many at this time were deciding whether or not they wanted to obey police commands if they were warned to leave City Hall, and some considered facing a citation or arrest as an intentional act of civil disobedience.

The court yard and all pedestrian access to Santa Cruz City Hall is closed to the public after 10pm and the whole area is actively patrolled throughout the night by First Alarm security guards employed by the city.

The 1am visit by Santa Cruz police on July 19 was initiated by a call from a First Alarm guard on patrol. The call resulted in the arrival a half-hour later of a squad of a dozen officers from the Santa Cruz Police Department, led by Lt. Bill Azua.

Most cleared the area for the police presence, but two protesters refused to leave City Hall and were cited by officers.

The first spoke at length to the supporters and police that surrounded him as he was written up. One of the points he wanted to express was that if there is no place for people to sleep at night, then the government has made it illegal for people without homes to exist.

Another person refused to leave City Hall and explained she believed it was her constitutional right to be in the area in order to protest anti-homeless laws.

Both of those cited on July 19 were also cited for refusing to leave City Hall at the previous community sleepout on July 4.

After the police left, some of the sleepers returned to the lawn area of the courtyard while others chose to sleep on the sidewalk in front of City Hall.

Another First Alarm guard walked through City Hall on foot patrol at 3am, and called the police, but no one from the department ever arrived.

A dozen people made it though the night in their various sleep locations, and at 7:30am they were served breakfast by volunteers. First Alarm continued to call the police on the group at this hour, complaining that sidewalks were being obstructed, but the police never arrived.

The group is planning similar actions for the future.

Activists display "sleep maps" of City Hall.

Marching downtown with the portable shower.

11pm, July 19 at Santa Cruz City Hall.

Police issue citation for refusing to leave City Hall.

Police issue citation for refusing to leave City Hall.

Pre-dawn hour.

Individuals sleep on the sidewalk in front of City Hall.

Breakfast was served at 7:30am.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Resolution Reached for 75 River Street Occupation Defendants

Three of the four remaining Santa Cruz Eleven defendants resolved their legal cases in Santa Cruz Superior Court today. Gabriella Ripley-Phipps and Brent Adams were present in court and pleaded "no contest" to one misdemeanor count each of trespass in association with the 2011 occupation of the vacant bank building located at 75 River Street. A no contest plea was also entered by his attorney for Franklin Alcantara, who was not present at the hearing. In exchange for the plea, the felony vandalism charge the defendants still faced has been dismissed, and a fixed restitution amount has been set at $1500 per person. The remaining defendant Cameron Laurendau and his attorney were not present in court today, and at the time of the hearing his case was still scheduled on the court calendar with a trial date of July 27.

Gabriella Ripley-Phipps after the hearing.

The large, empty bank building, which had been leased and left vacant in downtown Santa Cruz for years by Wells Fargo, was occupied during the height of the national Occupy Wall Street movement in November and December of 2011. At that time hundreds of people entered and exited the bank, and some damage occurred to the building. Supporters of the occupation had hoped to turn 75 River into a community center that would provide free services to low-income individuals, but ultimately the group decided to end their stay after three days.

A police investigation into the occupation was initiated, and charges were eventually filed against eleven individuals (including this reporter) in February of 2012. All eleven of the defendants were charged with multiple counts, including felony conspiracy to commit vandalism and/or trespass, felony vandalism, misdemeanor trespass by entering and occupying, and misdemeanor trespass by refusing to leave private property. There was no evidence presented in court that any of those charged had committed the vandalism, but they were still being held responsible for the damage that had occurred to the building, and the group became known as the Santa Cruz Eleven.

By 2013, the charges were completely dismissed in court against all but four of the defendants due to lack of evidence. One of the felony charges, conspiracy, was dismissed for the remaining four, but their trial date was formalized to begin during March of that year. At that time, the District Attorney's office was seeking a restitution amount of $20,000, which is partly why the case languished on for so long.

As part of today's agreement, Alcantara, Adams, and Ripley-Phipps will be on formal probation for 18 months, or until they pay their restitution amount in full. The money will go to Wells Fargo Bank.

They have also agreed to each serve 100 hours of community service, in addition to staying away from 75 River Street.

About three dozen community supporters were present in the court room when the defendants resolved the case.

Brent Adams after the hearing.

Adams and Ripley-Phipps hug after three and a half years of fighting the charges together.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs served food to supporters in front of the court house.

Community Campout Ends with Citations

On July 4, community members in Santa Cruz held a public campout at Santa Cruz City Hall, but it was quickly cut short by police at about 1am. The campout was organized in response to the recent reduction of services at the Homeless Services Center that occurred due to a funding deficit, as well as to protest local laws that criminalize sleeping outdoors.

Police issue citations to clear the community campout from Santa Cruz City Hall.

Organizers announced in advance of the protest that a location for the campout would be decided at a meeting to follow the July 4 Food Not Bombs dinner at the post office in downtown Santa Cruz. At an assembly on the steps of the post office, a group of about 40 people voted to camp in the courtyard at City Hall, which would be an act of civil disobedience as the area is closed to public use at night.

To address sanitary needs, organizers rented a portable restroom, which was to be towed to City Hall on a small trailer. The plan was complicated when police pulled over the truck towing the port-a-potty. Attorney and sleep activist Ed Frey was at the wheel of the truck, which police say they stopped because it was missing the proper tail lights, however an officer was first seen taking down the vehicle's license plate number at the post office where it was parked earlier.

It appeared that police weren't going to allow the porta-a-potty to be towed any further, but individuals became more vocal with officers, and eventually Deputy Chief of Police Rick Martinez arrived. As a solution, one organizer convinced him of the necessity of a police escort to City Hall, as it wasn't very far away. Martinez agreed. The police car that initially pulled over the truck then escorted the port-a-potty the approximately three blocks distance to City Hall.

After their arrival, about 25 people set themselves up to sleep in various locations around City Hall's courtyard. Some snuggled into free sleeping bags, and others ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, both of which were provided by the organizers.

Eventually, all of the people who weren't planning to sleep at the protest left, and by midnight most present were quiet and attempting to sleep. Fireworks could still be heard and seen in the sky as 4th of July continued to be celebrated in various parts of the city.

At 1am a group of 22 police officers, led by Deputy Chief Martinez, showed up at City Hall. Some of those who were sleeping quickly rose and avoided being cited, but others refused to move in an act of civil disobedience.

At least eight individuals were issued infraction citations for refusing to leave City Hall. Those cited include homeless activists Rabbi Philip Posner, Abbi Samuels, and Robert Norse.

After warning individuals they had to leave City Hall, the police themselves left. The group of protesters remained in the courtyard for some time after that deciding what to do. Eventually they chose to reconvene for breakfast in front of the post office in the morning.

The campout was originally called for by activists from a variety of organizations, including Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs, Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF), residents and refugees from the Coral St. complex, UCSC students, Camp of Last Resort workers, the Homeless Legal Persons Assistance Project, and others.

Meeting at the post office to finalize the location of the campout.

Ed Frey is pulled over as he tows the porta-a-potty.

Some people slept under tarps provided by organizers.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Peace and Justice Community Returns to Ocean Street for Annual 4th of July Rally

Today on the 4th of July, community members in Santa Cruz brought messages of peace, justice, and equality to Ocean Street as they greeted visitors entering town for the busy holiday. Every year a variety of groups working on peace and justice issues rally along Ocean Street as thousands of people make their way to the beach and the Boardwalk. Although some very serious statements were communicated by those holding signs at the rally today, the atmosphere was generally fun and festive, and the tourists showed a lot of support for what they saw as they rolled by.

Some of the topics communicated at this year's rally included support for the Highway 17 Six, ending solitary confinement in prison, ending U.S. military involvement in Syria and the Ukraine, ending sexual violence, ending the killing of children and adults by U.S drone warfare, and ending the war on Gaza.

One individual at the rally wore like a necklace a set of signs that were tied together and inscribed with the names of four sisters killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. They were members of the Ali Mohammed Nasser family. Afrah was 9 years old, Zayda was 7 years old, Hoda was 5 years old, and Sheika was 4 years old when they were all killed in the attack.

The rally was co-sponsored by the Resource Center for Nonviolence (RCNV), People United for Peace of SC County (PUP), CodePink SC, Santa Cruz Against Drones (SCAD), Peace & Freedom Party SC, Raging Grannies SC, SC Branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Veterans for Peace of SC (VFP), United Nations Association SC (UNA) , Sin Barras, Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC), Food Not Bombs, and Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization! (SCRAM!).