Thursday, July 16, 2015

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.

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