Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Vigil for Sean Smith-Arlt Organized on No Police Brutality Day

A candle light vigil was held for Sean Smith-Arlt at the Town Clock in Santa Cruz on October 22, coinciding with the 21st annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality. Sean was experiencing ongoing mental health issues when he was shot and killed on October 16 by officers with the Santa Cruz Police Department, who say he was advancing towards them while holding a garden rake when they deemed him a threat.

A close friend of Sean's family spoke to the large group present at the vigil.

"People have spoken about Sean's artistic ability, but Sean had the right brain cone as well," he said.

"We used to sit sometimes and talk about Plank's Theory. Sean had quite an incredible mathematical mind, as well, so he had both the right and left brain working."

"He had quite an incredible intellect, and he had quite a sense of humor to him as well," he added.

He mentioned how he and Sean's family had taken a walk together in Pogonip the morning of the vigil.

"They are like family to me," he commented.

"They don't want to be angry. They don't want you to be angry, even though I'm sure that will come," he said.

"They simply want to see that Sean's child is cared for in the future, and that the community is respected, and that in the future things like this don't happen."

"I can tell you it has been very difficult, but they are incredibly loving people, and they love this community, and they want you to try to remember that," he said.

On October 18, Sean's family released a written statement to the public that describes how dear Sean was to them, and what type of person he was and what some of his accomplishments were. His family confirmed Sean was suffering from mental health issues.

"It is clear more training and resources are needed for responding to a mental health crisis situation," the family said in the statement.

They have called for a more independent investigation into the killing.

"The information that has been released so far is not telling the whole story. We are hopeful that with a more independent investigation, the entire truth will come out and justice will be done," the stated read.

Community activist Sherry Conable spoke about the need for a truly independent investigation into the killing when she spoke at the vigil for Sean.

"There is a very strong relationship between the District Attorney's office and law enforcement officers," Conable said. "They kind of depend on each other to prove their cases, and make their cases, and that is not an objective review of what happened."

"We need an outside, independent investigation of what happened," she explained. "Not from the District Attorney's Office. That will not be independent. That is an insider's investigation, that is not adequate."

"It is incumbent that the mayor and our council members call for, and be willing to pay for, an outside, independent investigation," Conable said.

Brenda Griffin, Vice-Chair of the Santa Cruz Chapter of the NAACP, spoke at the vigil on behalf of the Social Justice Alliance of Santa Cruz, a recently founded coalition of organizations working together on issues of police accountability and transparency. Participating organizations in the alliance include the NAACP, ACLU, Barrios Unidos, RCNV, SCCCCOR, SURJ, and representatives from the Santa Cruz County Youth Violence Prevention Task Force.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to Sean's family. Our hearts and prayers go out to our community, and our hearts and prayers go out to other communities who have gone through this, and it just has to stop," Griffin said.

As she spoke, Griffin was accompanied by Peter Gelblumm, Chair of the Santa Cruz ACLU. They invited those at the vigil to attend a listening session the alliance has organized for November 1 to be held at Peace United Church.

"This listening session is an opportunity for the community to gather and share their feelings and concerns about the recent death of Sean Smith Arlt and begin the communal healing process," an announcement for the event states.

Sarah Leonard, Executive Director of the Mental Health Client Action Network of Santa Cruz County (MHCAN), also spoke.

"This happened here because the culture here made it possible for this to happen," she said.

Leonard compared how Santa Cruz police responded to Sean's erratic behavior to a recent incident in Great Britain that made international news when police disarmed a person with a machete.

"They took the time and the effort, and they had the cultural reasons for valuing that and making that happen," Leonard said.

Abbi Samuels and Keith McHenry of Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs helped organize the vigil. Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs shares food outside of the post office in downtown Santa Cruz on Saturdays and Sundays. Volunteers with the organization have become some of the most vocal of those advocating locally for low-income and houseless people.

McHenry spoke about how the police have been responding to the homeless community in Santa Cruz.
"We see so much suffering at the hands of the local police under the direction of the city council and the city manager's office," he said.

Samuels read some of Sean's poetry, as well as from his book, "The Love Manifesto."

The book is available on, and bears the following description:

"The Love Manifesto delivers a psychological, political and spiritual message that is capable of addressing the concerns of readers from nearly every cultural while simultaneously promoting a cosmopolitan philosophy that is capable of bringing peace to the world."

Local religious leaders also helped organize the vigil for Sean. Reverend Dave Grishaw-Jones of Peace United Church, leaders of the Santa Cruz Zen Center, and Rabbi Philip Posner provided prayers and words of solace to those in attendance. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Santa Cruz Police Shoot and Kill Man on Westside

Officers with the Santa Cruz Police Department shot and killed a man outside of a home on the corner of Chace and Getchell Streets, in a residential neighborhood, on the west side of Santa Cruz. Preliminary reports from the media have stated that a 32-year-old man experiencing mental health issues was advancing towards police with a gardening rake when officers deemed him a threat and shot and killed him at about 3:30 am on October 16.

What appears to be a small rake lays in the street at the scene of the police killing that occurred on Chace Street on Sunday morning.

At noon on October 16, police were still processing the scene. A small garden rake could be seen lying on Chace Street, with a numbered evidence marker next to it. In addition to SCPD, deputies with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office were also processing evidence.

Commercial media outlets have reported that police were initially called to a home on Chace Street after the victim had attempted to enter the residence and was making threatening statements towards those inside.

As of the publication of this article, the Santa Cruz Police have not made any information about the killing available to the public.

UPDATE (10/18)

More information about the Santa Cruz police killing on October 16 has been released to the public.

Sean Smith Arlt is the name of the person killed. He was 32.

Arlt was in the backyard of a house on Chace Street when police first encountered him. They say they ordered him to leave.

Once Arlt left the backyard and advanced towards officers with the garden rake, approximately 20 seconds passed before a single officer fired two shots to kill him. Police say they attempted to tase Arlt prior to shooting him during that 20 second period as well.

None of the police reports released to the public state that Arlt made any physical contact with the officers as he was advancing towards them.

According to a press release from SCPD dated October 17, there is an audio recording of Arlt's killing:

"Based on the audio recording, once Mr. Arlt emerged from the backyard, this situation unfolded in approximately 20 seconds. Because of the rapid succession of events, the officers did not have the opportunity to dialogue and negotiate with Mr. Arlt."

Chace Street

Police focused much of their efforts on the interior of the garage of one home on Chace Street.

A deputy with the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Getting a Good Night's Sleep at City Hall with the Freedom Sleepers

After a chilly series of summer nights for people on the street in Santa Cruz, temperatures have increased, and so has attendance at the Freedom Sleepers community sleepouts held at city hall. About three dozen sleepers made it through the night at the sleepout held on August 30, and attendance was nearly as high at the sleepouts organized on September 6 and September 13. Since July of 2015, the Freedom Sleepers have gathered to sleep at city hall one night a week to protest local laws that criminalize homelessness. September 13 marked the group's 62nd sleepout.

The Freedom Sleepers at Santa Cruz city hall at the 61st community sleepout organized on September 6-7.
Presently, the only location in downtown Santa Cruz where people on the street are able to sleep regularly as a group is at the weekly community sleepouts organized by the Freedom Sleepers. Homeless sweeps conducted by the Santa Cruz Police Department beginning in January of this year have for the most part cleared the downtown area of groups of people sleeping together in other locations, such as at the post office.

The sleepouts have attracted quite a bit of attention from the police. By sleeping at city hall, the Freedom Sleepers, some of whom have fixed housing of their own and some of whom do not, are engaging in a civil disobedience protest that directly violates the city's camping ban, which outlaws sleeping anywhere in public between the hours of 11 pm and 8:30 am.

Many of the organizers of the sleepouts, which are organized as political protests, are hesitant to describe them as a completely safe place to sleep, but one of the founding Freedom Sleepers, Robert Norse of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF), has described them as "safe zones" that are a "safer" place to sleep.

"A lot of the homeless people have come up to several of us and said that this is the only night of the week they can get an uninterrupted night of sleep," said Abbi Samuels, who is also one of the founding Freedom Sleepers.

"To me that's so sad that there is only one night a week they can get 7-8 hours of sleep," she said.

"I have been able to get a good night's sleep too," Samuels said of her own experience of sleeping at city hall with the Freedom Sleepers.

The primary demand of the Freedom Sleepers has been the repeal of the city's camping ban ordinance, but Samuels believes some immediate relief for homeless people could be attained by amending the ordinance.

"I think people should be able to sleep at government and public facilities," Samuels said.

"City facilities should be re-zoned," she said.

Early on during the protests, the Freedom Sleepers attempted to sleep in the large lawn area located in the center of city hall's courtyard, but sleepers in that area were subjected to citation during the many police raids the Freedom Sleepers experienced. The city hall courtyard is a no-trespassing zone and is closed to the public at night between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am.

Additionally, city staff has actively worked behind the scenes to make it more difficult for individuals to sleep at city hall. In October of 2015, the Parks and Recreation department began the process of removing the grass lawn at city hall and replacing it with spiny plants, new pathways, and rock features, as part of a landscaping project that has rendered the area hostile to those looking for a place to sleep.

"It's horrible, it's a subtle way to get rid of homeless people," Samuels said. "I am so livid."

She recalled how soft the lawn area was, and how people could sleep on it comfortably.

Samuels says she learned in October of 2015 that the landscaping changes were intentionally designed to prevent people from sleeping in the area from Don Lane, who was the mayor of Santa Cruz at the time.

The Freedom Sleepers had moved their primary sleep location to the sidewalk before the changes in the landscape were initiated by the city, and the sleepouts continued unabated, but the loss of the lawn area is a constant reminder and sore point for the group.

In addition to those looking to sleep with a group of people, the Freedom Sleepers attract a large number of people who are in need of life necessities and other basic supplies, such as food, clothing, and blankets or bedding.

On August 30, Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs estimates they shared 200 servings of food or more at city hall before that evening's sleepout, which was in addition to food donations made by other organizations that day.

"We had to make more food," said Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs about the August 30 sleepout.

"I have never seen so many eager for food at a Freedom Sleepers sleep out. It seems like we are getting more people seeking food each week," he said. "America is in crisis."

The Freedom Sleepers have indicated the sleepouts will continue indefinitely at Santa Cruz city hall.

Community Sleepout #61 on September 6-7

Community Sleepout #61 on September 6-7

Community Sleepout #61 on September 6-7

Community Sleepout #61 on September 6-7

Community Sleepout #60 on August 30-31

Community Sleepout #60 on August 30-31