“Aftermath” by Robert Norse Thursday Feb 12th, 2009
The law in its majestic equality “forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” –Anatole France
So it now goes in Progressive Santa Cruz.
At the 7 PM session of City Council, the only item on the evening agenda was the Second and Final Reading of the expansion of the Downtown Ordinance Forbidden Zones, making three infraction ‘crimes” a potential misdemeanor if unattended to, and metering the benches (plus the fluff added by Matthew’s secret Downtown Impro.vement Task Force.
Neither Beiers nor Lane kept their commitments to ask solid questions about the law, though Lane said he encouraged “musicians with complaints” to come to him. Rotkin repeated the same misinformation that there was “no consequence” presently for ignoring or tearing up infraction citations, which required giving the police additional “war against terror” problems (the terror of the panhandler, the sitter, the street performer, the homeless sleeper, and the political tabler).
Rotkin ignored the fact that two instances of any of these crimes within 6 months is currently an automatic misdemeanor unless lowered by the city (which it always does with sleepcrimes in order to stop jury trials, save itself money, and avoid a public defender).
I call him a liar on this issue because I brought the matter to his attention specifically on tape (see http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb090205.mp3).
During this session there was actually more public opposition to the ordinance changes than support. The merchants had hauled out their dog-and-pony show on January 27th and didn’t feel the need to come back. The weather outside was cold and nasty–reflecting the nature of what was being done inside Council chambers. There were less than 20 people in the audience, compared to the estimated 300 that attended the prior meeting. The supporters knew their fix was in.
Mayor Matthews untypically allowed 3 minutes for public comment and gave me 5 minutes for my organizational presentation (she said she’d lost the e-mail requesting it in advance, but accepted my word that I’d sent it).
Joe Schultz served his usual hot spirit-sustaining soup and agreed to do a benefit meal to challenge the ordinances in future. Students from Cabrillo and UCSC agreed to do some organizing against the ordinances for a future protest planned downtown for March.
HUFF will continue to work on what is the real issue for many poor people downtown: fighting back against (legalized) police harassment through a more unified system of documentation, witnessing, public education, and legal jujitsu (the laws that they’ve passed also apply to tourists and customers).
The DIY Copwatch Blog, when we complete it, should be a useful tool to document police, host, ranger, and deputy harassment soon after it happens and provide the data base for seeing just who’s getting cited for “bad behavior”.
“Bad behavior”, of course, now includes sitting in the expanded forbidden sidewalk zones, playing music that a resident objects to, serving free food if that dissatisfies a merchant, sleeping at night if you’re homeless, or having a “bad attitude” towards police demands (“you’re drunk”, “no we don’t have to use a breathalyzer”, “yes we will release you at 3 AM without your property”, “no we don’t have to justify it in court–we dropped the charges”).
Increased policing and squeezing people into smaller and smaller zones will naturally produce warm relations in the community between police and public. Contributing to a “more welcoming” downtown.
Any real attempt to deal with “bad behavior” by police, including false arrests, overcharging, mis-citing laws, selective enforcement, intrusive surveillence, and special interest security-guard behavior on the (impoverished) public payroll naturally went unnoticed and unmentioned by City Council.
Rude, angry, and abusive behavior on the street, as I’ve mentioned before, is nowhere explicitly dealt with in these changes, nor, largely, in the original downtown ordinances themselves. Nor are the causes and provocations that produce resentment addressed. These are gentrification anti-homeless laws that expand police powers to move people along and punish them for doing what poor people do in public spaces: sit, try to sell their possesions, perform, table for change, and beg.
If a tourist or resident says “you’re a dirty beggar” to a panhandler, that’s “free speech”. If a panhandler says “you’re a callous tightwad”, that’s cause for a citation for “abusive panhandling”
“The poor have to labour in the face of the majestic equality of the law, which forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”
The new changes go into effect a month from last Tuesday.
Interestingly enough, other cities have defeated these kinds of laws. Most recently Northampton, MASS activists and streetfolks fought back. See http://michaelannland.blogspot.com/2009/02/poverty-is-not-crime-stops-panhandling.html
For more details on the prior Santa Cruz struggle, check out http://www.the-alarm.com/pdf/7-26-02.pdf . The Alarm (2001-2005) published many articles and letters about this struggle. Their archives can be found at http://www.the-alarm.com/pdf/index.html My thanks to Fhar Meiss for his tireless work on this paper.