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Updated Flyer on John Maurer's SignCrime

A Six Inch By One Inch “Fuck The Police� Sign in a Homeless Man’s Hat ---Provocative Obscenity or Courageous Act of Resistance ?

Corrected Speech to Santa Cruz Community and City Council 5-27-03, 6-4-03 by Robert Norse

I have come before this community through the City Council Oral Communications period on many issues: the Sleeping Ban law--which criminalizes nighttime sleep in Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz where tonight there will be space
for 29 homeless people tonight in shelters on church floors--out of an estimated population of 1500-2000.
The Blanket Ban law--which criminalizes wearing a blanket a night.
The Blank Check to the police department--whose budget never gets the kind of slashing that other departments suffer and who no longer have even the shadow of public oversight by a Citizens
Police Review Board.

Fourteen months ago (March 2002) when Mayor Krohn rudely and prematurely cut off peace activist Susan Zeeman from speaking at the microphone and then threatened her with arrest if she remained there, I raised my hand like this [a stuff-armed "Nazi salute"]--silently signifying “you’re acting like a pack of fascists.� Obligingly, Councilmember Fitzmaurice insisted I be removed and Mayor Krohn had me arrested.
Since then others have made the same gesture, without being summarily arrested, and the
matter is still in the courts in an appeal soon to be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I was never charged with the crime I was arrested for--"disrupting a public meeting". I was, however, held in jail through half the night and denied the right to be at City Council that evening. So I sued the City.

This afternoon (May 27) City Council turned down another claim of mine against the City in another false arrest case. Last November, Councilmember Ed Porter insisted I turn off a tape recorder in mid-meeting. I was making a tape for Free Radio Santa Cruz, documenting
the Downtown Issues Working Group--a joint ad hoc committee of City Council and the Downtown Commission. As with the Fitzmaurice-Krohn arrest, charges were never filed. No other record was kept of the content of that meeting.

Day before yesterday (May 25), I saw a dangerous product of the imperious attitude that City Councilmembers have here in Santa Cruz--on the street downtown. In the behavior of police officers walking the beat. John Maurer, a homeless man, who was at one time a master vendor for the homeless paper Street Spirit was cited---for a small sign in his hat that read “Fuck the Pigs (Police)�. He faces a possible $1000 fine and up to six months in jail for the citation--a misdemeanor.
Maurer was sitting legally on the sidewalk (in one of those small remaining areas left to the poor--more than 14’ from any building). He had in front of him a bucket asking for pennies.
He said nothing. Two police officers and
Sergeant Baker, their superior, surrounded him. Police officers charged with enforcing the law and protecting the Constitution betrayed the trust of their office by punishing him for the message he had in his hat.

I had on this T-shirt (which reads “Danger: Police in Area�). But that didn’t seem strong enough. And in anger and solidarity, I put on this T-shirt (“Fuck the Police�). Maurer told me this was his fourth ticket, four in five days. Earlier he got a ticket for “display of merchandise� for having his threadbare possessions on the sidewalk in front of him.
His second citation involved a salty response to a Dell Williams jewelry store merchant who demanded of him in what Maurer described as a disrespectful tone “couldn’t
you do something else?� (that is, go sit somewhere else rather than on the sidewalk). Maurer declined to move. The merchant "complained", even though Maurer was sitting in one of the increasingly-rare legally allowed locations.
The police took the merchant's direction and gave Maurer a “citizens arrest� citation for “soliciting with abuse or profane language.� Maurer had responded to an insulting “move along� comment with a humorous sharp commentary involving the word “fuck�. That retort, of course, had nothing to do with "panhandling". By his account, he never asked the merchant for anything other than--implicitly--to be left alone. Hence the police, who have the option not to take a "citizen's arrest" citation but instead suggest the merchant go to the D.A. instead, showed prejudice and bad judgment by giving Maurer the ticket.
His third citation came when he was told that the "pennies" bucket requesting change onstituted a “display device� and required him to move 100’ every hour and not return to the spot for 24 hours. Another $162 ticket.
Soon thereafter while seated in front of the Palomar Hotel, John got up and moved 20’ to help a 92-year-old woman with a walker into the lobby. Officer Bechtel then began removing his property, which was still sitting on the sidewalk
as “unattended property�
This apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Angry and now interested in
publicizing police harassment and selective enforcement, he put a small “Fuck the Pigs (Police)� sign on his straw hat.
In the next few days he got his fourth ticket--it was his second ticket for “soliciting with abusive or profane language.� Again, int he incident for which he was ticketed Maurer asserted he was silent and his “Fuck the Pigs� sign had nothing to do with solicitation, but was a constitutionally-protected if angry statement about how police were treating him.
He now faces a $162 fine for the first “soliciting�ticket (an infraction) & up to a $1000 fine & six months in jail for the second
one. It’s dangerous to state your mind in Santa Cruz on a sign, if you’re criticizing Mayor Reilly’s police department.

Santa Cruz is also the only community in the United States that has a law that says someone with a “display device� must move along every hour. Maurer, strangely enough, didn’t have a display device. He had several
objects in front of him, but had neither table nor guitar case nor stand. Police were in error, but aware that Reilly and her City Council have broadened the anti-homeless laws downtown specifically to give police greater enforcement powers--to reassure conservative merchants.

Councilmember Matthews “move along� law, isn’t used on politically correct political tablers, but only on those the police don’t want: raggedy musicians like C.J., social critics like John, and unfashionable political protesters like those at the Vigil Against Two Wars Peace Vigil at Cooper and Pacific last March.

On May 29th, for the first time, it was used against a HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) table gathering petitions to stop the elimination of seating space at the Walnut St. planter in front of the Pacific
Trading Company and Costa Brava.

Maurer was really getting a dose of the "curbside" justice and routine humiliation that is becoming a regular part of training rookie cops. Making a person accused of one of these bogus minor infractions sit on the sidewalk, undergo an ID check, adopt a submissive posture, and change his "attitude."

“Do what we say, or get lost, or we make your life an ordeal of tickets� The power to selectively enforce laws has grown significantly in the last year.

We saw this same escalation used by the same group of officers (headed by Sgt. Baker) in the case of the African-American tarot card reader Jason Paschal. Paschal was falsely arrested for medical marijuana, abused for his insulin needles, twice ticketed for “tarot
reading without a permit�, jailed for “possession of a milk crate�, and finally--after New Hampshire twice refused to accept
him--deported back to prison there on an old marijuana possession charge (less than an ounce).
As Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld set their sites on the next war prize--Iran--and move to gear up the American people for another Re-Election War, City Council gives Ashcroftian power to its police. (And, incidentally, refuses to call for “U.S. troops out of Iraq�--though that was the position of 3000 to 7000 marchers on February 15th. Proposed resolutions by Kennedy and Porter were delayed and delayed and then withdrawn.)

But the war against the poor in Santa Cruz, giving officers free rein to harass rolls on as
tourist season deepens. Meanwhile the old Citizens Police Review Board’s last resolution--against selective enforcement--has never reached the City Council agenda. And the new backroom police review auditor appointee model has never
been subject to a public debate.
As national Patriot Act abuses become clearer and clearer nationally, as U.S. troops hold Iraqi POWs hooded and shackled in downtown Baghdad (London Observer 5-25), the poison of repression spreads unchecked in Santa Cruz.
Critical Mass bicyclists are assaulted and arrested by police (5-30). First beggars, then musicians, then those with unpopular signs, then benches, the New Leaf planter, and now the Planter seating area outside Costa Brava (eliminated June 11).

When police abuse is unchecked, is it "profanity" or an act of courage and a call to resistance to display a sign that says “Fuck the Police�?


Mayor Reilly received a courtesy copy of an earlier draft of the above speech in advance. She drew me aside and told me that “of course� I wasn’t going to use the word “fuck� in front of “the children� (many of whom were in the audience as part of the Sister City program). She advised me that in response she would be “turning off the microphone.�
I advised her that this would violate the Brown (Open Meetings) Act, which prohibits City Councilmembers from censoring the content of Oral Communications.
There were, in fact, no children left in the room when I spoke. But Reilly smiled sweetly, interrupted my speech, and not only turned off my microphone, but directed the TV cameras to turn away from my “Fuck the Police� T-shirt. I was wearing the shirt both as an act of protest against recent police outrages, but more specifically to affirm that to disset strongly--as John Maurer did on the street--is a basic right. Surely in the citadel of the City where City Council is pledged to protecting the rights of the community, there would be no question.
When the Mayor expressed her determination to suppress my the content of speech at the public microphone if I were to literally describe what police did to John Maurer, I decided it was all the more important to protect the First Amendment here. In response, she continued to interrupt me, demanded that I leave, and baldly ignored the law that protected the right of the public to say their (3 minute) piece (Govt Code 54954c). Reilly and her Council don't care: they have a half a million dollar atttorney (John Barisone) on the payroll.
On May 29th through 31st, HUFF activists gathered signatures at an information table in front of the Costa Vrave Police officers arrived and told those seeking signatures on petitions that they would be arrested if they stayed longer than one hour under the previously little-used “Move Along� law--MC 5.43.020(2).

This was a law endorsed by UCSC lecturer and Councilmember Mike Rotkin who assured the public that it would “never be used against political activists.� Rotkin has been invited to debate the issue on Free Radio Santa Cruz, but has so far declined to respond.
Attorney Paul Sanford has agreed to take John Maurer’s case, which should come up within a month. The Santa Cruz Sentinel and other local media made no mention of police arrests or Council suppression of the “Fuck the Police� signs--constitutionally protected--but not in Santa Cruz.
At the June 10th City Council meeting, Mayor Reilly abruptly cut off my microphone when I used the word "fuck" (again describing the Maurer case), showing that she intends to maintain a policy of consistent repression.
 


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