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Dropping dead on your doorstep

HUFF activists have been lobbying for years to end the Sleeping Ban, but now that homeless people are dropping dead on the Mayor's front step, it is definitely time to act.

It was against the law to lie down on a bench, but that was the least of his problems. Robert Wagner, 58, of Santa Cruz was dying of cancer. A fatal tumor occluded his airway, and as he slept on a park bench directly outside of Mayor Mike Rotkin's office, he died of asphyxiation. When SCPD Officer Venegas arrived on the icy November 29th morning, he found Wagner's lifeless body. The local paper described his history of alcoholism but made no mention of the cancer.

[ HUFF Santa Cruz I previous sc-imc coverage: March and Vigil Remembering Dead-of-Exposure Homeless Man ]
December 12, 2004


Santa Cruz, Ca. - It was against the law to lie down on a bench, but that was the least of his problems. Robert Wagner, 58, of Santa Cruz was dying of cancer. A fatal tumor occluded his airway, and as he slept on a park bench directly outside of Mayor Mike Rotkin's office, he died of asphyxiation. When SCPD Officer Venegas arrived on the icy November 29th morning, he found Wagner's lifeless body. The local paper described his history of alcoholism but made no mention of the cancer. When a homeless person drops dead on your doorstep its his fault. That is the way to look at it.

That line of logic tells us that the homeless person did something wrong in his life which resulted initially in his homelessness and eventually his premature death. In Wagner's case, his homelessness stemmed from a divorce 7 years earlier that had left him despondent. Surely Mayor Rotkin bears no responsibility for the death of Robert Wagner.

Mayor Rotkin does support the Sleeping Ban which outlawed Mr. Wagner from being allowed to fall asleep on that bench and to let his body restore itself in order to fight his cancer. Rotkin also supports the blanket ban which means that had Mr. Wagner covered himself with a blanket on that frigid night, he would have been guilty of the crime of "setting up bedding." In addition, it is a $162 crime to misuse a public bench. One may sit on it with their feet on the ground. Put your feet up and its $162. Lie down, $162. Fall asleep its $54.

On the night of November 29th there were only 150 spaces for shelter indoors for homeless people. With a homeless population estimated at being over 2000 within the city limits, a lot of people are not only left out in the cold, but they must endure the stress of officers beating on the side of their vehicles at 2:30 A.M. or the bright light of a cops flashlight suddenly in their faces urging them to get up, move-along, or perhaps told to stand in the cold and dark and while being cited for sleeping or for trying to stay warm.

On Friday, December 10th, Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin spoke on the steps of the Santa Cruz County Courthouse in honor of the United Nations "Human Rights Day." "Having Rotkin speak in favor of human rights is a real joke," said HUFF activist, Bernard Klitzner. "How can he say he supports human rights when he supports the Sleeping Ban? He is such a hypocrite." As Mayor Rotkin read his statement in support of Human Rights day, along with the three other mayors of the four cities in Santa Cruz County, HUFF members held signs calling Rotkin a hypocrite and urging him to end the Sleeping Ban.


HUFF announced at their press conference recent developments in the homeless civil rights struggle locally. Robert Norse of HUFF, recently won *$5000 in lawsuit for false arrest against the City of Santa Cruz when SCPD Sgt. "Butchie" Baker *falsely arrested him* for obstructing a 20 foot sidewalk with a 3 foot wide table. Baker, SCPD police officials, the city attorney's office, and Sushi Now manager Matisse Selman colluded to punish Norse for publicizing a boycott of Selman's business in return for Selman's anti-homeless policies. [**See "Homeless Activist Wins in Federal Court Suit Against Santa Cruz Police for False Arrest", Street Spirit October 2004].


Norse won another victory in late November in another lawsuit against the City of Santa Cruz. On March 12, 2002, Mayor Christopher Krohn ordered Norse to leave Council chambers, recessed the meeting when he refused, and sent Sgt. Baker to direct him to leave. Instead of issuing Norse a "citizen's arrest" citation from Krohn, Baker escalated the situation and proceeded to arrest Norse, handcuff him, remove from Council chambers, and jail him for five hours. Charges were never filed. Norse struck back with a lawsuit for false arrest.

Though arrested and cuffed, Norse was initially facing no clear charge. After conferring with a puzzled city attorney, Baker jailed him for "disrupting a public meeting." The incident that provoked Norse's brief silent mock-Nazi salute was a response to Krohn's threat to have a peace activist removed from the council chambers. Krohn did not see the silent salute himself.

Federal District Judge Robert Whyte first summarily dismissed Norse's lawsuit. But on November 26, 2004, after an unusual fourteen month delay, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Whyte's decision and returned Norse's lawsuit to Whyte's court for federal trial. Said Norse, "The spectacle of a Mayor stumbling to explain his rationale for arresting someone for making a critical gesture in a public meeting will be something to watch. It promises to be highly educational and may be more effective than letters, protests, or elections."


On Monday, November 29 civil rights attorneys Paul Sanford and Kate Wells filed another civil rights lawsuit. The suit challenges the constitutionality of a municipal code under which homeless local John Maurer was twice-cited for "profanity while soliciting." He wore a small sign protesting police harassment as he sat begging in one of the limited legal locations permitted the poor on Pacific Avenue. The sign read "Fuck the Pigs (Police)". Maurer wrote the sign after being repeatedly "moved along" and threatened with having his few belongings confiscated when he briefly left them to open the door for an 84-yr-old resident of the Palomar Hotel using a walker.

Once, Sanford volunteered to take the case, the City Attorney John Barisone quickly moved to drop proceedings. In an unusual move, Sanford acknowledged that Maurer was "guilty" of violating the law, but the law itself was unconstitutional for vagueness and overbreadth. Commissioner Irwin Joseph (known to some court watchers as "Junk Justice" Joseph) ignored Sanford's pleadings, announced he'd already made up his mind, dismissed the case, and left the anti-homeless law active.

Determined to overturn the unconstitutional law, Sanford said it was time for City Council to act responsibly. "I hope they'll change the law before we go to court and spare us all the time and expense." Earlier this year City Council settled the Blue Lagoon police harassment case for more than $1.25 million, when an apology and correction of police behavior would have served early in the case.


HUFF members organized a march down Pacific Ave. to mourn the recent November homeless deaths of Shaun Fairless known as "Scottie" who died of exposure ( the coroner listed the death as from “chronic alcoholism� suffered by the 24 year old) under the Soquel Ave. bridge and Robert Wagner who died on a bench forty feet from the warm council chambers and Mayor Rotkin's office. The candlelight procession included a drum and a wailing New Orleans-wake style saxophone and ended up at the site of Wagner's death. With shelter for only a fraction of the people who are experiencing homelessness, HUFF is preparing a federal lawsuit unless the council moves to implement Pottinger-style guidelines (acknowledging the right and need of homeless people to engage in life-sustaining behavior like sleeping).

In a letter from attorneys David Beauvais and Kate Wells, the City of Santa Cruz was informed in writing that they want action before the Council goes home for Xmas vacation in mid-December. The letter demanded the dismissal of all tickets issued in the past year under the camping law--when the lack of shelter was known to city authorities--as well as suspension over the winter of all arrests for sleeping, using blankets, or setting up a tent against the rain.


Former Santa Cruz Mayor Scott Kennedy and current Mayor Mike Rotkin refused to consider a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq though it was presented, with Vets for Peace support, at two successive Council meetings by HUFF members. Ironically in April 2003, Kennedy blocked an earlier "U.S. Out of Iraq" resolution though it received widespread community support. When HUFF member Francis Markovic brought it up again in late November, he chided her for "not being serious" in bringing up the resolution.

HUFF activists have pressed to revitalize the anti-war effort. They have urged the council to pass a resolution similar to that passed by the Arcata City Council which carried a strong "U.S. Out of Iraq and Afghanistan" resolution in July 2004.

Four Santa Cruz County residents have been killed in Iraq in the last year and a half. The $6 billion/month war squanders money desperately needed for the poor, creates more dead and homeless abroad, and leave us with a future of more homeless and impoverished vets in Santa Cruz, some missing limbs and in wheelchairs.

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Re: Dropping dead on your doorstep

An injury to one is an injury to all.

Re: Dropping dead on your doorstep

" An injury to one is an injury to all."

Ouch... Ouch... Ouch...

Man, this is going to get tiresome!

Ouch!.. Ouch!.....

Re: Dropping dead on your doorstep

So the authority is just as evil for not arresting this guy as they would be if they had? That does not make any sense. You cannot have it both ways. Homelessness is a much bigger problem than can of screws. Just letting people sleep and shit wherever they want is a stupid answer unless you like third world disease--Tijuana living conditions.

What's stupid is the current Sleeping Ban policy.

Santa Cruz does not allow sleeping ANYwhere outside. It has shelter for less than 10% of its homeless. Jail is expensive. Until there are low-income campgrounds available, people damn well have to shelter themselves. Arresting them is a human rights violation--and perhaps a legally actionable one as the forthcoming lawsuit may prove.

you are no authority

People damn well have to shelter themselves. No shit. It's not governments responsibility to shelter people that are not military, or prisoners. You think you can just show up here and start ordering people around? Yeah, lets be hippies and move to can of screws. 222 votes for city council between you and some other unknown? You clowns are just cheap entertainment on tuesday night.

Great Advocates Required (Not A Humorous Issue)

Activists need spark powerful people to activate closed military bases for housing/training/helping the disenfranchised.

Re: Dropping dead on your doorstep

Here the guy is. He's a Vietnam Veteran. He's suffering from terminal cancer and he medicates himself with alcohol. A bad choice? Yes. But neither you nor I were in his situation. Anyway you look at it, he needed help from the community he was in. What does that community allocate its money for? Arresting him for sleeping or covering up with blankets. Do I hold the members of the city council accountable for his death right on their doorstep? You bet I do!

Re: Dropping dead on your doorstep

look "it can't happen here," if it is our responsibility to shelter ourselves and not the governments, than we should damn well be allowed to shelter ourselves. But it is illegal to camp or to build squats all over santa cruz. We are only allowed to shelter ourselves by buying into the corporate system, not by actually creating our own homes. Homeless people shouldn't be getting arrested for sleeping on benches or being herded in and out of sleeping shelters, but they also shouldn't be required to pay the high santa cruz rents in order to have a place to sleep where they won't freeze to death.
p.s. if there were some public bathrooms ANYWHERE in santa cruz, we probably wouldn't have to worry as much about where people shit also.

Re: Dropping dead on your doorstep

You are allowed to shelter yourselves-- on your own property. Build squats? This isn't Tijuana. It's not the governments responsibility to build shitters for people either. It isn't about corporate anything. Corporations havn't had their way here either. There have been too many people in Santa Cruz for 35 years, and everyone fought like hell to make this place not grow out of control like L.A. So prices went up when the mob scene decided they just had to move here. In the late seventies you could still buy a big three bedroom house for twenty grand. Where were you? Most people who grew up here don't believe you have the right to complain, unless you were born and raised in this county. It's the O.J. answer again. Want to see the problem? Just look in the mirror!

To Save a LIfe is the Highest Value

Under the necessity defense, a person make break any law in order to prevent a greater harm, such as one's own death from illness or hypothermia.

A life is more important than any law. MC 6.36.010 robs people of their very lives by depriving them of shelter, a way to keep warm, or even the right to close their eyes after 11PM.

This law must be removed!

You're Dreaming

You'd better go round up all the bums by choice and take them in, because legally sleeping wherever people want will never happen here. They don't have any respect for this town, the people in it, the greenbelt, or themselves, so hey, you're pretty much on your own unless they are ready to go into rehab, the mental health unit, or state vocational rehab.

Re: Dropping dead on your doorstep

Becky my amazon queen I praise you!! the necessity defense is a prevention ofthe law of greater harm. More important than mc 6.05.905.67 is our right to live (and this means you and me Becky
) and all our peaceful homeless brothers!!


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