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COPWATCH, SANTA CRUZ - A Personal Account

COPWATCH, SANTA CRUZ - A Personal Account


By Jim Ross (831) 476-6112

Just past 12:45 p.m. the other day, while walking north on the west side of Pacific Ave., I spotted a Santa Cruz City Police Officer on his bike, motionless but observant at the corner of Cathcart St., where Johnny’s Sporting Goods used to be located. I recognized him from previous encounters downtown, and for that reason decided to remain in his vicinity for a time, though not too close. This was a highly pro-active cop, straightforward and usually unabusive, but nevertheless known as one
of the mall cops who regularly targeted and harassed the poor, the young, the unwashed!
Crossing Cathcart I took a position in front of the Taqueria.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the bike-cop moving south toward another vacant lot, this one at Pacific and Elm, directly opposite the Metro depot, a favorite spot for one or two older panhandlers, as well as a variety of young crafters, hackey-sackers and friends meeting friends. By the time I had crossed Cathcart and walked as far as Union Grove Music, bike-cop was questioning a young, scruffy-looking man holding a small brown dog in his arms. This young man was producing
identity for the officer, who studied it a moment, returned it, and then reached for his ticket book. It was 1:05 p.m. as I started to move closer, unzipping my pack to get at my camera.
Just then someone passed by in the opposite direction, and I heard the words, “...those cops!” I glanced toward the voice, saw a man in his late sixties or early seventies standing there looking at me.
I turned back toward the youngster and his dog and the bike-cop, who was by now writing what I knew was a ticket for the terrible violation of having a dog on the mall. (The fine for this infraction of the law is $75.00, and I doubted that the guy with the dog had even so much as 75 cents!) Looking again at the older man, I could see he wanted desperately to talk to me, or to anybody. This gentleman proceeded to tell me of the harassment he had experienced.
He began with a general complaint about how abusive and petty cops were at times, especially concerning marijuana, but toward teenaged kids in general. Speaking of himself, then, he told me he is handicapped and a carded member of “Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana” (WAMM). His need for marijuana is to relieve pain and stress resulting from several major illnesses.
He spoke of 2 instances this summer in which he was ticketed only to appear in court and have the cases thrown out. The first was for parking in a handicapped parking space. He was ticketed even though his placard was displayed on his dashboard, right where it always was. His feelings about these two incidents were summed up with the words, “Simple harassment!”
An hour later at the Metro depot near where I was to board my bus I again spotted the young man, who I noticed for the first time had the eager beginnings of a light brown beard. As I walked toward him I saw that he was transferring his dog (just a puppy almost the exact color of his beard) from under his jacket to a friend, who was likewise concealing the dog under her clothing. I went up to him and his several young vagabond-like friends and told them all what I had seen earlier right across the street and asked him, especially, if he had been ticketed for having a dog on the mall and if the fine was $75. “Exactly!” he exclaimed, as the others in the group all began to chime in at once about how they’d all seen tourists walking their dogs on leashes on the mall without being ticketed by the police. I concurred with this, of course, having personally witnessed several times how the police will ignore dogs belonging to well-dressed people carrying packages rather than backpacks and worn
duffle bags. Suddenly their bus pulled up before I could finish interviewing them.
Two more days passed before I saw him again, sitting against a building on Elm Street halfway down the block toward Pergolisi’s, his dog in his lap. I asked him if I might join him there on the ground, and he said I could. Since it was Monday, the day of the Police Review Board meeting, I asked him if he was going to attend. Instead of answering, he pulled a wad of three tickets from a pocket and handed them to me. They were all for having his dog on the mall, each ticket issued by a different cop. I saw his name, age, the charges, the officers’ scribbled names, their badge numbers. I’d seen these tickets daily for months this summer in the hands of dozens of youngsters, male and female, all for ridiculously petty violations that were applied selectively at the discretion of the police from one end of Pacific Ave. to the other. I asked him why he’d come to Santa Cruz. “For my birthday,” he said. I looked at the birth date again on one of the tickets. In two more days he would turn 21. He told me he had come with friends from Arcata to celebrate his birthday, and he had brought his pup along. “He’s my child,” he said. I asked him what would happen to the dog if they took him to jail for
not paying these tickets. “I’ll give him to a friend to keep him safe.” When I asked him why he just didn’t leave, maybe go back to Arcata, he said he wasn’t ready to leave, and he wasn’t going to let the cops force him out of town when he didn’t want to go.
About that time I saw a friend who had a radio show on FRSC drive up and park near the Metro, and I saw a way the young man could have his story told. I brought my old friend and my new young friend together right there on Pacific Ave., and a couple of nights later I heard him telling his story on the air. As I listened to that tape, I suddenly heard the calm but intrusive voice of that bike-cop, telling the young man that he could not have his dog on the mall.... But this time the cop (possibly realizing he’d blundered into a radio interview) did not ticket him, but instead told him he’d “do him a favor this time” and let him proceed from the mall to either Front St. or Cedar St., where he could hang out with his dog....
That night I was sitting in my apartment looking out on 17th Ave. thinking of that man and his dog, when all of a sudden I heard the sound of car brakes and the all-too-familiar thump that often follows, since the area has a large small-animal population, both domestic and wild. Rushing out to the street, I joined a few people gathered around a little brown puppy that
lay in the middle of the road, blood from its mouth and ears staining the asphalt dark red. Then came the boy, perhaps only ten years younger than my young friend on the mall. He stopped at the curb, some ten feet from the corpse, just staring, his eyes now flooding with tears.
That boy’s child had just been killed by a weapon of mass congestion, pollution, and mayhem, a car.
Tell me: “Who are the real criminals here?”

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