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Sentinel Reporting Smears Vigil, Exonerates Assaultive Owner

Dan White's Friday Sentinel article trashed the longest running peace vigil in the country and whitewashed violent anti-homeless behavior by Lulu Carpenter's owner Manthri Srinath.
An Exchange With Dan White of the Sentinel
by Robert Norse 3-17-03

SENTINEL STORY: Trash, trash-talking abound at 24-hour vigil By DAN WHITE Sentinel staff writer March 15, 2003

Protesters at a round-the-clock vigil are preaching peace and love. But police say theyíve heard too many complaints about junk piles, wafting pot smoke, spitting and bellowing at pedestrians. The group, ranging in size from three to about 25 people, has been protesting since March 7.

So on Thursday night, responding to complaints, officers forced the group to move from Pacific Avenue and Cooper Street, enforcing a city ordinance about "non-commercial display devices."

Theyíve now set up shop near Lulu Carpenterís coffee shop on Pacific Avenue. The protest is against a possible war on Iraq and the cityís homeless policies. The handful of core activists say theyíll stay indefinitely. The protesters, however, have complained about a relentless fire-and-brimstone street preacher. Police, though, say activists share part of the blame.

Officers have received complaints about some of the protesters getting aggressive with passers-by and personal belongings strewn along the sidewalk. At one point Thursday night, things got so bad that one of the organizers, Olivia Brownrabbit, was overheard
praising police for restoring order. She blamed some of the problems on trouble-making "hangers-on."

But the groupís new location is still causing problems. At one point Friday morning, Luluís owner, Manthri Srinath,
walked over to the group and doused a protest sign with coffee. A protester named Banyon, whose pants got doused, told police he wanted a citation for assault issued and that he was prepared to make a citizenís arrest. Prior to the coffee incident, the group had ordered about $70 of food at LuLuís. They said their offer to pay with a personal check was accepted initially then rejected. In
response, they drew up a "Boycott LuLuís" sign. A LuLuís employee insisted the group was behaving obnoxiously, holding up the line and ordering lots of food with no means of paying. Srinath said the establishment doesnít accept personal checks.

As of Friday evening, the protesters were still outside LuLuís.



Dear Robert: Thanks for updates. Where did you hear about the multiple coffee throwings? I talked to the guy who got splashed; he said the owner tossed the coffee all over the sign and also all over his pants; I didn't hear about others getting doused .... Dan W

Dear Dan:
According to Olivia Brownrabbit and Raquel, the two were recommended to Lulu's by Olivia's son Gabe. They called to make sure they could pay for breakfast with a check. They were told it was okay. They went in and ordered the food. The waitress took Olivia's check and ID. Then the owner came over, looked at them, reportedly said "we don't want your kind in here" (almost literally, according to Olivia), then ordered them out. She apologized for the trouble, she says, but told him they were told it was okay to pay by check and the check was good. The owner and waitress were rude and insistent they leave, which they did.
Raquel had left behind three plastic cups of her own, filled with coffee. She returned to get them. The owner or waitress had reportedly dumped out the coffee. The owner then, according to Rachel, who I spoke to, threw the cups at her, spilling coffee on her and verbally abused her.
Around this time according to Olivia and Raquel, the vigilers, who were across the street in the plaza area in front of Jamba Juice (not next to the restaurant, as your story states) made up a large sign that asked people to boycott Lulu Carpenter's.
The owner, three people testified came out, crossed the street, and threw coffee at Banyan, the man holding the sign. This may have happened after an interchange. Banyan called the police and police took his citizen's arrest of the owner sufficiently seriously to give a citation (which they no longer have to do--citizens arrests are discretionary since last year).
I then went over armed with a tape recorder to ask the owner's side of the story. He immediately ordered me off the property, though I was talking with a customer whom I knew. He also ordered the customer to leave as well. I stepped onto the sidewalk. He ordered me away from the restaurant. I advised him that the sidewalk was public property. He called the police.
Police agreed with me that I was within my legal rights to be where i was. I have some of this on audio tape and played it yesterday on Free Radio.
The next day I began tabling and encouraging people to not patronize Lulu Carpenter's until such time as the owner mediated the problem with the vigilers. Last night a student who had been sitting at L.C.'s came up and reported that she and others were told to leave by the owner, though she'd just gotten her coffee, because "students weren't allowed to study in there", and
the owner disposed of several people's coffees.
I didn't witness this, natch, since I wasn't eager to get a trespassing ticket.
I have advised various other members of the public to get Manthri Srinath's side of the story, but at least when I was there yesterday morning tabling, he was reportedly hostile to them and said "talk to Norse" or "go read the newspaper".
I also received several reports from employees of abusive treatment by Srinath, who apparently is a fellow with a short fuse.

I also have several concerns about your Saturday story.
First, of course, it trashes the vigil. You are entitled to your opinion, but since you're writing news not editorial, it'd be nice to read some more specific facts.
You may tell me that you did a story with neutral or favorable treatment of the vigil some days ago and by writing a negative story with anonymous police sources, are using a "balanced" approach. This would be similar to your treatment of permit parking where you did a critical story and then, more recently, a favorable one, with no mention whatsoever of how the city has or
has not responded to the criticisms. I question the effectiveness of this approach in getting out a fair and full picture. I have confidence that you can overcome this kind of half a story now, half a story later approach.
You give no hard data on the actual numbers of citations issued by the police at the vigil (I believe there were five chalking citations---that's all I heard about). You doesn't mention the agreement with O'Neill's to keep the area in front of their doorway free of chalk, nor their cleaning up tagging that non-vigilers did on the building. You don't mention the names of the police who are
making the claims. (I can understand that they want to remain anonymous.) All these facts would be helpful in a story.
You mention vaguely a "non-commercial display device" ordinance. What you are really talking about is the first-ever use of the Move-Along ordinance towards political tablers. Since the ordinance went into effect February 13th, its sudden use here (a month later) is obviously selective enforcement. You may remember Councilmember Rotkin dismissed the very idea that the
ordinance would ever be used to hassle political activists. And Councilmember Kennedy assured us that there would be adequate exemption zones specified by February.
The CPRB resolution asking that the Council reject selective enforcement as a policy has not appeared on any Council agenda, though it was passed in December by the CPRB and Council rules require it either by agenda-ized or returned to the CPRB with a statement from the Mayor. The issue has also been removed from two Downtown Commission agendas so far. If we are concerned about the Democrats being silent on Bush's bombing, do we not apply the same standard to local progressives who keep their mouths shut when the Constitution is repeatedly and aggressively denied to homeless vigilers?
While the Move-Along has been used against musicians, I can personally vouch for the fact that it has never been used against other tablers--who have had their tables out for more than an hour since. On Saturday I sat at a table for several hours and was ignored by police.
Additionally, Officer Bines, whose threatened use of the ordinance ended the vigil at its week-long location at Pacific and Cooper, did not state that she was acting on a citizen's arrest (which still would have been discretionary), but took it upon herself (or on the initiative of her superiors) to use it. This, like many other decisions described as police harassment, came from the police department and did not require citizens who had problems to be accountable.
As I described in the flyer below, Bines then "made a deal" with the protesters that if they eliminated food, survival gear, and table, they could "hang out". Six hours later, their vigil at Borders was interrupted with police arriving with guns drawn after one of the vigilers called the police to protect vigilers from two drunks. Police then pressured them to move away from Borders,
even though they had no table, or other offending items. Doesn't this washing away of civil liberties locally have any interest for you?
Further down in your article you again cite anonymous police complaints about protesters getting aggressive with passers-by and personal belongings being strewn on the sidewalk. On every occasion when police have brought "the mess" problem to protesters' attention, they have responded. I did see Sgt. Jack McPhillips misinforming the protesters that they had to "move their
vigil to the curb" because of his false reading of the ordinance that the 10' forbidden zones for display devices extended from the property line rather than from the building face.
You state "the group's new location is causing problems", referring to the Lulu Carpenter's incident. This, of course, completely distorts the situation and blames the protesters instead of holding Manthri responsible for his actions. It was he who crossed Pacific Avenue to assault the vigilers. Your wording also covers up police misbehavior and double standard in a situation
where a sacrosanct owner can throw coffee--twice---on peace vigilers and then only get a citation instead of the assault arrest that would have followed had a protester done the same with him.
The news that a coffee shop owner being taken to jail in handcuffs for assaulting a homeless man would have sent a clear message to other merchants. This is the same privileged folks who, with the connivance of the Sentinel, have gotten City Council to give the police a blank check so they can function--along with the hosts--as private security guards. MC 5.43.020(2) is the first-ever
"move along" laws for political tablers in the country.
This is the same man who said to the two women "we don't want your kind around here" which makes Manthri's behavior is, in essence, a hate crime, since it clearly targets a minority group. Your story concludes "As of Friday evening, the protesters were still outside LuLuís." Actually, as before, they were across the street in the plaza in front of Jamba Juice. Your distorted story
makes the protesters appear as aggressive actors here.
But at least you kept your promise to continue to keep out of the print the grim fact that Santa Cruz has space for less than 160 at night out of a population of 1500-2000. In that silence, you are unbendingly consistent. Hope this helps.
Robert Norse

 
 


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