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Muzzling The Poor in Santa Cruz--on the Street and at City Council

Police have twice cited homeless man John Maurer for having a small sign on his hat that says "Fuck the Pigs (Police)". Mayor Reilly turned off Robert Norse's microphone at City Council on Tuesday night when he tried to discuss this.
“Fuck The Police? Sign---Obscenity or Act of Courage ?

Expanded Speech to Santa Cruz Community and City Council 5-27-03 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 when Mayor Krohn rudely and prematurely cut off Susan Zeeman from
speaking at the microphone and then threatened her with arrest if she remained there, I raised my hand like this--signifying “you’re acting like a pack of fascists.? Obligingly, Councilmember Fitzmaurice insisted I be removed and Mayor Krohn reluctantly had me arrested. (Fitzmaurice claimed then, as Reilly did on Tuesday night, that he was only trying to "maintain decorum")
Since then others have done this, without being summarily arrested, and the matter is still in the courts with a lawsuit soon before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. I was never charged, though I was held in jail through the night and denied the right to be at City Council that evening.
This afternoon City Council turned down a claim of mine in another false arrest--last November, when Councilmember Ed Porter insisted I turn off a tape recording that I was making for Free Radio Santa Cruz, documenting the Downtown Issues Working Group--a joint committee of City Council and the Downtown Commission. As with the Fitzmaurice-Krohn arrest, charges were never filed. But, after the next meeting, all further City Council Committee meetings on the Downtown Ordinances (to supposedly consider "exempt zones", "what is a display device?", and other unresolved issues) were secret and done completely out of public view.
Day before yesterday, 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--twice--for a small sign in his hat that read “Fuck the Pigs (Police)?.
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 surrounded
him in this latest example City Council-supported Ashcroftian overkill.
I had on this T-shirt (which reads “Danger: Police in Area?). But after seeing police enforce their own prejudices (or those of a tall young Host who apparently "turned him in"), this "Danger" message didn’t seem strong enough.
In solidarity, as an expression of outrage, and to dramatize the selective enforcement taking place, I put on this T-shirt (“Fuck the Police?).
Maurer told me this was his sixth ticket, four of them in five days. Earlier he got a ticket for “displaying? one hemp jewelry necklace. He tacked it to a sign with the logo “is this ‘displaying’ hemp jewelry?? and got a second "display of merchandise" ticket--for letting the public know what was going on (nowhere did he have a sales tag or indicate he was trying to sell the jewelry).
His third citation came soon thereafter when he got up and moved 20’ to help a 73-year-old woman with a walker into the Palomar Hotel. Officer Bechtel zipped in to give him a ticket for “leaving his property unattended?.
In cold anger, Maurer then put a small “Fuck the Pigs (Police)? sign on his straw hat. In the next few days he got two tickets for “soliciting with obscene language?--even though his “Fuck the Pigs? sign had nothing to do with solicitation, and he did not
ask for money.
His cup requested “pennies?; the angry little sign on his hat expressed outrage at what the police had been doing to him. He now faces a $162 fine for the first ticket (an infraction) and up to a $1000 fine and six months in jail for the second. It’s dangerous to state your mind in Santa Cruz on a sign, if you’re criticizing
Mayor Reilly’s police department.
After the first "forbidden sign" ticket, Maurer said he kept the sign on his straw hat. His reward: another citation for not “moving along? every hour.
Santa Cruz is 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 has several objects in front
of him, but had neither table nor guitar case nor stand. Police were apparently making it up as they went along. A sad thing and a fearful one in these times. But even worse is the shock that City Council won't stop them, because they do the same thing.
The mass of petty laws that “Rubberstamp? Reilly and her staff-compliant City Council create don't undergo any real public discussion or analysis, ignore their own Commission's recommendations, and are mainly the product of City Manager Dick Wilson's staff trying to accomodate the police department.
The 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.
Maurer was really getting a dose of the “do what we say--get lost--or we make your life miserable? approach through selective enforcement of laws.
We saw this same escalation used by the same group of officers (headed by Sgt. Baker) in the case of African-American tarot card reader Jason Paschal, who 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 won’t vote on a resolution demanded by many: “U.S. troops out of Iraq.? Reilly delayed and delayed the resolution and then withdrew it. But the war against the poor in Santa Cruz, giving officers free rein to selectively enforce laws rolls on as tourist season approaches.
Meanwhile the old Citizens Police Review Board’s last resolution--against selective enforcement--has never reached the City Council agenda. A simple statement that police shall equally enforce the laws--is not something Council wants---that might "shackle" the police.
As Patriot Act prosecution abuses become clearer and clearer nationally, as U.S. troops hold Iraqi POWs hooded and shackled in downtown Baghdad (London Observer 5-25), can we really tolerate this poison of repression locally in our own town?
The Rotkin-Reilly “selective enforcement? blank check lets the SCPD use the death of a 1000 cuts on those who "don't get the message." First beggars, then musicians, then those with unpopular signs, then benches, the
New Leaf planter, and now the Planter outside Costa Brava.
When police abuse is unchecked, it may be obscenity to Mayor Reilly, but it's courage to many of the rest of us to display a sign that says what many of us our feeling: “Fuck the Police??

AFTERWORD:
Mayor Reilly received a courtesy copy of my speech in advance. She drew me aside before the meeting and told me that “of course? I wasn’t going to use the word “fuck? in front of “the children?. She advised me that 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.
The problem may be that Reilly, her Council, and her police regard the community as children--minors who need her "protection" and aren't entitled to full rights.
Ironically there were no children in the City Council chambers when I spoke. Reilly not only turned off my microphone, but directed the tv cameras to turn away from my “Fuck the Police? T-Shirt. I put on that shirt two days ago in solidarity with John Maurer and tonight in protest to the Mayor’s determination to suppress the content of speech at the public microphone.
She continued to interrupt me and to demand that I leave. In so doing she flatly ignored the Section 59554 (c) of the Brown Act which states: "The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies,procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the
legislative body." Threatened and bullied, my speech was broken up, my train of thought derailed, and my ability to communicate my message sabotaged by a Mayor set aside the law
protecting the right of the public to say their (3 minute) piece.
The same sergeant whose squad repeatedly ticketed Maurer and drove Paschal out of town was
Sgt.-At-Arms that night--Loran Baker. Baker is currently the subject of two lawsuits--one for a false arrest of me at City Council on March 12, 2002 for raising my hand in a brief silent “you’re acting like fascists?
mock-Nazi salute, and the second for falsely arresting me for tabling in front of New Leaf Market with the collusion of Assistant City Attorney George Kovocevitch.

On Thursday afternoon, May 29th, at 1 PM, HUFF activists will table at the planter in front of Costa Brava that the Assistant City Manager intends to turn into a “no-sit? zone. City Council members could stop this project, according to the Assistant City Manager, with just one phone call from one Council member
(when it would be delayed for discussion). The community will be invited to call in on a cellular phone.

More info: Contact HUFF at 423-4833. Or e-mail rnorse (at) hotmail.com
 
 


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Comments

Update and Corrections in "Fuck the Police" controversy

The expanded speech to City Council above contained several errors, according to a subsequent interview with John Maurer. He received a total of four tickets within the space of a week, all connected with his seated presence on the sidewalk in front of the Palomar Hotel or nearby.

The first ticket was for "display of merchandise" as described above. There was no second "display of merchandise" ticket.

His second ticket was for "soliciting with profane or abusive language" because of his colorful reply to a sarcastic demand from a Del Williams jewelry store worker that he move on. The dialogue had nothing to do with soliciting--making the ticket a bogus one.
The police officer also was not required to take the "citizen's arrest" (by the offended jewelry store worker), but chose to do so.
The third ticket was the "move along" ticket mentioned in the City Council speech.
Maurer was not ticketed for helping the elderly woman into the Palomar (she was 92 not 73, he added). But an officer was in the process of confiscating all his "unattended" property.

Two attorneys have expressed interest in Maurer's case. Paul Sanford, the attorney who helped Cassandra Brown and Amy Courtney get to federal court with their lawsuit against Cal-Trans for allowing only American flags to be draped over freeway overpasses, has agreed to take the case. (Sanford also was co-counsel in the trial of the Paradise 4 a year and a half ago where he used the necessity defense.)

Maurer continues to frequent the Pacific Garden mall, though, it seems to me, more gingerly.

I shall be filing a Brown Act complaint against Mayor Reilly for shutting off my microphone at Oral Communications because of the content of my speech--a violation of state law.
 

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