By Steven Argue
For protesting on the county steps against Santa Cruz laws that make it illegal for the homeless to sleep at night, homeless activists Gary Johnson (no relation to Becky Johnson) and Attorney Ed Frey were sentenced to 6 months in jail on June 10th. Bail was set for Ed Frey, pending appeal, at $50,000. Their only act of civil disobedience was sleeping. This occurred at their three month protest called “Peace Camp 2010”.
Revealing the political nature of the draconian sentences, Judge Gallagher told homeless activist Gary Johnson that he “could get some sleep in jail” before they were dragged away in chains for their 6 month sentences. The law they were protesting makes it illegal for the homeless to sleep at night, outside or in a vehicle.
On Friday, June 24, after two weeks in jail, Ed Frey was released on bail pending appeal with his bail of $50,000 dollars reduced to $110. Supporters quickly passed the hat and Ed Frey was released from jail on bail. Gary Johnson still sits in jail. Also convicted for sleeping at the protest were Arthur Bishoff and Collette Connolly. A fifth protester, Christopher Doyon didn’t show up for the kangaroo court trial and bench warrant was issued. A sixth protester, Eliot Anderson was freed by a hung jury that failed to convict him. A juror said of the case, Anderson should not have to gas his dog to try to get into a shelter to legally sleep.
Many potential jurors were upset by the fact that they were to sit through a two week trial for the “crime” of sleep. One example was an elementary school teacher who said, “When I first came to Santa Cruz, I lived in my van for three years. During that time, I was hassled, arrested, and jailed. There is no way I could be impartial in this case considering the pain these people are suffering.” A number of potential jurors said such things, but of course they never made it on to the jury. People who are aware of what is going on generally don’t make it onto juries in the United States. Those less aware people who made it onto the jury were told, in a typical manner, that they weren’t allowed to have their own opinions.
In the oft repeated mantra of blind stupidity and injustice in America’s capitalist courts, Judge Gallagher told the jury, “Even if you disagree with the law, you must follow the law.” The four protesters were convicted of state anti-lodging law 647(E) for sleeping at the protest. Arthur Bishoff and Collette Connolly did not show up for the absurdity of sentencing and warrants were issued. Ed Frey and Gary Johnson were offered 400 hours of Community Service and 3 years probation for sleeping.
In response, Gary Johnson, homeless, asked, “How can I take probation to obey all laws, when you’ve defined “sleeping” as lodging to the jury, making it a misdemeanor crime? How can I not sleep for six months during probation?” On basic principle and inability to comply, both Gary Johnson and Attorney Ed Frey turned down probation. This was reminiscent of an earlier Santa Cruz case where Sandy Loranger did time in jail for feeding the homeless soup. When the judge offered her counseling instead of jail Sandy Loranger replied, “If feeding my fellow people is a crime, I am beyond rehabilitation.”
The protest Gary Johnson, Ed Frey, Arthur Bishoff, and Collette Connolly were prosecuted for was peaceful in nature with the only act of civil disobedience being the illegal act of sleep outside. Basic protest facilities were included with Attorney Ed Frey providing the protesters with a needed port-a-potty. This helped provide the homeless with a safe place to sleep for months, despite the city government’s failure to provide such needed relief for its citizens. The protest also shamed the city government into modifying the city’s law that makes it illegal for the homeless to sleep at night by providing a dismissal of the charges in court if the homeless being charged with sleep can show that they were on the waiting list for the insufficient shelter provided at the Homeless Service Center at the time they were ticketed.
Other protests in the 1990s shamed the Santa Cruz City government into reducing the fine for sleeping at night outside or in a vehicle, but the Santa Cruz City Council continued to keep sleep at night for the homeless illegal at that time as well. During those protests in the 1990s activists were arrested and brutalized by the infamously repressive Santa Cruz Police. Activist B.D. was tackled off his soap box and pepper sprayed by the Santa Cruz Police for giving a speech in favor of the homeless in front of numerous eyewitnesses and a video camera. In 1998 this author was beaten and arrested, spending four days in jail, for exercising my First Amendment right to distribute literature. It was literature in favor of rights for the homeless and opposed to police brutality. The law for which Gary Johnson and Ed Frey were arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced was Penal Code Section 647(E), for “unlawful lodging”. This is a California state law. It was also recently used in August 2010 by the Santa Barbara Police to ticket Courtney Caswell-Peyton, a Santa Barbara disabled woman who fell asleep in her wheel chair. She showed-up for court worried about the possibility of getting her first conviction for any crime. Facing strong protest in that case, the Santa Barbara DA dismissed the charge in the “interests of justice”. While happy about not being convicted, she left court saying she was still homeless and questioning why she had no place to sleep. Unlike the Santa Barbara dismissal, Gary Johnson, Ed Frey, Arthur Bishoff, and Collette Connolly were convicted in the notoriously bad Santa Cruz courts. Judge Gallagher is making an example of them for standing-up against the anti-homeless laws of Santa Cruz. The suspected reason cops charged the four with the state law rather than the Santa Cruz anti-sleeping law was a loophole where city laws didn’t apply because the protest was on county property. But, as a cop once told this author, “this is Santa Cruz; we can find a law for anything”. And find a law they did.
In 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an earlier version of Penal Code Section 647(E) was unconstitutional in the case of Kolender v. Lawson. It was an anti-vagrancy law that was brought to the supreme court after it was used by San Diego Police to repeatedly harass a Black man with dread locks who was committing no real crime. As a result of that Supreme Court ruling that version of Penal Code Section 647(E) was repealed by the state legislature in 2008. Since the overturning of the original 647(E) a new version was passed by the State Legislature which states, “Who lodges in any building, structure, vehicle, or place, whether public or private, without the permission of the owner or person entitled to the possession or in control of it” “are guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor”. Lodging is being used as a euphemism for sleeping here. This is the law the four protesters were convicted under.
In May 2011, this anti-homeless law 647 (E) was made even worse with the State Legislature making a second violation punishable of up to a year in jail and $2,000 fine. So now homelessness in the state of California is punishable by up to a year in jail if one is caught doing it twice. Voting for this worsened anti-homeless law were Democrats and Republicans alike, including local Santa Cruz Democrat and darling of many reformist liberals, Bill Monning. Monning voted for that increased penalty at the same time that the people who actually stand-up for human rights were fighting the constitutionality of the law in court with their freedom on the line. Here is a full list of those who voted for the worsened anti-homeless law: Achadjian, Allen, Ammiano, Atkins, Beall, Beth Gaines, Bill Berryhill, Block, Blumenfield, Bonilla, Bradford, Brownley, Buchanan, Butler, Campos, Carter, Charles Calderon, Chesbro, Cook, Davis, Dickinson, Donnelly, Eng, Feuer, Fletcher, Fong, Fuentes, Furutani, Galgiani, Gatto, Gordon, Grove, Hagman, Halderman, Hall, Harkey, Hayashi, Hill, Huber, Hueso, Huffman, Jeffries, John A. Pérez, Jones, Knight, Lara, Logue, Ma, Mansoor, Mendoza, Miller, Monning, Morrell, Nestande, Nielsen, Norby, Olsen, Pan, Perea, Silva, Skinner, Smyth, Solorio, Swanson, V. Manuel Pérez, Valadao, Wagner, Wieckowski, Williams, and Yamada. None voted against.
As the California state government, dominated by Democrats, passes anti-working class austerity and extremely harsh anti-homeless legislation, the Democrat holding power in Washington, Obama, wages wars in an increasing number of the world’s countries for the profit of arms manufacturers, oil corporations, and other imperialist capitalists and locks-up suspected whistle blower on U.S. crimes against humanity, Bradley Manning, under intolerable conditions. Bradley Manning is accused of releasing the helicopter footage that shows U.S. troops nonchalantly gunning down civilians including journalists, first aid respondents, and children in cold blood. Instead of charges of murder for those who committed it, it is Bradley Manning who goes to prison under Obama. Likewise, billions that could be used in a saner society for housing, healthcare, and education are squandered on war.
Meanwhile, the local Democrats in power in Santa Cruz send out their county and city cops to silence protests for human rights for the homeless, support legislation against immigrants like the “Secure Communities” program, and threaten to cut the already meager wages of In Home Support Workers, wages needed to provide the care that helps keep the disabled, elderly, and dying in their homes. While Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty supports the city’s anti-homeless laws, police repression, and has signed on with the anti-immigrant “Secure Communities” program, he opposes measures that would help fight homelessness like an increase in the minimum wage and has been part of carrying out austerity that includes the lay-off of workers and cuts in homeless services while at the same time hiring more cops. As the current crisis of capitalism threatens the break-down all that is left that is civil in our society, the Democrats charge ahead with the Republicans in making sure it is the poor and working class who pay for the crisis of capitalism, not capitalist profits. All reformist dreams of the Democrat Party in any way being a source of any sort of “hope” should be abandoned in favor of recognizing reality. Labor unions must abandon their illusions in the Democrats and stop giving them our money and instead prepare to fight by putting union dues in strike funds. The true power of labor will never be found groveling at the feet of hostile Democrat politicians. Instead, labor has the potential to win demands by shutting down the profits of the capitalists.
As opposed to the Democrat’s program of more war, more cops, criminalization of poverty, political repression, and austerity labor should move forward with our own demands. Those could include a massive jobs program to house the homeless, the seizure of housing foreclosed by the banks to be used by those who need it, and an end to capitalist medicine in the United States, a major cause of debt, homelessness, and death. Without an independent fight-back of the working class, using the power of the strike for political demands, the situation will just continue to grow bleaker. A revolutionary worker’s party should be built to advocate and lead on just such a class struggle program. To remain a tool of the working class in the long run such a party also needs to have an anti-capitalist program for the building of socialism. Political parties without a clear anti-capitalist program, once in power, just become mere rulers over the inherent injustices of the capitalist system. Instead of capitalism, an egalitarian socialist economy in the United States with production based on human need rather than capitalist profit could provide everyone with a job, housing, health care, and free education. Such a society needs to be built on principles of workers’ democracy rather than Stalinist dictatorship or American style dictatorship of the wealthy. The alternative to socialist revolution becomes increasingly clear as capitalist society becomes less and less able to take care of its people; climate change caused by capitalist greed becomes an increasing threat to the future of human civilization; the capitalist state becomes increasingly repressive; and the leading capitalist countries plunge the world into war after war of imperialist domination and conquest. As the great German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg said in 1918, the alternatives are socialism or barbarism.
Free Gary Johnson! Overturn the Convictions of Ed Frey, Arthur Bishoff, and Collette Connolly! Hands Off Christopher Doyon! End Laws making it Illegal for the Homeless to Sleep at Night! Seize Housing From the Banks for those Who Need Housing! For a Nation Wide Jobs Program Building Housing for All!
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