cops beat on the beat unless we get on our feet

As Big Brother makes further demands that we spend our time in soul-destroying cubicles, perhaps we can instead sing songs, meet in the streets, and share food and resources as people have done over the ages. One example is in Santa Cruz CA, a seemingly liberal small town that actively suppresses community gatherings, especially around music in public places. Santa Cruz has been on the circuit for travelers and countercultural people alike for years, but it is becoming less affordable and more of an upscale shopping destination. To further this end, years of police harassment and punitive laws have targeted homeless, street people, and activists. Amazingly, with no prospects of the oppression relenting this has not deterred people as they continue to thrive.

Harassing people for singing on the streets is a guise for keeping the sidewalks open for commerce and shoppers. We see this when looking at 4 people who were ticketed for “noise disturbances” in front of a downtown bookstore while advocating homeless rights during midday on January 6th. The police used a new ordinance, the “Unreasonably Disturbing Noises” law, that permits them to act on alleged citizen complaints. Under the new ordinance police can fine musicians up to $445. Many musicians, already counting pennies, will have to pay the fine, or $75 if they wish to do community service. Though it takes money for the state to process papers and go through court, the cash-strapped municipality will target vulnerable people to pay their bills.

The four musicians had actually stopped playing when the police came to issue a warning. They inquired about the complaint and questioned the officers for exact details about the ordinance, like “How loud is too loud?” And “How quiet is quiet enough?”‘ so that they could continue to play, but the cops had no answers. All of this confrontation was going on even as the musicians stood in one of the two city-slated ‘free speech zones’. This clearly displays the dressed up corpse of American freedom.

In naked practice, the new ordinance is just another tool for cops to punish dissidents with impunity. There have been several small-scale confrontations revolving around “unpermitted” gatherings recently in Santa Cruz. The Drum Circle adjacent to the weekly Farmer’s Market became a scene of confrontation in 2008 ending in Battery of an Officer charges against defiant drummers. Clearly, this was an attempt to push away the gathering that is also supported by weekly servings of Food Not Bombs.

Furthermore, houses that host live bands have come under the target of punitive ordinances which fine the residents hundreds of dollars, even if they are not present at the event. The fines are accumulative for the house, even if the prior offense is from a previous household. Still, this has not stopped people from getting together and making a racket. It passes the time that they gladly do not waste at the Cineplex.

Maybe the City Council and Police are acting out the frustration at not being able to eradicate and erase people who are openly refusing to play the capitalist game. But we must continue to play our game, of lighthearted laughter and soulful expression, so as to not forget about our real lives and the things that really matter.