Is this how it is going to be now?

by Ricardo F. Magon

Written on personal title, does not (necessarily) reflect the position
of Occupy Santa Cruz

On Wednesday Feb. 15th, about 40-50 Santa Cruz occupiers protested at the 74 River
Street Wells Fargo branch. I arrived around 4pm and we were just
typically Santa Cruz: holding up signs on the sidewalk, the occasional
chant, and waving at passing cars, never got on Wells Fargo property,
all very civilized and calm, exercising our 1st Amendment rights.

This was not a militant crowd. It could have been easily mistaken for
regular SC peace activists, but perhaps for the location, and having a
live-streamer. The bank apparently closed its doors for a while, but
at no point did the Occupiers interfere with business, or even
prevented anyone getting into the parking lot or using the ATMs. Nor
did we block the sidewalk. I am going to guess that the most
subversive act was to wrap the WF logo with crime scene tape, which
was soon removed by a WF security guard.

Suddenly, two SCPD officers came and chatted with the WF security
guard. They then approached us, and rather than have a chat or
something, just grabbed an occupier and walked him across the road,
followed by a number of us observing. Immediately 5 squad cars
appeared and a total of 14-15 SCPD officers.

After a search the occupier was let go, but then they took another,
cuffed him and sat him down on the curb, and again after a while let
him go. I am hearing others also got questioned. One officer took
pictures of occupiers, and there was filming from inside the bank as
well. The overreaction from SCPD seemed just completely
disproportionate to what was actually happening, and in a different
place and with a different crowd could easily have provoked a
response.

Look, I am not new to protest. I have been to marches where a certain
police presence could be expected. I’ve been to protests in Europe
where the boundary of what is still considered non-violent protest
lies a bit differently. And during anti-war protests in the Bay a
decade ago, you knew that participation in non-violent civil
disobedience and direct action could, or even would lead to a police
response.

But did I expect in any way the police even to show up yesterday? Not
at all. A couple people standing on a sidewalk holding up a sign,
that’s all it was. I can imagine two officers walk up and check the
mood, no problem, or asking about intentions, and once informed that
this was a completely peaceful action, could have walked off, or
continued chatting with the security guards.

Instead, they chose to harass, intimidate and provoke, and put on a
show of force. The effect was chilling, exactly because it was so
completely out of proportion to the situation. I don’t want to make it
bigger than it is, nobody got arrested that I know of, but SCPD still
showed up with 5 cars, a motorcycle, and 15 officers. I cannot but
come to the conclusion that this was a deliberate act to provoke the
occupiers into a reaction, or at the very least try to intimidate
people to not come out, or be prepared to be photographed, questioned,
potentially searched, etc.

So, is this how it is going to be now? I thought this was supposed to
be a progressive liberal town? If this is what happens when 40 people
stand on a sidewalk with a sign, what is next when there is a bigger
protest? In Oakland they had a progressive mayor authorizing OPD to
shoot non-lethals at their citizens. Should we expect the same?

I respectfully request the City and SCPD to reconsider their approach
to lawful protest.