The following is the Santa Cruz Sentinel Editorial for May 9, 2012
First, we acknowledge that much still remains unknown about the shocking and random murder of a local business owner Monday in broad daylight on a well-traveled Santa Cruz street.
But what is known is disturbing enough — and has already generated an intense and passionate community debate in Sentinel online forums, to be followed, in all probability, by letters to the editor.
Because the suspect, arrested soon after the stabbing death of Shannon Collins, was a convicted felon who told police he had arrived in Santa Cruz only a week or so ago. And because he also said he did not know Shannon Collins, other than pulling out a knife and savagely stabbing her to death on the 300 block of Broadway — which is near the main tourist gateway to the Boardwalk and Main Beach.
Obviously, and without further details from police, this tragedy has already scared and incensed many Santa Cruz residents, who have long been wary, at the very least, of a criminal or unstable element attracted to a beach city with a reputation for tolerance.
Perhaps this case will have an alternative explanation, but at gut level, this is what many people have already decided.
What we do know from Santa Cruz police is this: Mrs. Collins, 38, the owner with her husband of the Camouflage store on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz, was on the way to a hairdresser appointment Monday when around 11:50 a.m. she somehow encountered 43-year-old Charles Anthony Edwards III, whose last known address was San Francisco. Edwards, said police, is a convicted felon with an extensive criminal history and, so far, an unknown mental state. He was found a few blocks away with blood on him and trying to hide evidence, police said.
Police say Mrs. Collins was a “completely innocent victim” of a senseless killing.
As terrifying as the thought of a random victim murdered in cold blood on a city street obviously is, rushing to judgment about who to blame won’t be productive.
At the same time, the debate over safety and criminal behavior in the city increased in volume in recent years, with the rise in gang violence and the hard drug trade generating the most public interest.
In addition, state prison reform has meant that non-violent criminals — repeat, nonviolent — are increasingly serving time in county jails rather than state prison, to reduce overcrowding and lower the horrendous costs of incarcerating, say, drug criminals. But local law enforcement is well aware that if, and when, a prisoner serving time here instead of a state lockup commits a serious crime there will be a public outcry.
Homeless advocates also shudder every time a random crime happens in the city, even though the local shelters do a great job of turning away substance abusers or people with obvious criminal tendencies. Most of the people being helped are truly in need.
But none of that changes the perception that even though Monday’s tragic killing was Santa Cruz’s first this year, the streets can feel unsafe because of the behaviors of some of the wanderers who gravitate to a liberal beach city with relatively easy access to drugs and booze.
Again, we don’t know all the details of this crime, nor the intent or mental state of the suspect.
But none of that changes the feeling, perhaps momentary, perhaps not, that if Shannon Collins wasn’t safe on a public street on a sunny Monday morning, then who is?