Today’s Sentinel story on how the Santa Cruz City Council has responded to Saturday’s downtown mayhem with a directive to hire more cops is not surprising. The council, and city government including police, were already being pressured by groups such as Take Back Santa Cruz to do something about gang violence and the flourishing drug trade in the city. Now, many people think the police were either understaffed, or underprepared, to handle what happened Saturday night. In any case, the city has had to deal with a rising tide of discontent, along with violence, mixed in with the historic “tolerance” for just about any kind of behavior, for which it has become oddly famous. This was the subject of a Sentinel Editorial, “Downtown Disgrace” published Tuesday. (That opinion, by the way, has generated a huge number of comments from readers. We’ve also been getting a massive number of letters to editor about the vandalism and march.)
Now, city police have taken another step certain to be controversial: they’ve asked for help from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Unit (ICE) to investigate gang violence locally. This comes after a rising tide of protest about the possible ties between illegal immigrants and gangs — although our reporters in the past have found that undocumented people locally are not the ones doing the shooting and stabbing within gangs.
But the specter of gang violence, profiled in Sunday’s Sentinel in stories about the gang culture influencing Westside surfers, with a deadly result, has been accompanied by a feeling among many residents the city is somewhat helpless to stop violence. In addition, we’re hearing that while “anarchists” have been blamed for Saturday’s rampage are these the same people behind other lawless incidents recently, including animal rights violence and UC Santa Cruz sieges?
But can a city nationally famous for tolerance and being “weird” now turn around and crack down on lawbreakers? We’re already getting a counter-reaction at the Sentinel from groups protesting the plans to hire more cops and over neighborhood groups “blaming” anarchists, students and illegal immigrants.
Speaking of UCSC, I got an email the other day from the man who posted the initial video of the Saturday night “riot” that I used in my Sunday blog. I noted at the time the video was posted on YouTube anonymously. Here’s what he said:
“We live and work downtown, and value good relations with our neighbors.
These riotous acts were childish, macho and seemingly pointless.
“We do not appreciate the indiscriminate backlash against radical and alternative organizations. Members of the Subrosa collective, People Power!, and The Hub’s landlords (who are longtime residents, businessmen, and property owners in the county) have all received threats of physical violence and harassment online and in person. What a response to senseless violence – threats of more violence directed at innocent parties.
“Last year, the Hub’s offices were repeatedly burglarized and our windows smashed. We wouldn’t wish such wanton vandalism on anyone else. We struggled not to look out at the street and resent all the people who looked scruffy, or different from us. However, responding by blaming doesn’t help the community or the individuals affected to recover – it only spreads the hurt around.”
— The Board of the Hub for Sustainable Transportation (The Hub for Sustainable Transportation is a non-profit umbrella with member organizations: the Bike Church, People Power!, Green Ways to School, and PedEx. We also rent space to independent projects: The Computer Kitchen, SubRosa, and The Fabrica sewing collective.)
Oh, and, despite rumors, there is no connection between the violence in Santa Cruz and the riots in Greece today.