Lawlessness in Santa Cruz

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:

“Hello. I’m Prescott Watson, a student at UCSC and I filmed the footage you have posted to your blog at
I have no problem with this, as you have allowed readers to click back to my youtube page. But you can attribute the video to me if you would like. You can confirm my identity by seeing that my youtube account is linked to this email address.
“I just wanted to thank you for not going into analysis or interpreting the footage without any information yourself. I also wanted to express how happy I am that the SC Sentinel has not reported the gathering was related to any of the immigration protests throughout the country. Unfortunately the AP picked up the police report
and ran their headline as “Immigration Rally Turns into Riot”. The Mercury from San Jose has come out with a release saying the SCPD have officially distanced the event from earlier immigration rallies.  I was
hoping you’d be able to help clear up this issue by publishing more information on the search for this anarchist group which has hijacked the street party. I just don’t want two separate issues to complicate
each other.”
Meanwhile, we’re getting a lot of protests from people connected to a Santa Cruz “anarchist cafe” that they are being targeted with death threats and the like for being linked to what happened Saturday night. So far, those links are tenuous at best (one suspect who was arrested said he had a connection to the cafe, but organizers there said they had never seen him or heard of him).
Here’s a note I received today from the collective at the center of many of these allegations  (it will be printed in full in tomorrow’s  Sentinel):
“We are writing on behalf of the Santa Cruz Hub for Sustainable Transportation to make clear our position and feelings regarding Saturday night’s acts of vandalism and property damage.  We do not in any way approve or condone these acts.  They are harmful not only economically, but socially.
“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.

One other note: We, the Sentinel, plan to run a series starting later this month about the heroin trade in Santa Cruz, which has been flourishing in recent years, especially in the Pogonip/Harvey West/Highway 9 area. These reports will only add to the impression that Santa Cruz is experiencing a wave of lawlessness that, so far, police and city leaders have struggled to deal with. We also look into ways to deal with the twin specters of addiction and criminal drug dealing.  But more on that later …
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11 Responses to Lawlessness in Santa Cruz

  1. Awesome says:

    I cannot wait. Living downtown, owning an office on the eastern edge of Harvey West…these are issues that MUST be brought to light and attention of both the local residents AND state drug/law enforcement agencies if there is to be any end in sight. I hope that many many people read what comes in this series.

  2. RobtA says:

    Many of us realize that the mayhem was not caused by, or on behalf of, illegal (undocumented) immigrants. I also doubt that the main gang perps are illegals.

    Still, once the citizenry get the impression that the government is itself lawless, or defends the lawless, any provocation is sure to be amplified.

    On the way to lunch at Rosie’s today. I passed a couple of “street musicians” whom I hadn’t seen before. One was singing the “Folsom Prison Blues,” and I believe the other one was singing “Cocaine.” Bah.

    But in reality, life goes on. Not much seems different than before. The boarded windows will be replaced. It’s not as if downtown was struck by an earthquake. I cycled past Sub Rosa, and there were no outraged tea-party types picketing the place. Of course, maybe the tea-partiers work for a living and don’t have time to do protests in mid-day.

    In other news, the person arrested for the Times Square car bombing attempt turned out to be an immigrant who had obtained citizenship via marriage.

  3. Jim says:

    My wife and I have largely enjoyed living here for the last 11 years. We now have children and as they get older we have discovered that this town is not the place for us to raise this family. Santa Cruz can stay ‘weird’ and as a grown up I would be happy with that I suspect; but as a father, we are ‘out of here’. I am saddened by the violence, the self-righteousness, the intolerance of our supposedly “it’s all good” town.

  4. Stephen says:

    Jim, I hope you find a place that fits you better.

    But remember crime is not a Santa Cruz event.

    I know many parents here that don’t seem to have any particular problems with their kids, except the ones that you expect.

    The main driving force in any child’s life is not the town or friends, it is the parents.

  5. annomynous says:

    These anarchists hit the streets every May Day; because they like to raise hell and destroy property. It has nothing to do with illegal aliens or the war. They’d have another phony excuse if these didn’t already exist. These radicals tried to remove their old fliers from the internet. They have something to hide. They failed miserably too.

    I’m all for the state/federal task force expanding from their operations from Monterey county. Criminals don’t care about borders. Illegals are not allowed to possess firearms. This is a federal law on the books since 1968. Immigration checks should be run on anybody arrested for a gun related offense. No exceptions.

    A nutcase jammed the police radios in Hemet last weekend with a modified ham radio. Doing the same thing in Santa Cruz would be easy too. The anarchists already own an illegal unlicensed FM station. How long, before they graduate from making phony “shots fired” call to 9-1-1, and cause utter chaos…

  6. ms. smith says:

    “But can a city nationally famous for tolerance and being “weird” now turn around and crack down on lawbreakers? ”
    I don’t care about whether or not my hometown of over 30 yrs. can or cannot crackdown on lawbreakers.
    Because Santa Cruz Must Crackdown!
    Santa Cruz’s message of tolerance at the expense of our safety and at the expense of Tyler and Carls life, is No longer acceptable!
    I grew up here and have raised a family here and about two weeks ago lost Carl (my family member) to a gang shooting. S.C. City Council has to be held accountable, up until now they have made it easy for the Surenos, Brown Pride and other violent gangs to exist, establish themselves and thrive here and you have seen the result.
    Now our local government officials/City& County are going to have no choice but to sit up and listen to the People of Santa Cruz City and County.
    There are many people, myself included, who will not rest until policy changes are made, which will make Santa Cruz an inhospitable place for violent gangs to exist.
    In memory of Carl Reimer.

  7. SC native says:


    Great post. I’ve lived here most of my life but have grown increasingly weary of the people who think that our city’s bohemian character gives them license to panhandle aggressively, sell/use drugs downtown, sleep in my yard, harass my family, etc.

    What we’re now seeing are the problems noted in the book “Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities” – maintaining social order is a slippery slope. If you don’t deal with the little problems, people notice that, and continue to push the envelope further. Sometimes the process occurs so slowly that things get quite out of hand before people finally take notice. Gang murders, anarchist riots…we’ve now reached that point.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with promoting diversity, weirdness, whatever you want to call it. But at some point we crossed the line where this has escalated into an atmosphere of lawlessness. It’s time to start “fixing broken windows” while we still can.

  8. Lucas says:

    That’s great news about the Santa Cruz police working with ICE. Now we need Watsonville to do the same thing. The Watsonville Sanctuary City Council thinks it’s perfectly okay to break Federal immigration laws.

  9. hot carl says:

    Bums and junkies ! someones gotta be the bad guy, cops and courts have to be more aggressive w/BUMS…start busting heroin meth dealers..lower ocean/flats, SWEEP thru the POGONIP OPEN AIR HEROIN METH MARKET , oh and those W/S kids quit acting and dressing like vatos! stop’ claiming ‘ and wearing red if you are not a gang …. thought we were trying to be a mellow beach town

  10. hot carl says:

    oh yeah , isnt the easy solution to just bust out all the windows at the anarchist joint and we could spraypaint a big C w/a circle around it for capitalism on their door!….stupid kids “anarchists” they were bums ! the video I saw the glass smasher had on skinny jeans , capri style even!! dont they sell those at urban outfitters? theres no threat just stupid ass bum kids and suckers who should be disciplined appropriately

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