ACLU Statement of Support and Petition for “Journalists, Local Press and Activists”

Eleven local activists have been charged with a variety of offenses arising from the occupation of a vacant bank building last fall. We have two primary concerns regarding this prosecution. First, at least some of the defendants are journalists who were present to report on the protest. We condemn any attempt to criminalize their exercise of the crucial First Amendment right to gather and disseminate information about this newsworthy event. All charges based on this constitutionally protected activity should be dropped immediately.

Second, it appears that some of the defendants may have been charged due to their past adversarial relationship with law enforcement officials. The Constitution requires that the enormous power of government be exercised fairly and even handedly, and not be based on the identity or past actions of the defendants. The District Attorney should re-examine the basis for the charges, and the Court must ensure that these activists are not being selectively prosecuted.

Very truly yours,

Peter Gelblum
Chair, Board of Directors
ACLU–Santa Cruz Chapter

Sign the ACLU’s Statement of Support

Petition: 11 people are facing 2 felonies each.

Sign the ACLU’s Statement of Support!

Target: Santa Cruz District Attorney Bob Lee and Honorable Paul P. Burdick, Judge of the Superior Court, County of Santa Cruz
Sponsored by: Brent Adams

Eleven people are being charged with a total of 23 felonies for the take-over of a long vacant bank building in early December. It is known that 200 – 300 people entered the building over the 3 days of the occupation, but the District Attorney has singled out journalists and well known outspoken critics of the police department.

The ACLU has drafted a STATEMENT OF SUPPORT of these defendants and I (Brent Adams) ask you to sign on and endorse this letter. The more community support we get in this manner, the more likely it is that the DA will drop these extreme charges.
PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR NAME.

Statement of Support

Eleven local activists have been charged with a variety of offenses arising from the occupation of a vacant bank building last fall. We have two primary concerns regarding this prosecution. First, at least some of the defendants are journalists who were present to report on the protest. We condemn any attempt to criminalize their exercise of the crucial First Amendment right to gather and disseminate information about this newsworthy event. All charges based on this constitutionally protected activity should be dropped immediately.

Second, it appears that some of the defendants may have been charged due to their past adversarial relationship with law enforcement officials. The Constitution requires that the enormous power of government be exercised fairly and even handedly, and not be based on the identity or past actions of the defendants. The District Attorney should re-examine the basis for the charges, and the Court must ensure that these activists are not being selectively prosecuted.

Very truly yours,

Peter Gelblum
Chair, Board of Directors
ACLU–Santa Cruz Chapter

 

Letter from ACLU of Santa Cruz County
to ACLU of Northern California

American Civil Liberties Union

ACLU of Santa Cruz County
123 Liberty Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
[email protected]

April 4, 2012

Ashley Morris
ACLU of Northern California
39 Drumm Street
San Francisco, California 94111

Dear Ashley:

The following case summary and request for support is being submitted on behalf of the entire Board of Directors of the Santa Cruz County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and its more than 2,000 members:

As you may know, several of our local activists have been charged with a variety of offenses arising from their alleged involvement with the occupation of a vacant bank building late last fall. That matter is referenced as Santa Cruz County Superior Court Case Number F22196. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted an amicus Letter Brief on behalf of one of the defendants in early March. I have attached a copy of that brief for your review, and the pdf may also be found online at Santa Cruz Indymedia on the Indybay.org website.

There are several reasons why we believe that Northern California should rise to the defense of these members of our community individually and as a group:

First, all of these defendants are either journalists, members of our local press, and/or activists committed to the Occupy Movement––and particularly Occupy Santa Cruz. Therefore, we believe that civil liberties are being broadly threatened by the continuing prosecution of these cases.

Secondly, none of these defendants “occupied” the premises in the same sense that those who remained on the property for several days did. (See Reporters Committee Letter Brief, page three, paragraph 4.) Indeed, these defendants were participating in constitutionally protected activities either as news gatherers or as supporters of the activists inside the occupied building.

Thirdly, in our opinion, the charges being pursued by our local District Attorney are over broad and overreaching in consideration of the facts. Each of these defendants has been charged with (1) felony conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor (Penal Code Section 182(a)(1); felony vandalism (PC Section 594(b)(1); misdemeanor trespass by entering and occupying (PC Section 602(M); and misdemeanor trespass and refusing to leave private property (PC Section 602(O). The facts in support of these charges as adduced through discovery provided by the District Attorney are both scant and unpersuasive even in the absence of any civil liberty considerations.

Fourthly, it is also our opinion that these defendants are being selectively prosecuted in a manner directly related to the existing adversarial relationship several of these defendants have with both our local police department and the District Attorney’s office. According to reports published and/or broadcast by local news media, anywhere from 150 to 300 individuals entered and exited the bank building during the 75-hour occupation, including local elected officials. And, yet, only these eleven defendants have been charged.

Fifthly, we believe that significant civil liberty issues arise on the facts of this case. Although we are mindful that the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free assembly do not confer immunity from prosecution on those who choose to participate in arguably unlawful activities, it is of critical importance that clear distinctions be made between the exercise of the aforementioned rights in the context of direct political action. In our view, these defendants posed no threat to public order or private property by their actions either as chroniclers of the events or as ardent supporters of the occupiers and the occupation.

It is therefore our considered opinion, duly ratified by a unanimous vote of our Board, that an amicus Letter Brief appropriate to these facts and circumstances be submitted to our Superior Court on behalf and in support of the named defendants. Although the submission of an amici curiae brief is procedurally unusual at the non-appellate level, it is not barred by existing case law and may serve to provide the presiding Court with relevant information.

Should Northern California agree to draft and submit such a brief, it may be addressed to:

Honorable Paul P. Burdick
Judge of the Superior Court
County of Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Courthouse
701 Ocean Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Of course, you and your staff will need to independently review and assess the merits of this case in light of our shared mission to defend civil liberties. Please feel free contact to me directly via e-mail or by phone should you have any additional questions.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, Santa Cruz Chapter ACLU, I thank you for your consideration of this matter of local importance and concern.

Very truly yours,

Peter Gelblum
Chair, Board of Directors
ACLU–Santa Cruz Chapter

Two-page PDF

 

Sign the ACLU’s Statement of Support

 

we signed “11 people are facing 2 felonies each. Sign the ACLU’s Statement of Support!”

 

I think that given the circumstances, and the spirit of solidarity that these protestors demonstrated for a cause that supports our ever increasing population of poverty stricken Americans. It has become important to tolerate different nonviolent forms of protest. These people were protesting the fact that the Banking system was bailed out with money contributed by the Tax Payers of the United States, yet they have foreclosed on many working citizens in our neighborhoods. I think occupying an empty bank fits right into this theme, and did do not much damage or hurt anyone. By dropping these charges, it will send a message that we value the people of our community that are trying to make a difference for the poor working man.
Allen Noonan, CA

I agree with the actions of non-violent activists and support their actions regarding the bank protest. It is unfair to target certain individuals and punish them, for speaking for the majority of americans. Please see that the case is thrown out.
Mr. Nick Hendricks, CA

Our local culture is inclusive and forgiving – UCSC named themselves City on a Hill and professors consider Santa Cruz The Leftmost City. Eyes are on us, even iPhone’s Siri recognizes Santa Cruz. How about a less moralistic, more pragmatic resolution? The charges themselves demonstrate the county’s sense of affront. It’s enough. Let’s dismiss all the related charges and cases and not file any more!
Sylvia Caras, CA

D.A. Bob Lee is using his office to stifle peaceful dissent.
Ms. Gail Williamson, CA

Felony charges are unjustified for trespassing on a vacant property. Considering that the sincere purpose for those involved was an act of political free speech and that many others were also there and NOT charged any charges at all are unjustified.
Mr. Joseph Vella, CA

Dear Sir, During this time of the Occupy Movement, as you know, there have been thousands and thousands of peaceful demonstrations WORLDWIDE. These brave patriots here in our city of Santa Cruz made a valid point with their Occupation of the vacant building, leaving once that point was made, hurting no one whatsoever. There is a time and a season for these demonstrations and it was exactly when needed. These courageous people do not need to be in prison, they need to be heard; they echo the voices of millions on this planet we share and call HOME. In this day and age of war and occupation, the points to be made sometimes need to be theatrical– as in these people never intended to lay down and stay there for good, only stand up peacefully for the beliefs of so many over the entire globe. Please lower or drop the charges. Sincerely, Patricia Wieder, a mom in Soquel.
Ms. Patricia Wieder, CA

As if eleven activists charged with fabricated felonies wasn’t enough, Bob Lee is apparently seeking new victims.
Robert Norse, CA

Stop the war on journalists and activists and start attacking the problems we are pointing out!
Ms. Denica De Foy, CA

This is a farce, and a gross miscarriage of justice. It is transparently obvious that the DA is trying to “make an example” of the few most outspoken members of the community in an attempt to suppress dissent. The prosecution of this case is clearly at odds with public interest, and charges should be dropped immediately!
Mr. John Yerger, CA

This is oppression of the worst sort. Surely you know that activists vote.
Sheila Connell, CA

Don’t prosecute journalists for covering a story, and don’t prosecute activists just because they aren’t liked by city officials.
Mr. Peter Maiden, CA

These are not felonies, and trying to make an example of these patriotic individuals is nonsense, and can only backfire in the long run.
Kyle Griffin, CA

These felonies are heavy-handed and unjust. Some of these folks who were charged were simply journalists covering the occupation of this long vacant bank building. It isn’t right to make examples of them, as 200-300 others had entered the building over the 3-day occupation.
Mr. Spencer Wilkinson, CA

I would feel safer as an American citizen if Santa Cruz County’s District Attorney’s office were proceeding with greater care for our Nation’s and state Constitutions this matter.
Ms. Linda Ellen Lemaster, CA

It is absurdly obvious that the DA is trying to make an example of these people because they are intelligent enough to be critical of the police department, and utilize journalism to raise awareness and create community dialogue. This is extremely valuable to the people of Santa Cruz, and is a protective right.
Courtney Hanson, CA

Good Lord, what has this country come to, when journalists not of some people’s choosing are charged with felony when covering a human protest?
Lydia Blanchard, CA

Please drop the charges! These allegations are ridiculous and a poor use of governmental, local funds!
Marisol de la Luz, CA

To the District Attorney: What, exactly, are your criteria for PICKING ON PEOPLE???
Ms. Linda Rosch, DC

Judging from the preliminary brief including the pictures and videos, the Santa Cruz DA HAS NO case.
Mr. Leigh Meyers, CA

FTP.
Gio Andollo, NY

I don’t know why Santa Cruz is wasting money on this case, in clear violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights. There are so many things our city and county needs, and yet time and money are spent on these spurious cases. Let these people go!
Dorah Rosen, CA

My wish would be for justice being distributed equally for all. Selective prosecution with political motives does not align with my notion of what a just judicial system would look like.
R. Garimo Pape, CA

We are a nation born on the principles of freedom. Let’s stand up for that.
Mr. Charles Feldman, RI

Solidarity! Thanks for putting your bodies against the gears of the machine.
Kari Sprung, MN

Please stop harassing these people. The occupy movement is attempting to take back the government for the people of whom you are a part of. Journalists have an obligation to cover the peoples’ news. Stop acting like some dystopic totalitarian state agency.
Mrs. Lynne Heller, CA

DA Bob Lee is misguided in targeting a select group of journalists and community activists in the take-over of a vacant bank building. Obviously he is pursuing a personal vendetta. To forestall national media attention which will embarrass not only DA Bob Lee but Santa Cruz as a whole, I urge DA Bob Lee to drop these ludicrous charges and return to prosecuting real criminals.
Dr. John Colby, CA

This is so obviously selective prosecution. It seems that the DA has some sort of personal vendetta, and has overcharged the defendants. This is so transparently political. Drop all charges!
Sharon Allen, CA

75 River is owned by Wells Fargo. According to the U.S. Treasury, Wells Fargo received $25 billion in TARP money, and according to a Bloomberg report Wells Fargo profited even more: the Fed secretly funneled $7.7 trillion to banks at 0.01 percent interest. The banks used some of that money to reinvest in government treasuries at 3 percent interest. Wells Fargo earned $878.2 million of taxpayer funds, all while average Americans struggled to keep a roof over their head. It seems like an act of free speech to occupy the building in protest of scoundrels like Wells Fargo who make tons of money off the backs of the average taxpayer.
Ms. Stacey Falls, CA

Hundreds of people walked in and out of that building during that “occupation”. How were these particular activists picked to stand trial?
Ms. Tiffen Shirey, CA

The prosecution of these 11 people feels highly excessive, unreasonable given the level of participation and the tenor of the demonstration. We do not have the funds to pursue inflated and ineffectual charges in our county. Drop the charges against these people and show the public our county is not just posturing to save face.
Nita Hertel, CA

I have read the information supporting the case and I hope that the DA will consider re-examining these charges on the basis of the ACLU Statement of Support, which I fully agree with. Sincerely, Amanda Thompson Executive Director Empowerment Services
Ms. Amanda Thompson, UT

Wells Fargo has spent $1,008,000.00 renting an empty bank for 3 three years. The DA is spending countless amounts of time and money to prosecute journalists and ruin the future of community minded people. This action is a waste of time and money and an insult to those in need. Stop the abuse! Drop the charges!
Cyndy Crogan, CA

Why didn’t the police choose to charge SC councilwoman Katherine Byers who also was inside this vacant building?
Ms. Ann Simonton, CA

As one of the defendants, I am shocked by the severity of the charges. Already my ability to earn a living has been impacted and one defendant has attempted suicide. THIS is justice?
Ms. Becky Johnson, CA

Selective prosecution points to a political agenda. Stop politicizing justice!
Joanne Tinsley, Esq., FL

As a Davis student seeing this kind of legal repression being used to target leaders of the protest movement here at UC Davis, it upsets me to see this practice becoming generalized. This is an abuse of the law to single out particular individuals and forcibly dismantle protest movements.
Name not displayed, CA

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Author: Bradley Allen

Bradley Allen is a reporter and photographer in the Monterey Bay Area, and a collective member of the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center (Indybay). Follow him on social media: @BradleySA.