Police and Postal Bureaucrats Crack Down on Food Not Bombs in Santa Cruz

Today at the Meal

by Robert Norse  Sunday Jan 27th, 2013 12:00 AM

Briefly, two SCPD officers and two postal officials approached the group and demanded they move off the post office property, while proclaiming “concern and appreciation” for the feeding of homeless people. After initially trying to continue feeding at the original location under the eaves of the post office, the FNB workers picked up their tables and moved to the sidewalk.

I recorded some of the interaction between officials and FNB workers. I’ll be playing that tape tomorrow on Free Radio Santa Cruz at 10 AM ( http://tunein.com/radio/FRSC-s47254/ or 101.3 FM). The show will archive at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb130127.mp3–about 2 1/2 hours into the audio. Call-in at 427-3772.

At the request of FNB workers, Steve Pleich took a leading role in facilitating the withdrawal of FNB from the post office steps to the sidewalk where it continued to feed without further molestation. Officials rejected my request to know the full name of the individual demanding we move and of his superior’s name. Police sergeant D. Forbas kept trying to shield his conversation with Pleich from the listening ears of my recorder and refused to answer questions which I put to him afterwards.

Some considered the day’s actions a success–with the meal continuing to be fed, folks continuing to sit on the steps of the post office and eat. Others wondered if this were the first step in a campaign to drive FNB from visible feeding in the downtown. The Food Not Bombs banner was visible, but I didn’t notice any literature present–the group willing for the moment to give up the right to serve and distribute literature in the unused area they had been at for the previous six weeks under threat of trespass arrest.

While the postal inspector insisted that the group was “violating federal regulations”, he declined to say which regulations except for vague claims that FNB was “conducting business”. The claim that FNB was violating the state trespass code seemed a strange one since the area is open to the general public.

Food Not Bombs groups in other cities has insisted that it is not simply a charitable organization serving food, but one presenting a clear message (with literature and banners). Such was an earlier FNB message in Santa Cruz in the late 80’s and mid-90’s when Santa Cruz FNB fed in different spots.

FNB workers and some supporters noted that FNB had only moved 20-30 feet, that it was not being told to disperse, that it would continue to “make poverty visible” and feed poor and homeless people, and address further hostile police actions if they arose as they arose.

Similar threats used against Occupy Santa Cruz [OSC] when it was in front of the courthouse in the fall of 2011 resulted in some citations and arrests, but no charges ultimately in court under the trespass code used to intimidate FNB workers today.

Unlike FNB activists decades before OSC activists did not return to reclaim the space in front of the courthouse once threatened with arrest. However, unlike the earlier attack on FNB in Santa Cruz and San Francisco which demanded the groups cease serving food altogether because they “didn’t have a permit”, the current attack so far is only limited to the post office grounds and supposedly has to do with location rather than food serving itself.

For some of the events in the history of the FNB movement, go to http://foodnotbombs.net/fnb_time_line.html .

However, a church group feeding in front of Forever Twenty-One on Thursday afternoon was reportedly the target of SCPD police action against clients sitting within 14′ of buildings.

Ronee and Scott Curry, who regularly conduct Sunday lunch on Pacific Avenue at Soquel and Pacific have experienced some harassment either directly under the “move every hour” ordinance or of their clients hassled for “sitting down”.

Father Joel Miller of the Calvary Episcopal Church experienced a strong attack from former Mayor (and recently reelected City Council member) Cynthia Mathews for his once-a-week Monday dinner at the Red Church, across from Matthew’s historic property (located between the Nickelodeon and Jack’s Hamburgers).

Pastor Dennis Adams was driven away from the downtown by merchant and police hostility several years ago, now doing his meal out at the Homeless (Lack of ) Services Center.

On Tuesday the Santa Cruz City Council’s Public Safety Committee will be meeting 6 PM in City Council chambers to consider a further crackdown on homeless people among other “safety measures”. Agenda: http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/index.aspx?recordid=4709&page=440 . Staff report: http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=30533 .

The opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent those of Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs as an organization, nor necessarily the views of any of the individuals associated with it.

by Robert Norse

Sunday Jan 27th, 2013 12:03 AM

The FNB meal began around 4 PM Saturday January 26th and was immediately approached by police. Workers moved the meal to the sidewalk within 20 minutes after police and postal officials began their threats. It continued for 1 1/2 to 2 hours on the sidewalk.

FNB is looking for volunteers and can be reached via its Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs facebook page.