The July 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Oakland Youth Organize

Hate Crimes Against the Homeless

Food Bank Helps Ease Hunger

Food Bank Keeps Growing

San Diego's Economic Cleansing

Psychiatric Abuse and Repression

Transit Activists Win Victory

Technology for the Poor

Violent Arrest at City Hall

The Dream of People's Park

New Richmond Shelter to Open

Street Spirit Vendor Tony McNair

Bush's Tax Cuts for the Rich

Corporate Benedict Arnolds

Rain Lane's Photographs

"Say Something" A Short Story

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Assaulted and Arrested for Speaking Out at City Hall

A Santa Cruz homeless advocate is brutalized and shackled while the public voice is eroded

by Becky Johnson

Robert Norse (at left), a longtime homeless advocate and journalist, has been targeted by the Santa Cruz police for arrest many times.

When homeless activist Robert Norse walked into the Santa Cruz City Council meeting on June 7, he had meant to talk about the "No Party" ordinance coming up on the council's agenda. He never got the chance. He became the first person arrested in Santa Cruz under a rules change that Mike Rotkin had pushed through last March which limits comments on all consent agenda items to five minutes per speaker instead of three minutes per item.

Mayor Mike Rotkin, who was recently tagged as a "Marxist-feminist" by the New York Times, may seem hip to his UCSC Community Studies students, but back home in the saddle of the mayor's chair, he's quick to resort to armed force.

Twenty minutes before the "No Party" ordinance came up on the City Council agenda, with the hall flooded with the Santa Cruz Police Department's top brass there to testify, Norse stood in line to speak on an item he had not initially planned to speak on. Testimony by several pro-union members of the public moved him to speak out on the innocuously named item #13.1, "Agreement with IATSE for Services at the Civic Auditorium."

Under Rotkin's new "five-minute" rule, Norse had used up all allowable time because he spoke for five minutes total on four previous items. Norse approached the microphone and said, "Mr. Mayor, I would like to speak for two minutes on this item like everyone else, as provided for by the Brown Act."

Sections 54954.3(a), 54954(c) and 54953(a) of the Ralph M. Brown Act are the relevant sections of the Government Code. They provide (1) the right to speak on "any item of interest to the public" (emphasis added); (2) the right to criticize government bodies; and (3) the right to attend these meetings.

Norse believed that, Rotkin's Rule or not, he was on firm footing in asserting his right to comment on the council item.

Yet Mayor Rotkin interrupted Norse, forbade him to speak, and ordered him to leave the meeting. When Norse insisted on his right to remain, Rotkin ordered the meeting recessed, ordered the television camera turned away from the podium, shut down audio recordings, and directed police to remove Norse from the chambers.

"I was approached then by Lt. Steve Clark and other police officials who directed me to leave or face arrest," Norse said. Lt. Clark is known as "Because I Can, Clark," a name activists tagged him with when he seized a homeless man's only blanket at 3:00 a.m. on a cold night for evidence of sleeping when a photo would have sufficed.

Lt. Clark twisted Norse's left hand behind his back, inflicting a "pain compliance" procedure. "Though I told him repeatedly that I'd leave willingly once he clarified I was under arrest and told me the charge, he refused to do so, grew more angry and more violent, and forced a scream out of me," said Norse.

The abuse continued even as Norse was complying with exiting the meeting. Then Clark shoved Norse's injured hand into a too-tight handcuff which resulted in neurological damage and loss of feeling in parts of his left hand still evident three weeks later. Norse described Clark's behavior as illegal because he initiated and continued a physical assault before announcing Norse was under arrest, when he was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the public.

Norse was later informed that Mayor Rotkin had charged him with "disrupting a public meeting." He was not charged with resisting arrest.

Lt. Clark's "furious" attitude, according to Norse, was verified by Michael Tomasi, a City Hall perennial. "I heard Lt. Clark say, 'I will hurt you!' to Robert Norse while he was in handcuffs," said Tomasi.

While Clark twisted Norse's arm, despite the complete lack of resistance, he spoke in an angry, threatening manner, saying: "You're never going to do what you did in City Council again. You will follow my orders. You're going to be hurt if you do that again!"

Clark was breathing heavily, almost panting, as he twisted and pushed Norse towards the police car. With his wallet pulling heavily at his swim shorts, Norse pleaded for Clark to let go of his hand "or my pants will fall down." Instead, Clark shoved him forward which dislodged his shorts so they fell down around his ankles leaving him publicly exposed. Then Clark berated Norse for it and ordered him to pull up his shorts.

"My hands are handcuffed behind my back," Norse replied. "How am I supposed to do that?" Another officer pulled up his shorts. Then Lt. Clark took Norse to sit on a low concrete wall just outside of the City Hall building. As he sat there, Michael Tomasi came nearby.

Clark sat down right next to Norse and coldly told him: "You are going to regret you sued me. You took me into court and my lawyer's going to take your trust fund. I've hired Paul Meltzer; we're going to take every penny you've got. You've crossed the line. If you ever don't leave when I say leave, you are going to get hurt!"

Since Norse carries a tape recorder, he kept it on throughout Clark's initial assault. At the jail, Clark confiscated it "for evidence." Norse signed the slip "under protest." Later, Clark commented jovially to Norse that the tape he had confiscated was blank.

Norse faces arraignment on misdemeanor charges on July 20, 2005, in Santa Cruz Superior Court. Norse's federal lawsuit against the City of Santa Cruz over a previous false arrest is scheduled for trial in February of 2006.

Police Officer's Confrontational History with Homeless People in Santa Cruz

by Becky Johnson

In 1988, then-Officer Steve Clark of the Santa Cruz Police Department reportedly kicked a limping homeless man, John Miller. Clark advised Miller, "I used to be the kicker in high school," and told him that he'd kick the injured leg if Miller didn't leave town.

Officer Clark reportedly threatened a witness to another violent abuse against a homeless drunk shortly thereafter.

Also, in an incident witnessed by half a dozen people in front of the Old Bookshop Santa Cruz, Clark pulled his gun on a frightened but defiant skateboarder, using these memorable words, "Down on your knees and say your prayers!"

In 1995, shortly after the Citizens Police Review Board formed, John Malkin, one of its founding members, was ordered to "back off" by then-Sgt. Steven Clark who informed him he had "a file on him."

In 1996, when Anthony Patango, Pat Ring, and Dan Hopkins, all homeless, were awakened at 3:00 a.m. by Sgt. Steve Clark, he ticketed them for the "crime" of sleeping and of covering themselves with blankets.

As Clark seized Patango's blanket, the homeless man begged to keep it. "Please, it's my only blanket!" he said. Clark took it anyway. Later, when asked why he didn't just take a picture of the blanket for evidence, Clark quipped, "Because I can."

In 1999, when a homeless man, Robert Zesinger, committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree behind the Santa Cruz County Building in the dead of winter, Sgt. Clark told a Sentinel reporter, May Wong, that "D" Bob, as we knew him (The "D" stands for "drifter," he had once said), had died of an auto-erotic death, and that story was reported in the local paper.

Three months later, the coroner's report came out and confirmed that the death was a suicide. The Santa Cruz Coroner's office confirmed that there had been no evidence of an auto-erotic death, despite Clark's accusation which denigrated a dead homeless man unable to defend himself. A complaint filed with the Citizens Police Review Board exonerated Sgt. Clark.
In 1999, Clark hounded a homeless panhandler and former Street Spirit vendor, by brandishing his gun at Anthony Douglas and ordering him off Pacific Avenue.

In 2001, Christina Lafoya walked through a so-called park bordering a neighborhood basketball court in the Beach Flats of Santa Cruz. Clark detained her for "being in a park after hours."

Lafoya, who was brought up to know her rights, started asking questions; but instead of getting answers, she says she got abuse. "Sgt. Clark told me to shut up, sit down and put my face on the ground, while another officer got the K-9 unit out the car," she said.
Sgt. Clark has since been promoted to lieutenant.

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