Protesters Blockade Santa Cruz Police, Preventing Sweep of Unhoused Camp

Written by Angela Landes (News Writer)

Mid-December after the City Council went on vacation, Martin Bernal issued an executive order to evict those living at San Lorenzo Park and to close the park to the public. The executive order cited issues such as grass damage, voluminous garbage, and a number of other alleged issues with the camp at the park. Community members living at the park and elsewhere were concerned about this eviction and formed an organization called Stop the Sweeps Santa Cruz. 

The eviction at the park was planned to occur in three phases, and the police successfully completed the first phase on schedule after breaking through a small barricade set up to prevent police from entering the park. The police returned to the park to execute the second phase of the evictions but were met with metal fencing and approximately seventy-five protesters refusing to let them in the park. After removing these fences, approximately twenty-five SCPD officers walked into the park to begin telling campers to leave. Two officers immediately walked onto a narrow bridge over the duck pond at the park, and dozens of protesters blocked them on the bridge by standing in place and locking arms to form a physical barrier. These two officers attempted to push their way through the crowd to escape but were unsuccessful. One protesters´ finger was broken by a particular officer who grabbed their hand, but no other significant injuries were incurred by protesters or police. After these officers seemed to give up and become hopeless of breaking through the crowd, protesters let the police back across the bridge where they came, and the entire police force present retreated while protesters chanted ¨quit your job.¨

This event inspired both protesters and police to spend time planning for the next sweep. Andrew Mills and other higher-ups in the police department came to the park a few days after these events and reviewed the area for fire safety, and after deliberating on a solution to put forward for the people living at the camp, proposed to the city council to make sleeping outdoors less legally punishable and to make setting up shelter illegal. Stop the Sweeps protesters have set up a café at the park, serving food and distributing clothing, and have filed a restraining order against the city which will have a federal court hearing on January 14th. Residents of the camp are in support of the protesters, one camper, Pan, saying ¨People are finally able to get a good night’s rest now that they feel supported by the community.¨ However, many neighbors who live near the camp are in favor of the evictions and closure at the park. Neighbors such as Renee Golder and Melissa Vogel say that the park is a nuisance to the housed neighbors near the park, and claim that many elderly people feel unsafe in the park and so are unable to walk through the park to get groceries.

¨This sweep would irreparably harm the people living at the park,¨ Tyler, a member of Stop the Sweeps said in an interview with The Claw staff. ¨Not only does this violate CDC guidelines and put the residents of the park at a higher risk of contracting covid, but it continues the cycle of violence that the city incites on our unhoused neighbors, constantly evicting them from where they live. This is traumatic and breaks communities apart, preventing government services and community organizations from working together to help the unhoused community. People have nowhere to go. We want to stop this cycle of harm.¨ Santa Cruz Chief of Police Andrew Mills in response to being asked what he thought about these points Tyler mentioned said, ¨You are adults and can go wherever you want. People can decide to distance and have caution wherever they are.¨

These events have caused much discussion in the Santa Cruz community. Many news articles and social media accounts have reported on these events, causing much debate online. Currently, people in support and in opposition of the evictions at San Lorenzo Park are awaiting the court hearing on January 14th, when the federal courts will decide whether or not the restraining order preventing the city from evicting will sustain into the future. Until then, Santa Cruz will be waiting.

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