Emotions and tensions ran high for the second straight evening in Santa Cruz, as protesters turned out for another Black Lives Matter demonstration on Thursday, June 4. The three-and-a-half hour protest remained peaceful but was followed by the tearing down of barrier fencing surrounding a post office and the spray-painting of the police station for a second time.
The night before, thousands peacefully marched along West Cliff Drive, but a group of around 200-300 people broke off from the main gathering and vandalized the Santa Cruz Police (SCPD) station and local businesses with spray paint. They also smashed a Bank of the West window.
“It was so disappointing to see what happened after the peaceful protest I helped organize for our community yesterday,” Bella Bonner told the crowd later. “If you’re our ally, you’re not out here destroying the police station; you’re out marching with us and trying to make meaningful change.”
Roughly 250 people gathered in front of the clocktower at the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Water Street, blocking what little traffic there was until the police cordoned off the area.
Along with chanting the names of African American deaths at the hands of police, chants of “A-C-A-B, All Cops Are Bastards,” and “Free Them All” rang through downtown as the group marched up Water Street to kneel in front of the local jail.
Protestors invoked Tamario Smith, who was found unresponsive in his cell on Sunday, May 10. He had been in the Santa Cruz County jail since January, when he was arrested on domestic violence charges. No foul play was suspected, and his cause of death is pending on autopsy.
From the jail, the marchers crossed the street for an open mic discussion on the steps of the Santa Cruz County Courthouse before returning to the clocktower. Moving barrier fences, crowds built traffic blockades along Water Street, despite the police already blocking the street to traffic with one officer on each end.
Protesters carried the fencing down Pacific Avenue to the police station, where the crowd was met by several local activists, along with Mayor Justin Cummings, who again found himself standing in front of graffitied police station walls, trying to calm down an upset crowd.
He reminded activists that the city of Santa Cruz is working on policing and Black Lives Matter issues locally and “trying to make a difference.”
“Then why are cops suiting up back there?” one protestor yelled.
“Because they’re probably afraid you’re going to try to break in the front,” replied the mayor.
“People like myself got involved so we can represent people of color. If you’re not listening to my voice, if you’re not Black and [you’re] spray painting ‘Black Lives Matter,’ then you’re doing a disservice to the Black community,” Cummings fired back, to cheers.
The crowd gave several demands to Cummings: keep SCPD away from Oakland, provide comfortable housing to all homeless people, the “dissolution of all cops,” the 100% defunding of SCPD, and freeing all prisoners and closure of all Santa Cruz County jails.
Calls to “burn it down” by some were met by other voices calling for positive change.
Taj Leahy, a Santa Cruz resident, Bay Area activist and co-chair of the Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness, told the crowd he grew up in the streets of Los Angeles under the oppression of the Los Angeles Police Department, but he doesn’t feel that way in Santa Cruz.
“The cops don’t fuck with me here,” he said, “which is amazing to me because it was a regular occurrence when I was in the hood.”