Albion Monitor /Commentary

Help Santa Cruz Homless Activist

by Joseph C. Ferguson

We think we can be happy with children starving a few blocks away

I used to be uncomfortable about homeless people. On the streets they got in my way, asking for money, demanding attention. I can relate to people who still feel that way about them.

Lately, thpugh, I have come to feel much differently about the homeless. Now I have love for my fellow human. Now I no longer focus exclusively on my own needs. Now I think "if I'm uncomfortable, imagine how uncomfortable the homeless person must be!"

Thinking about why I was uncomfortable before, and why people like me, who essentially have "everything" -- even if they maintain it from paycheck to paycheck -- might be uncomfortable encountering a homeless person, I remember several things.

It was frustration about the complexity and vastness of the problem. What could I do? It was fear of the people themselves. Did they blame me? Would they focus their resentment on me? Was there anything I could do or say that would really help?

And there was my selfishness. If only these people weren't there, I could just go about my busy day, take care of my chores and get home to my wife and kids. Maybe this was not so unreasonable, but it was a focus on myself alone, borne of a lack of compassion and perspective.

Trying to imagine how I would feel if I were the homeless person, I go through many possibilities. Yes, there would be anger, resentment and a temptation to lash out at people who were luckier than I. But the essence of my existence I believe would hinge simply on the attitude of the average people I encountered.

The thing that would hurt me the most if I were homeless would be for other people to resent my presence in the world; for them to blame me for my bad luck; for them to wish I wasn't there. This kind of attitude would be the single, most impossible thing to endure.

The one thing that I believe would help me the most would be for other people to treat me like an OK person, who had a right to exist and to share the sunlight and the fresh air. The kind of treatment I would most crave would be a smile and a kind word. Then I would feel like there was hope, not only for me, but for mankind.

Unfortunately, we Americans with homes, families and cars have not done so well in that respect. Unfortunately; we have bought into an American Dream that focuses on personal wealth and security, but forgets about everybody else. We think we can be happy with children starving a few blocks away; with a homeless woman threatened every moment by predators; with a poor, elderly person freezing to death at the bus stop.

Unfortunately, in our towns, we have allowed local officials and business owners to implement this attitude in their official and unofficial policies. If homeless people make shoppers uncomfortable, then homeless people must be eliminated -- and not by addressing the underlying cause of homelessness -- just eliminated. Don't be comfortable with this word. All of the connotations you can imagine apply.

Dumars spoke out, irritating a Santa Cruz shopkeeper

The small town of Santa Cruz is no exception to this pattern. Far from it. It has made news in recent years with its particularly intolerant implementation of just these attitudes and policies. This past winter it tried to soften its public image by announcing in the media that it would relax enforcement of certain operating codes to allow facilities to offer more shelter; but quietly, it continues with a program of repression of homeless people and of those who have the nerve to stand up for them.

There are and have been those among us who have rejected this shallow "dream." They have not ignored what has been happening over the past decades, and they have spoken out against it. It is people like these who have helped homeless people survive, who helped people like me to open our eyes and to experience that personal growth that leads to a more compassionate awareness.

One of these people is David Bruce Dumars, with whom I have recently become acquainted through our mutual interest in the progressive populist movement recently sparked by Ronnie Dugger's "Call to Citizens."

Dumars is a construction worker who has raised four children. He has been a homeless advocate and an activist for peace and justice for several years. But now, the city and county of Santa Cruz are determined to put him in jail despite the fact that he has committed no crime, was brutally assaulted by police (who were caught on videotape) on one day, and on the next was attacked without provocation the next day by a gang of Santa Cruz police officers.

On Feb. 13, 1994, during a Peace Vigil demonstration in Santa Cruz, Dumars spoke out, irritating a shopkeeper. This shopkeeper, Stuart Andrew Martin, physically assaulted Dumars after the speech, and then, unable to provoke Dumars into a fight, told police that Dumars had assaulted him and had trespassed on a sidewalk cafe. Neither charge was true, according to my reading of the transcripts of the ensuing trial for two hours yesterday in the Santa Cruz County Court building.

A good part of this story is also a matter of video record. It just so happened that on the day of this incident, a woman was at the demonstration with her video camera.

In Santa Cruz the American Dream, for Dumars, is a nightmare

Last Friday I met with a few other people at Dumars' home, listened to his story and viewed the videotape. It was sickening to watch. Dumars' was on the ground with two officers holding him, one on each side. He was protesting his innocence. The officers had him immobilized but apparently were not satisfied with his level of cooperation. One of the officers, Sergeant William Aluffi, was able easily to use a free hand to unholster his can of pepper spray. He placed it no more than six inches from Dumars' eyes and sprayed.

Dumars was powerfully affected. He crumpled, was quickly handcuffed and loaded into a squad car. He received absolutely no treatment from authorities throughout the booking. It was six hours before he regained his eyesight, and that only after standing under the shower at home for a long time.

The videotape runs for quite awhile afterward, with several witnesses telling what they saw. All accounts, whether complete or partial, fit with the story Dumars had told us. Additionally, there is footage of witnesses recounting events that took place the next morning.

The next day, demonstrators still holding the Peace Vigil, called Dumars to tell him they had recovered his glasses. He went downtown to retrieve them and was spotted by police. Noticing that he had attracted their attention, Dumars left the area. Not suspecting their intent, he didn't go far enough. He went to a coffee shop, and as he stood in line to order, officers entered the shop from the front and from the rear. One of them came over to him and told him that they were going to take him down just like they had done the day before.

Dumars ducked, and the pepper spray went wide, but he was subdued by three officers and arrested again.

Dumars was subsequently tried for resisting arrest, battery, disturbing the peace and trespass, with criminal vandalism for tagging a newspaper dispenser box with a marker, a charge he denies.

To make a long story short, all charges except the vandalism charge were eventually either thrown out or overturned upon appeal. Dumars was left with only a minor charge of vandalism, and having no prior record, expected to be sentenced to community service.

Santa Cruz has other plans for Mr. Dumars however. Somehow, since Dumars did not accept a deal to serve 30 days in jail for this trivial charge, all the charges overturned in the appeal have been brought back, and a new trial is to commence this April first. (This is definitely not an April Fool's joke!)

Santa Cruz wants David Dumars to go to jail, and Lord knows what plans they have for him there.

In Santa Cruz the American Dream, for Dumars, is a nightmare. The apathetic, intolerant attitudes we consumers have held for so long, despite the suffering of our fellow citizens as their jobs are eliminated, are now paying dividends for the prison-guard industry.

It is time for us to open our eyes, and get a fair perspective. We must demand that our local authorities cease their war on the poor. We must demand that these "leaders" focus upwards in the political food-chain and demand that our state and federal "leaders" bring our jobs back!

It is time for us to let go of our fear.

Santa Cruz must not be allowed to quietly pursue its vendetta against David Dumars

I can tell you that when I walk the streets, armed with love and a friendly attitude, I invariably meet with acceptance and appreciation from every disadvantaged person I meet. This is what they need most: acceptance and respect. It is not all they need, however. They need us to make a commitment to reverse the wheels of repression and intolerance in government and society. They need us to stand up for them and for those who have stood for them.

Santa Cruz must not be allowed to quietly pursue its vendetta against David Dumars without protest. The April trial must proceed in the light of day, if it must proceed at all. Please, if you live in Santa Cruz, consider attending this trial if you can. Please, wherever you live, if you care about justice, if you have a dream that includes fairness for all people, please write to your friends, your newspaper, your leaders, and speak out against this injustice.

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Albion Monitor March 10, 1996 (

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