SANTA CRUZ – Police officials decided Tuesday to ramp up their response to this Friday’s Do It Yourself Last Night parade after a flier for the New Year’s Eve event circulated this week showing a person in black standing near an anarchist flag.
Police say the image combined with language on the flier about a “dance party” – a phrase that has become synonymous with demonstrations – has stirred concern about a repeat of the anarchist-themed May Day protest that left 18 downtown businesses vandalized. Other community leaders, including members of Santa Cruz Neighbors and Take Back Santa Cruz, also circulated e-mails Tuesday expressing concern about the fliers.
Although a founder of the parade says the image has been featured on past DIY parade fliers and doesn’t portend violence, police aren’t taking any chances.
“Why they would even include that as an element for something that is supposed to be a grassroots, homespun event makes me suspicious of how they are trying to portray this,” said Capt. Steve Clark. “It’s disingenuous and tacitly supports the kind of violence and vandalism we saw to our downtown.”
The flier promotes the parade as “a last night of waiting for governments, institutions or anyone else to entertain us, satisfy us, bring us security, freedom or joy. We’re not asking for permits or permission. We’re just gonna do it.”
But the flier also promises an event as suitable for families. Because the parade has been peaceful in years past, with costumed revelers walking or riding bikes down Pacific Avenue, police have approached the event with restraint despite the fact that organizers have refused to get city permits.
But this year, Clark said police have requested uniformed officers from other law enforcement agencies to be present and will increase their crowd control capabilities, including having more riot gear at the ready.
“This is a game-changer for us,” Clark said of the flier, which is posted on the event’s website, www.lastnightdiy.org. “When you see that sort of a message being sent out there, we have to prepare for the worst. That means additional personnel and cost to the city.”
Clark cautioned that the police response will not be as heavy as on Halloween, when more than a hundred officers blanket downtown to keep gang violence, alcohol-fueled fights and other problems under control.
Chip, executive director of the Downtown Association, said merchants have so far not expressed widespread concern about the parade turning violent, but he thinks police are making the right move to be prepared.
“A lot of people come to this event expecting a good fun community party and not really understanding the anarchist intent on behalf of people who organize this,” Chip said. “A lot of what I have heard is to get the word out … that there is the potential this may not be the safest event to be at.”
Wes Modes, who was an original founder of the event and was cited by the city for participating last year, stressed that he is not playing a role in the parade this year and may not attend. But he said the anarchist symbol has long accompanied the collage of photos that make up the promotional flier and that participants, city officials and business owners alike have no reason to fear aggression.
“I think our community is a bit sensitive about anarchy and unpermitted events,” he said, adding that just because the May 1 rally led to rocks being thrown through business windows doesn’t mean all unpermitted events carry the same potential.
“People continue to participate in ways that are peaceful and family friendly,” he said.
The May 1 rally was advertised a dance party at the Town Clock for labor rights, but devolved into a march down Pacific Avenue, where masked demonstrators spraypainted the sides of buildings and destroyed windows at Dell Williams Jewelers, Urban Outfitters and several other storefronts. Similarly, a dance party at UC Santa Cruz in November 2009 turned into a three-day occupation of an administration building that ended in police forcibly removing about 70 students upset over tuition hikes.
Given those events, “I am happy police are taking precaution to protect our public safety,” Mayor Ryan Coonerty said. “My hope is that organizers of the parade make absolutely clear that there is zero tolerance for illegal behavior.”
Those who send out fliers and e-mails, including Modes, have long said there are no real organizers for the event, which they say is spontaneous and community-driven. City officials once again encouraged participants to seek a permit for the event this year, but they were rebuffed.