Editorial: Real Security: Three Ways Not to Get It By BECKY O'MALLEY

Tuesday February 14, 2006

The press over the weekend was full of bad news about our security at home. The Associated Press got ahold of a leaked copy of the summary of the Congressional report on what went wrong with Katrina, and it sounds like a doozy. 

“Our investigation revealed that Katrina was a national failure, an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare,” the summary said, as quoted by the AP.  

“At every level—individual, corporate, philanthropic and governmental—we failed to meet the challenge that was Katrina,” it went on. And that’s just the beginning. This is a Republican Congress, and it can be expected to paper over whatever it can, which doesn’t seem to be much in this case. Unimaginable amounts of money were spent on the new Department of Homeland Security, and the country is even more vulnerable than it used to be to damaging attacks, whether by nature or by external enemies.  

The Department of Health and Human Services also would like us to believe that they’re on the job. Last week the Daily Planet office received a largish corrugated box from them which said on the outside “Terrorism and Other Public Health Emergencies: Facts…Information…Resources.” Inside was a thick book with lavish and expensive color illustrations, plus multiple copies of a large sheet cleverly folded into a very small unit with a glossy cover, titled “Preparing for Terrorism and other Public Health Emergencies: a Wallet Guide for Media.” It opened out to a blank grid, to be filled out by the lucky media person with emergency contact numbers: neighbors, relatives, even veterinarians.  

This is the kind of flashy junk they’ve been spending our tax money on, instead of preparing for real public health emergencies like Katrina or bird flu, or even, God forbid, another real terrorist attack. We media types already have our own phone books, and don’t forget, the phones didn’t work much during Katrina anyhow. 

The news from local fronts doesn’t look any more reassuring. We’ve just gotten a report of what the police were up to in Santa Cruz last fall, and it’s scary.  

That city has for a number of years put on a civic New Year’s Eve “First Night” celebration downtown, with entertainment at various locations and a parade. This year the money wasn’t available, so the event was canceled. A group of artists decided that they would just put on their own parade, no public funds needed, to be called the “Last Night Do It Yourself Parade.” The Santa Cruz mountains are the last bastion of the ‘60s, and the organizers, like many artists, have somewhat rudimentary politics tending toward anarchism, and also like many artists don’t have much cash money. They decided not to seek expensive city permits for their parade.  

As reported in Saturday’s Santa Cruz Sentinel, “Last Night organizers posted their plans on a website that indicated defiance of the city's special event policies. The site stated, ‘We’re just gonna do it...It’s our city...Who’s willing to take the risk of truly living without limits?’ ”  

Not the Santa Cruz police, evidently. They decided that people like this posed a serious threat to security in their city, and they took action. A pair of cops, with the blessing of their superiors, went undercover to protect the public. They dressed up in their version of what the locals wear, joined the Last Night organizing committee, went to meetings, and even took an active part in steering plans in what they thought was the right direction. Whether because of, or in spite of their participation, the event went off without a hitch. 

Of course, when word of the police’s undercover infiltration of the anarchists’ parade leaked out, some wimpy civil libertarians were annoyed. They called for an investigation, and the police department’s internal affairs office did one. Their report, several hundred pages long, came out on Friday: The cops did no wrong. The city manager agreed, according to the Sentinel.  

We weren’t able to get a copy of the report by press time, but one of the organizers (in so far as anarchists have organizers), an artist who goes by the nom de plume of Rico Thunder, has read it, and he sent out a furious e-mail on Monday: 

“Just three examples of why we do not need the police spying on our peaceful group meetings: 

• At one point during their infiltration of Last Night meetings, the Santa Cruz PD gathered information about the planned peaceful Victoria’s Secret protest which they shared with Capitola police. On the date of the protest 20 to 30 officers were waiting for protesters at Capitola Mall. 

• Police gathered information about Art & Revolution’s Anti-Corporate Christmas Caroling [in front of The Gap] on Pacific Avenue without any evidence that the group had any intention of breaking any laws. On the date, police monitored the group’s activities.  

• One person identified as a “main organizer” of the Last Night parade had little involvement and attended no meetings. Yet, now this person has a police dossier on file at the Santa Cruz Police Department. His police profile and entire police history appears in the public record as part of the internal investigation.  

“… Throughout the fracas I’ve viewed the whole thing a bit whimsically. It seemed the SCPD clearly fucked up in monitoring a peaceful group with no evidence of criminal intent. But after reading through the 600 pages of documents, which include photos of many of us, profiles, information from other groups, videotapes, I am truly creeped out and angry.  

“It is not a good feeling to know that when you do something outside of the box in a town known for its unconventionality, that the police actively work to repress and contain you.” 

Now it’s up to the Santa Cruz City Council (some of whom used to be called progressives before the country went mad over security) to set the city staff straight, if they have the courage. Don’t count on them, though, 

And meanwhile, as Homeland Security is a failure, the Department of Health and Human Services runs up big printing bills and Santa Cruz cops play dress-up, real opportunities for real terrorists to do real harm (like chemical plants) continue to go unmonitored, and real disasters like Katrina wreak havoc among our citizens. Rome is burning, and our leaders just go on fiddling around.