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April 5-12, 2006

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H.R. 4437 protest

Brown Power: Santa Cruz High students braved the rain on March 29 to protest H.R. 4437, the immigration bill that would make it a felony to be in this country illegally, impose new penalties on employees who hire undocumented workers and erect fences along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Depth Charges

Should people who organize protest marches, but don't apply for parade permits, be made to pay police costs? Or would that violate their First Amendment rights? These questions are being raised following a March 25 protest in Watsonville, in which 2,000 people showed up to demonstrate H.R. 4437--a bill that would, among other things, make it a felony to be in the United States illegally. But despite the huge turnout, only one person--Watsonville Brown Beret member Ramiro Medrano--was cited with numerous traffic violations, tickets that he allegedly incurred during the two-hour march. And while the Watsonville Police Department is reportedly considering dropping these charges, the 26-year-old is still being held responsible for the $1,500 cost of assigning 10 officers to the protest.

Reached by cell, Medrano said the Brown Berets have agreed to pay the $1,500 charge as part of a compromise, in which the cops agree to drop the charges against Medrano--charges that would have affected his driver's record, insurance and job prospects.

"The Constitution gives people the right to assemble and protest, but cities tweak that right by saying yes, but we'll tell you when and how you can exercise it--and how much it'll cost you," says Medrano, noting that the Brown Berets emailed Watsonville Police Capt. Manny Solano about the march, but the captain didn't try to convince them to get a permit ahead of time.

"He told us he'd assigned one officer," says Medrano, clarifying that the reason the Brown Berets didn't apply for a permit, was because they thought they'd attract a crowd small enough to keep on the sidewalk.

"But then more that 2,000 people showed up. I think the police were scared, man. They saw that the Brown Berets had more control than they did, that we were keeping the marchers to one lane, keeping it peaceful."

Asked why he was the only one ticketed and fined, Medrano recalls how "the police captain straight out told me I was chosen from the bunch. His logic was, 'You can't write 2,000 tickets.'"

For his part, Medrano believes police are trying to make an example of him as a way to instill fear in everyone else.

"They're saying, 'Look, if you come out and march, your driver's license could be affected and you could be charged with a criminal offense.'"

He also notes that if the police ticketed an undocumented worker, that person could be deported.

"Under the original version of H.R. 4437, a person who's undocumented and is protesting against injustice could end up in federal prison, because they could be charged not just with a misdemeanor, but also with a felony--once the cops find they're undocumented."

Noting that protesters, who marched in Monterey March 15, Santa Cruz March 17 and in Salinas March 25, were not ticketed, Medrano recalls how he used to organize by putting on punk rock shows.

"And then one day, when the war in Iraq had just started, I organized a protest--and the Brown Berets came. And I was like, "Whooaa!" I knew about them, but I'd never really seen them before," says Medrano, recalling how vocal those Brown Berets were.

"They had a megaphone and they were chanting and they really caught my eye. Here in my hometown there were people who looked like me, talked and walked like me and had the same values and ideals as me!"

And while he's not saying he's grateful for what he describes as "police harassment," Medrano believes now is a great time to demand change in Watsonville.

"If this doesn't prompt Watsonville residents to stand up and got to the City Council and the school board and say we need change, I don't know what will," says Medrano, who attributes his activism to his parents.

"When I was a kid, about 10 years old, I used to see my dad come home from work--at least that's what I thought he was doing--carrying a red flag with a black bird on it. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but later I learned that my dad, my hero, wasn't working, but was picketing with the United Farm Workers, and marching in the streets. When I found out, I was 'Whoaa!' And while my mom wasn't part of the cannery strikes, she worked in the local grocery store and knew all the strikers. So, both my parents were very conscious. And they taught me to have pride in myself, my culture and my community. And over the past week, I couldn't be prouder of being a Watsonville resident."

As of presstime, the Watsonville PD had not returned Nūz's calls about the March 25 incident.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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