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Santa Barbara - A Plutocracy or Democracy?
updated: Mar 11, 2014, 3:54 PM

By Kat Swift, Ph.D. Candidate, UCSB

The city of Santa Barbara is being sued on several fronts these days. The lawsuits largely appear to concern the city's lack of accountability to its constituency. Perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than in its proposed gang injunction, a measure to proscribe the activities of a large segment of the population that the city's attorneys deem, with characteristic patrician disdain, a "public nuisance".

In March 2011, City Attorney Stephen P. Wiley and District Attorney Joyce Dudley filed a gang injunction against the "unincorporated associations" of the Eastside and Westside calling for their transformation into "safety zones" (i.e. police zones) in order to target the alleged gang-members and their associates who live there. In their court brief, the city and district attorneys claim to represent the people of Santa Barbara. This begs the question: which people? The people of the general population of the city? The people of the Eastside and the Westside? Or the people who make significant campaign contributions to city coffers?

The lack of accountability of city officials on this issue can be traced back to 2011 with a series of closed-door meetings for the imposition of the injunction on Santa Barbara's Latino residents. Representatives of the city (recently elected officials excluded) allowed no public vetting of such a momentous decision. This seems in keeping with the zeitgeist of our age which tends to views money as protected speech and the rights of the poor as negligible. It no doubt accounts for the Olympian attitude of the mayor, Helene Schneider, when Latino citizens pleaded before her at the council's one and only public discussion of the issue in May of 2013.

Studies of gang injunctions in other cities indicate that they further marginalize Latino communities and accelerate incidences of police violence against them. Case in point: Manuel Diaz. Shot to death by the Anaheim police in the summer of 2012 despite having committed no crime, the death of this Mexican youth and the subsequent dismissal of his family's wrongful death lawsuit hinged on one critical factor: the perception that he was a gang-member. Diaz's murder is illustrative of the broad scope of an injunction as it allows local police to become judge, trial, and executioner for those merely suspected of gang membership.

A case closer to home involves the fatal shooting of Brian Tacadena by the SBPD last September. Though the official report states that he was 15 feet down the street when police opened fire on him, his alleged gang involvement was one of the factors alluded to as a justification for his shooting. And despite disturbing discrepancies in the report, city officials have stonewalled requests from concerned citizens for a full disclosure of the internal investigations of the SBPD and have withheld release of any identifying information of the involved officers.

As we can see, the city's unilateral decision has already had grave consequences for the Latino community, but the ripple affects spread further. A spate of police shootings this past year seems indicative of officialdom's continued penchant for shooting at the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill and the non-white. Nicola Mollo was shot with a "less lethal shotgun" (in the parlance of military non-lethal weapons experts) in January this year after a standoff with the local Swat team when he refused to come out of his house following a domestic assault. Andrew Furst was listed in critical condition and eventually paralyzed after he was shot repeatedly by the SBPD in a dispute at the Stalwart House, a sober living facility in December. Taken along with the deployment of tactical units (i.e. paramilitary strike forces) for routine calls such as burglaries, drug busts, and domestic disputes, the SBPD seems bent on extending the long arm of the law into the lives of "suspects" around the city. Again, we can ask ourselves: whose interests are served? The citizens of Santa Barbara? Or the moneyed elites who want to protect their investments in the city's tourism and gentrification industries?

In the final analysis, the city government is looking more and more like a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy.



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