Socialist Action spoke to activist Steve Argue, who was arrested on May 22 at an antiwar protest in Santa Cruz, Calif., along with four other protesters.
Donations for Steve’s legal defense can be sent to the Steve Argue Solidarity Committee c/o Tracy DeAngelis, 234 High St., Apt. #3, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.
Socialist Action: What was the event that the police attacked?
Steve Argue: We were protesting the bombing of Yugoslavia. Seventy-five to a hundred people were demonstrating at a Democratic Party fund raiser here in Santa Cruz. It was a peaceful, legal protest. But at a certain point the police decided to stop the demonstration.
They came out of the McPherson Center, where the fund raiser was being held. They first grabbed a boombox out of a woman’s hand, so hard that it hurt her hand.
SA: Was she playing the boombox?
Steve: It was playing the sound of missiles coming down on Belgrade, with the explosions.
Then they arrested a woman in the crowd without any explanation. Naturally, the people followed the police after they did this. The police began arresting people gathered around the paddy wagon, though they did not interfere with the police in any way.
They grabbed a woman with a four-year-old. An officer put her in a “pain compliance” grip. He twisted her hand so badly that her fingers were touching her forearm. Her hand was purple and she was crying out in pain.
Her small child was screaming, “mommie!” And another officer was trying to pull the child away from her mother.
I and other protesters repeatedly appealed to the officer to stop. We have video tape, as well as still photos of what he was doing to this woman. So, I intervened and did what was necessary to stop him.
SA: Then what happened?
Steve: I ran. They police tackled me about a block away. The same officer immediately pepper-sprayed me in the eyes, at a distance of about two inches. He then stuck the pepper-spray can into my mouth and sprayed the pepper spray down my throat.
Really, that was attempted murder. If I had asthma, I’d be dead.He and other officers then proceeded to beat me while I lay on the ground.
SA: This was the same officer who had arrested the women? So, he was uninjured enough to run after you and tackle you.
Steve: Yes. Although he claims to be still suffering from injuries.
SA: Then they arrested you?
Steve: Yes. I was denied water to get the pepper spray off my face for an hour or two. I was in extreme pain. I was breathing out pepper spray. I was sitting next to another protester who had been arrested, and he could feel the pepper spray from my breath.
Finally, I got water. But the first application was not enough. It had been sprayed into my eyes at point-blank range. After another hour I got another application of water.
SA: You were in pain for how long?
Steve: For a couple of hours. I was then taken to jail. After I was processed, I was put in 23-hour lockdown. I was denied visitors for the entire time I was in there-six days. They did everything they could to cut me off from the outside world.
SA: Were you able to contact an attorney?
Steve: No. My first contact with an attorney was about two minutes before the first hearing in court. It was a public defender. I was held for five days before even being charged.
SA: What happened at the hearing?
Steve: Bail was set at $20,000. The judge refused to release me on my own recognizance. But supporters managed to get me out. They thought that it was important for me to be out to help organize my defense. So, a woman put up her house, and people raised $2000 for the bail bondsman.
In the preliminary hearing the cop got up and testified, and the judge considered that sufficient evidence to send the case to trial.
SA: The only evidence they have against you is the testimony of this one cop?
Steve: That’s all they presented. But that is pretty typical. We were able to cross-examine the cop. We have video tape of all these incidents. So, we were able to get a number of perjured statements from him. He claimed that woman assaulted him. We have the whole incident on tape from the time he approached her until she got away. At no time did she assault him.
SA: Don’t Santa Cruz cops also have a history of attacking the homeless?
Steve: Yes. There is a law that makes it illegal to sleep. It is illegal to sleep on the street, in your car, in the bushes, in any public place in the city of Santa Cruz and recently in the county of Santa Cruz. So, really it is illegal to sleep if you can’t afford housing.
It is an extreme victimization of the poor. People who have protested against this have also been victimized in various ways. This ranges from being pepper sprayed to a case where a woman’s child was taken away by child protection services because she took part in a demonstration on behalf of the homeless.
SA: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
Steve: I would like to say that this case is about something a lot more than me. It is about the right to free speech, the right to protest in a peaceful legal way without having to face violence from the government. People should support me and the other four people arrested as part of defending those rights.
These rights have not come easy in this country. It has always been a struggle to maintain them. I appreciate the support I have gotten, and I hope that we can get together the kind of support it takes to keep me out of prison. I am facing serious charges-a possible four years in prison.