This week we continue our coverage of the recent Town Hall Meeting I pretended, that took place a couple of weeks ago at the Redway Elementary School. 2nd district Supervisor Estrelle Fennell called the meeting to address the public outrage at a recent burglary in which some very nice bongs were stolen from a local head-shop.
Despite an ongoing epidemic of murders, disappearances, and drug related violence, this minor burglary, undertaken by a Humboldt teen, has sparked a powder-keg of pent up rage. Unfortunately, the rage is all directed at the poor, the homeless, and young travelers eager to see redwood trees and smoke Humboldt’s famous marijuana, none of whom had anything to do with this crime.
Last week I shared Supervisor Estrelle Fennell, and Sheriff Morton Downey’s opening statements at the meeting. After the opening statements, they released the hounds, so to speak, and the mob of angry townsfolk had their opportunity to ask questions and make statements. Here are some highlights:
The procession began with Cinnamon Sugar O’Toast, the sweetest woman to ever work for the Garberville Redway Chamber of Commerce. She presented a stack of petition signatures. She had hoped to present a stack of hand-written letters, but their letter writing campaign only generated three letters (and one of them was from me). Cinnamon Sugar presented her petition, and demanded that a Sheriff’s deputy be available 24/7 in Southern Humboldt, and that the Sheriff’s Department institute foot patrols in Garberville and Redway.
“My daughter shouldn’t have to walk through three smoking circles, two drunks passed-out on the sidewalk and a crazy guy screaming curse words at no one in particular, every time she walks from one end of town to the other.” Cinnamon Sugar exclaimed. “ This town is not safe! You need to do something about this Sheriff Downey!”
“What do you want me to do, lady? Should I gouge your daughters eyes out with a red hot poker?” Sheriff Morton Downey asked. “This country is falling apart.” Sheriff Downey continued, “I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but have you been up to Eureka lately, or Arcata, or McKinleyville for that matter? It’s a goddamned freak-show from one end of this county to the other. I’ve never seen so many pathetic, fucked-up people in my whole life as I see on the streets of Humboldt County right now. Most of them aren’t doing anything illegal, and a lot of them were born and raised here. I know it ain’t pretty, but there’s no law against being ugly in public, and it’s not illegal to ask for spare change.”
“Well I happen to know, Sheriff Downey, that we collect 25% of the County’s total sales tax down here in Southern Humboldt, and we are not getting our fair share of county services!” Cinnamon Sugar shot back.
“What? You think that because you overcharge people for everything down here you deserve special treatment?” Sheriff Downey responded, adding: “You may collect 25% of the sales tax, but you don’t comprise 25% of the population, you don’t have 25% of the roads or infrastructure, and you don’t have 25% of the crime. When it comes down to it, we collect about 90% of our sales tax, county-wide, from about 1% of the population, and that 1% of the population, always wants more cops, and wants them to get rid of the undesirables.
Fascism costs real money lady, and the sales tax you collect doesn’t cover the costs of bringing back the Third fucking Reich.” with that Sheriff Morton Downey moved on to the next question.
“Why don’t you bust the drug dealers who are selling meth and heroin on the streets of Garberville?” came the question from a man wearing a Foxfarm Fertilizer T-Shirt.
Sheriff Downey let out a snort of a chuckle, “You want us to go after drug dealers, huh?” he began, but could not contain himself, and he burst out laughing, sending a tiny droplet of spittle over the podium and into the audience. His guffaws grew to full bellied convulsions as he doubled over in hysterical laughter, gasping for breath, his face turning bright red and tears streaming down his cheeks. As he struggled to control his laughter he said. “Oh my god… You people really crack me up. I just about peed my pants.” Sheriff Downey took a moment to compose himself, wiping his face with a handkerchief.
“Listen,” Sheriff Downey began, “If I want to bust a street dealer in Garberville, I’m going to have to assign an undercover cop, and he’s going to need backup. Do you really want undercover cops on the streets of Garberville?” Sheriff Downey asked, adding, “Because I’ll tell you what will happen if I do. If I put an undercover cop on the streets of Garberville, it’ll be your kids who get busted. I guarantee it. I don’t want to bust your kids.
When I bust a street dealer, I’ll find an insignificant amount of drugs, maybe one gun and almost no money, and I’m liable to get jabbed with a dirty needle during the frisk. I’d rather bust you. When I raid a pot farm in the hills, I know I’ll find hundreds of pounds of marijuana, and we’ll seize guns, land, vehicles, and generators, not to mention thousands of dollars in cash. It’s a no-brainer really.” Downey explained.
Next, a woman told her story about coming home from work late one night, and finding a man she had never seen before, lying in her bed and wearing her makeup and underwear.
“When I saw him I screamed, and ran over to my neighbor’s house where I called the Sheriff. They told me that it would be several months before they could do anything about it. Then they told me that they would only come out during regular business hours, and that I would have to pay them $275 first, so I should do my best to convince the man to leave voluntarily.” the woman explained. “ How can you stand there, Sheriff Morton Downey, and tell me that you are doing anything to protect the public from dangerous criminals and sexual perverts when it takes you several months to respond and you charge $275 for the service?” she demanded.
“Where have you been?” Sheriff Downey responded. “We’re the fucking Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department for God’s sake! We’re the guys who pointed machine guns at your kids. We swabbed pepper spay into the eyes of idealistic young non-violent protesters. We showed the FBI where Judi Bari’s car was parked. Where would you get the idea that we protect anybody?”
Sheriff Morton Downey continued, “We protect property ma’am, real property. If you can prove that you own the house, and you get a judge to sign an eviction order, and you pay us $275, we’ll come down there and put that freeloader out on the street. That’s what we do ma’am, and that’s why we have a Sheriff’s Department here in Humboldt County. We evict people from homes all the time, and we’re happy to do it for you, but you have to have all of the paperwork in order so it’s nice and legal.”
“But I rent the apartment I live in.” The woman inserted.
“Well then,” Sheriff Downey replied, “It looks like you found yourself a new roommate. I hope that’s OK with your landlord because I’d evict both of you for the same $275. Next question.”
Another visible angry man, shaking with rage, rose to his feet, approached the podium and yelled: “You have to do something about all of these homeless transients hanging around town! They hang around town all day! They crap everywhere! They’re smoking cigarettes, and flying signs! They’ve got dogs! They smell bad and THEY DON’T BUY NOTHIN’!!!”
“Well” Sheriff Downey responded, “None of those things are actually illegal. What do you sell?”
“Real Estate” the angry man said.
“Let me handle this one Morton” Estrelle Fennell injected, “I’m very upset by this whole situation. The nerve of people showing up in Southern Humboldt without at least a quarter of a million dollars in their pocket really galls me. I strongly agree with the sentiment expressed here tonight that unless you can afford your own home or a piece of real-estate, you probably belong in jail. After all, that’s why we have jails in the first place, and laws for that matter, but clearly we don’t have enough laws, or jails to adequately address this problem.”
Supervisor Fennell took a sip of water and continued, “Some have suggested that we pass a new county ordinance, that would target these nogoodnics, like maybe an ordinance to prohibit smoking in the presence of a dog. We could call it ‘third degree cruelty to animals.’ I’ll bet the Sheriff could nail a lot of ’em for that, but the problem is that because of ‘realignment’ we just don’t have room at the county jail. We don’t have the facilities to lock up every street kid who subjects his dog to second hand smoke. Look, you people have mostly owned your homes and land for thirty years or more. Thanks to Prop 13, you hardly pay any property tax, and cops and jails cost big money.”
“So, I’ve been working with the Garberville Redway Chamber of Commerce on some new signage that we think may ease the problem a bit. We think that it’s very important that we communicate the right message to the many people who visit Garberville each year. We want people to feel welcome, but we also want them to respect our local merchants so we have devised these new signs that you will soon see popping up all over town.”
“We think this succinctly describes our feelings towards the people who visit Southern Humboldt. We are glad they’re here, so long as they spend money. When they stop spending money, it’s time for them to leave. It’s a very simple message that anyone can understand. We would like to see everyone adopt this friendly greeting when they meet someone who is new to Southern Humboldt, just say ‘Welcome to Garberville, buy something or get the fuck out of town!’ it’s a simple, honest way of saying, ‘Hey, we don’t care what how you make your money, we just want you to spend it here, and then go away.’” Supervisor Estrelle Fennell explained.
Of course, lots of people asked questions and made statements at this recent Town Hall Meeting, but I don’t have time to imagine all of them. From what you’ve read here, I’m sure that you can. The tension in town remains extremely high as the Garberville Redway Chamber of Commerce continues to scapegoat the poor and homeless for current economic conditions, and their own bad business decisions, while they goad the rest of this frustrated, confused and resentful community to pile on.