In the early 2000's, the place for young people to be was one place: Downtown Modesto. The closed off street of 10th and J was not only a home for City Hall, but also the movie theater, upscale restaurants, coffee shops, and fast food places. For many of the pre and post-high school age kids that gathered in the area however, the reason to be downtown was not to buy anything. They came downtown to hang out, meet new people, and be with friends. While many saw this as a chance to be around other youth, the downtown also was a well lit, relatively safe place that was also used by a fair amount of adults. It was a regular sight to see parents dropping kids off in mini-vans, knowing that they were safer there than at a house party. The kids could have been home in front of television, doing drugs and drinking, but instead they were in an open area filled with hundreds of different youth from different neighborhoods, races, and towns. In only a matter of years, this would all be gone.
Go into the Downtown now, and you'll find a very different scene. Instead of young kids, you instead encounter largely young adults, mostly going to clubs and bars. Police have a much larger presence in the area than they did years before; they have a substation, surveillance cameras are everywhere, and police also block off and barricade the streets around 10th and J Street, stopping traffic. But if you aren't interested or because of your age can't go to a club or a bar, there's really nothing for you to do on a Friday or Saturday night. There are hardly any people other than the ones walking to a club or bar. There are certainly not very many young people, especially high school age, left in the downtown. How did an area of the city that was used by large amounts of young people become so dead? Where once public space served as a place for people to gather, laugh, and talk is now - completely devoid of any public life.
Not Just a Mob, But a Mob That Doesn't Pay
10th and J Street was a developers dream. It featured a mix of government, retail, shopping, and restaurant property. City workers on the their lunch breaks could buy burritos and get a coffee at Starbucks. Those looking for fine dining could check out the Gallo owned Galleto's restaurant, Dews, wine bars, and a host other upscale eateries. One could take in a film at either the State or Brendan. And, the near by Double Tree Hotel kept the area awash in groups of convention goers, prom attendees, and a host of other possible customers.
|A 'target' audience.|
But who would act as a force of protection from the rabble for the business owners in the downtown? Who else, but the police. Soon, by the mid-2000's, police were doing sweeps of the downtown, ticketing young kids for smoking and 'loitering,' and when they could, 'enforcing' curfew laws. This was an attempt by the City Government to respond and cater to the interests of the business owners in the downtown, and also the associations of developers and business interests that were situated inside local government. For them, the community and atmosphere of fun that had been created around the downtown scene was problematic: these kids were taking up space downtown and simply not buying anything. The police, forever at the beckon call of the city and government interests, were quick to use a slew of "quality of life" measures to try and drive the kids out of the area. They could site them for being out past hours or simply for loitering. With this harassment, they could push back against the kids. The developers dream came with a price; it's desire to bring people out to shop had also brought them out to simply hang out. And while the rich used the police against the youth, the kids still had some cards to play.
If the Kids, Are United...
Kids in the downtown faced a serious challenge. The place that they all used to come together and hang out was being threatened from police harassment. Some young people responded at the time by organizing a Copwatch group, which monitored the police and video tapped them during interactions with people in the downtown. In this way, kids tried to create a buffer zone between themselves and the police. It also gave them another tool against harassment. While this caused the police to back off sometimes, in other situations, police issued tickets and turned on the Copwatchers, trying to drive them out of the area. Other times, police simply attempted to interfere with their recording, stepping in front of cameras.
Anarchists in the downtown also worked within this tension against the police and helped organize weekend "Anarchist Cafes." These cafes featured live music or a boom box, free food, free literature, newspapers, books to read, films/movies, allowed people to make t-shirts, and in general tried to create a fun and open environment for young people. The cafes, which occurred on Friday and Saturday nights, were often harassed by the police, who attempted to get the young people to pack up their stuff and leave the area. They also attempted to get store owners who the youth were out in front of to complain so they could be kicked out of the downtown. Sadly for the police, this didn't work, and the cafe' space stayed, adding to the push against police evicting and harassing the youth.
The Downtown Explodes
|E-40, hyphy music act.|
In 2008, people coming out of bars on St. Patrick's Day fought back against the police trying to move them out of the area. A crowd of over a 1.500 people fought the police, threw bottles, and chanted "Fuck the Police!" More than 100 police from various agencies had to be called out to the area to quell the riot. Political demonstrations also were a continuing headache for police in the downtown. For instance, in 2005, over 100 protesters against Bush marched when he went into office for a 2nd term, taking the street and shutting down traffic. Police attempted to arrest several marchers and drove the people out of the streets. The amount of people simply in the streets during the weekend made the act of harassing various people problematic for the cops. Whenever they attempted to arrest, harass, or move along a group of people, they feared a possible riot.
The Rich Respond
|Another night on the town.|
All of these efforts have resulted in youth leaving the downtown in droves while the area has become more of a hangout for those going to bars and clubs on the weekend. But in doing so, those that direct and control the police forces which are responsible for killing the downtown youth scene have also made the area once again more comfortable for businesses. The abilities of large crowds to also gather in the downtown unless they area attending a large event such as X-Fest which is highly policed and then rioting or holding a rawkus demonstration - is also nil. In July of 2009, when a fight broke out at the Downtown Fat Cat night club, we can see all of these parts of the puzzle coming together, as police responded to the fight which had spilled into the street in full riot gear, pushing and roughing up many within the crowd. Here the police were quick to show the extent to which they would respond to a small disruption of social order.
Clearing Out the Homeless
|Paperboy Park, a public park that Council member Muratore helped close.|
|Closed to the public.|
Muratore has stated numerous times that his goal is to 'consolidate' homeless services and get them out of public parks, i.e. out of the downtown. To many people this will seem reasonable. Why shouldn't all the services be located in only a couple places? The problem is that Muratore's drive to do so is not caused by a love for the homeless - it's part of a push to develop and gentrify the downtown and remove undesirable elements from it. Such actions will also do nothing to end homelessness, which in the current crisis is only going to be on the rise, (boom, boom, boo-yah) and everything to do with removing the 'problem' from the area via harassment and force. For instance, senior citizen residents living in the high rise near five points have already been complaining about the homeless that hang out in the park outside of their apartments. When did these people arrive on their doorsteps? Around the same time that Paperboy Park was shut down. Muratore doesn't want to help anyone but those within government and the business community. And, in a time when so many of us are literally one pay check or one eviction notice away from homelessness, are we really going to let rich big-wings like Muratore practice 'business as usual?'
|Capitalism has destroyed|
all adventure; the only adventure left
is to destroy capitalism.
The reason for all of this; the police, the redevelopment plans, pushing people out or parks...of course is simply to make money. By 'cleaning' the downtown of the elements such as youth, the homeless, etc, neighborhood associations like La Loma can stay prestigious and attract new renters and keep their old ones. Businesses in the downtown will not feel threatened and capital looking to invest will not be scared away. City Governments looking to make money off of property and sales tax can be assured that their coffers will be filled. Police also, looking to 'keep the peace' by keeping the rabble off the grass also can find job security as repression becomes a boom industry.
The people that lose at first are those that are the targets of repression. The youth kicked out of a place to hang out. Homeless people moved out of park. But moreover, those that lose out are all those who are denied access to the places where we can come together and talk, hang out, and organize from.
|It's our city, let's take it back.|
Downtown Modesto, 2010. Parks are shut down. Places where people used to come together weekly now are guarded by police substations, road blocks, and surveillance cameras. This isn't just happening in Modesto. In Arcata, the square that once was filled with travelers and music is now almost silent, as police have cracked down on basic code infractions. In Santa Cruz, it's a crime to smoke on Pacific Ave. To many people these actions by the state are seen as simply poor policy, which is why it's important to understand that these laws are the first wave of an effort in developing and gentrifying an area. They don't care about people smoking! They want a reason to harass people and move them along. They want a reason to get in there and clean up the area for their own purposes. For the past 10 years, the rich have waged on ongoing battle against the poor and working people of Modesto in order to make sure that they get their money and we stay in line. Sadly for us, it appears that many of us aren't in the plans for the future other than as workers, consumers, or people that "used to live here."
Will the places where we live be open and full of life? Will we have public space that is open to all, where music, food, and passion flow freely and we meet new faces, lovers, and friends? Or, are we going to allow our streets and public spaces where we gather to become simply boring, expensive, and heavily policed? The choice is ours.