By Caitlin Rushton
City News Reporter
The long-running drum circle held every Wednesday in Parking Lot 4 on Cedar and Cathcart Streets has recently been gathering attention in the Santa Cruz community.
Over the course of a month, police have been cracking down on alleged disrespectful behavior of drummers, supervising the weekly gathering and arresting two men who were protesting the police presence.
“This [situation] came to our attention from a number of complaints from citizens and business owners,” Captain Steve Clark of the Santa Cruz Police Department said
He said that complaints were also lodged by a number of participating merchants in the Farmers Market.
Complaints included damaging vegetation, drug dealing, urinating in public, littering and vandalism, as well as oddball accounts of bicycles hung in trees and unskilled drum-playing, Clark said.
Citizens have not only expressed frustration toward the drummers, but at the amount of city resources being used to pay for the police supervision. Drum circle participants argue for free speech and the freedom of assembly.
The drum circle has taken place in the lot adjacent to the Farmers Market for over a decade. People in the community come out to play homemade instruments, enjoy a meal from the group Food Not Bombs, and generally, to have a good time.
In response to recent behavior from some drum circle participants and frequenters, police have erected green mesh fencing around the tree areas, offending and upsetting many drummers.
Tensions mounted during the month of police supervision, and on Sept. 17 two men, Wesley Modes, 41, of Felton, and Jack Rusk, 20, of Concord, were arrested.
Modes faces charges of assault, resisting an officer and attempting to deter Rusk’s arrest. Rusk was arrested for resisting an officer and vandalism — specifically, cutting a fence that had been erected around the tree area.
“Many responsible drummers left and were very responsive to dialogue,” Clark said, referring to the first investigation that was made by law enforcement at the event.
Nerves were still on edge for the Oct. 1 Farmers Market, although the police kept a lower profile. The police and fire departments were called out to assist a drummer who claimed to have hurt his leg from the fences set up in the area.
“I as a taxpayer am helping to pay for the fire department and the six people that are being paid for this fiasco,” said Marilyn Parker, an elderly citizen of Santa Cruz, as she shook her head at the scene.
The injured man was given an ice pack, and he was up dancing with vigor 20 minutes later.
Robert Norse, a journalist and founder of Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom, commented on the manner in which police have been handling the situation.
“[The police] try to make people leave by using fear,” Norse said. “The drummers and those attending this particular cultural event every Wednesday are the more harassed.”
Although some see this as a target against the drummers and the event itself, Clark assures the public that the police are acting in everyone’s best interest.
“It’s not about stopping drumming,” Clark said. “It’s about addressing the inappropriate and disrespectful behavior.”