Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Matter Of Taste

Chris (AKA Commander X) is in the news, again.


Some of that story is the story of PeaceCamp2010. That is where I met Chris, protesting the criminalization of sleep in Santa Cruz, California, in July, 2010. But that isn't the story I am going to tell right now. I am going to fill in some of the gaps in the Ars Technica article...

By December, PeaceCamp2010 had been persecuted to death. A bunch of us were bound up in stressful legal hassles, including Chris. I was still sleeping around, and often on, the Santa Cruz county courthouse buildings (as a form of stealth protest, while awaiting trial). The lack of a protest sign seemed to be the only thing stopping yet more tickets, a strange irony; officers seemed to be well aware of my nightly presence.

During the day I would occasionally run into Chris. We would discuss the protest, the trial (we were co-defendants), the days events. At some point the DDOS happened. I've been a coding nerd for most of my life. A lot of people assumed I did it (I didn't).

Chris hadn't been around town for a while, so when I saw him inside the Roasting Company, I stopped to chat. Being homeless, and cashless, I tend to avoid commercial spaces, if only to avoid the constant 'others' vibe/harassment/ticketing common in downtown Santa Cruz, powered by the 'mellow' 'liberals' (they are actually quite the bummer, man, and are very comfortable with making existence illegal for 'others' (that attitude includes UCSC students and faculty (yeah, given the (inaccurate) Santa Cruz stereotype, I too am surprised by how bogus they really are))).

While Chris and I were chatting, another local (Rick Walker, musician) said hi and sat down. We all chatted for a bit. Then, all of a sudden, two police officers appeared, next to Chris, and started to arrest him. I still feel bad about that; perhaps if we hadn't been chatting, Chris would have been more aware of his surroundings. At first I was stunned. Then I went into 'witnessing oppression mode', keeping an eye on how Chris was treated. He didn't resist, the officers weren't abusive (during the arrest). Then, as Chris was taken away, I tried to think of what to do next.

First, I asked Rick if I could borrow his phone. After calling Ed Frey (the lawyer), letting him know Chris had been arrested, I let the local radio station know (Free Radio Santa Cruz). Later, I heard they interviewed Ed right away, live, on the air. OK, good, the word was out, hopefully they wouldn't abuse Chris while in custody, this time. After Chris was released, I didn't see him around town. That was troubling, because the court expected him to appear at the various PeaceCamp2010 hearings.

Meanwhile, world news got weird. As a nerd, I was vaguely aware of Scientology battles, 4chan, etc. But something changed in that scene, and grew increasingly noticeable. Causes I cared about (the Oscar Grant murder, Food Not Bombs) started receiving anonymous technical assistance. I was surprised because that didn't seem like a 4chan aesthetic. Honestly, I was also thankful that they had switched from offensive to offensive, although I prefer Gandhi-like approaches (that's why I ridiculed an unjust law, showed up for court, and went to jail (see: Thoreau; 'Waldo, the question is, what are you doing out there?')).

Eventually, there was news of Chris, being arrested, held in Santa Clara County (a horrible jail, from what I've heard, someone should investigate it), awaiting a hearing in San Jose, California. I caught a ride with Ed and Robert Norse, went into that hearing, sat down, and listened to very interesting, and humorous, proceedings. Chris was accused of a bunch of naughty things, by FBI-ish people. Being a nerd, I started to play spot-the-Fed, settling on a guy sitting in the back.

The funniest part (I'll save some of the other funny stuff for another day) was when the prosecution said they wanted a ban on email, Twitter, and IRC for Chris, as a condition of release. The judge said he wasn't a technical person, so he wasn't clear on the context, but asked if the prosecution's request was comprehensive. Bonus points for a non-technical judge; for realizing there is more to the net than SMTP, IRC, and Twitter. The prosecution said their request was comprehensive. I was having a hard time refraining from loud laughter. The FBI guy looked embarrassed. Somehow, Chris was cleared for release. Ed, Robert, and I hung around until late that evening, when Chris got out, and we all headed back to Santa Cruz.

After his release; Chris held a press conference, which you may have seen. If so, I am the one holding Ed's camera, behind Chris, as Chris describes the Santa Clara jail problem.

Ever since then, after hearing Chris describe his alleged activities, I have felt radioactive. Especially in jail. If you appear around me, especially if you bring up naughty things, my first thought is whom might you work for...

Oddly enough, Chris was released and around town when Occupy Santa Cruz got off to a late start. He jumped in with both feet. Then, eventually, he disappeared again. Every once in a while he surfaces in the media; interviews, the We Are Legion documentary, etc. I cracked up when I read the Ars Technica article, mostly because I sometimes sign comments as G (I like being me).

A lot of people have opinions about Chris. Some good, some bad. I suspect it will always be difficult to separate fact from fiction, when hearing about (or from) Chris. I say with certainty that he is not seven feet tall, and does not fart lightning.

I will also tell you this: in my opinion, he has excellent taste in causes.

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