A scheduled SanTana City Council meeting tonight got canceled almost as soon as it started–all over a hat that proclaimed "Fuck the Police."
A man who only identified himself as "Bijan" sat down inside the council chambers wearing the Starter-style snapback cap, embroidered with the slogan in the same font on NWA Raiders hats that they used for publicity shots. "We noticed Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas, the Mayor and City Manager looking at us," says Angel Juarez, a member of CopWatch Santa Ana. "They asked Bijan to remove his hat under threat of stopping or delaying the meeting." He didn't.
Why? "Because it's what I believe," Bijan tells the Weekly.
Before public comments even had the chance to start, an angry Mayor Miguel Pulido announced that everyone needed to leave. He ordered that the television cameras not be turned on to broadcast the meeting, saying, "We find the gentleman in the hat offensive."
About 20 people defiantly remained, ready to be arrested if need be. In turn, about 30 police officers swarmed into the chambers, zip-tie handcuffs at the ready. The two sides had a stand-off for more than an hour; ultimately no arrests were made and everyone, including Bijan, left without incident after Pulido officially canceled the meeting. No word yet on when it will be re-held.
The city council was set to take up a discussion on decorum this evening stemming from tensions over a meeting last month. Back then, service awards for SanTana officers James Berwanger and John Rodriguez were given. That's what motivated CopWatch Santa Ana to hold protest signs in the audience reading "Berwanger is a bad cop" and "25 years of Terror."
Santa Ana Police Officers Association President John Franks complained to City Manager David Cavazos that the CopWatch folks took it too far that night, an opinion that Juarez doesn't disagree with–but with cause.
"The police not only have been harassing the community at large but also focusing their attention on certain members of CopWatch Santa Ana," he claims. Juarez says Rodriguez tossed him and another activist in the city jail for a night on loitering and impeding the free flow of traffic charges he claimed are trumped up in retaliation for their on-scene monitoring of Rodriguez last Wednesday. "We were ready to give public comment which is our freedom of speech right."
After the standoff went on inside tonight, angry residents spoke out against the police outside the chambers. One person was Olivia Azarte, mother of Edgar Vargas who Santa Ana police beat up on camera this summer. "It's obvious the police are working with ICE," she said. "We have to come join together, all the community. We're all Hispanics, we have to join together all of us."
For Bijan, the chaos in council chambers over his hat only affirmed the beliefs it tried to convey. "It's a very small expression of resistance to wear a hat," Bijan says. "The fact that they were willing to go this far over it shows what we already knew. Freedom of speech only exists for certain people."
With additional reporting by Andrew Galvin
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2