An apartment complex manager found inflammatory fliers Wednesday morning posted just down the block from where gang members killed a Santa Cruz High School student last fall.
The fliers set off a wave of speculation as to who is responsible, if the threats are legitimate and what can be done to quell unrest in the community.
The anti-police fliers went up in the Chestnut Townhomes and Apartments the day after two suspected gang members - one of who is a Mexican national in the United States illegally - were arrested in connection with the stabbing death of Tyler Tenorio. The 16-year-old was killed in a clash with gang members at the corner of Chestnut and Laurel streets, near the apartment complex, on Oct. 16.
"In our opinion, this is a campaign of intimidation," Santa Cruz police spokesman Zach Friend said.
One of the fliers encourages people to push back against police. "We need to take justice into our own hands."
The second flier is titled "hood unity" and says "No snitching. No collaboration." It calls Santa Cruz police a "Neo-Nazi gang" and criticizes the department's partnership with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement gang investigators.
"Whatever other beef we might have, ICE and the police are our common enemies," the first flier states.
Santa Cruz police started working with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement gang investigators last month to curb gang activity in the city. Since Tenorio's death, five of the city's past seven homicides were gang related, according to police.
After the fliers were reported Wednesday, police issued an officer-safety warning.
"It makes you a little more vigilant," Santa Cruz police officer Jason Kelley said Thursday. "We just want to be careful."
ICE officials said the agency is focused on immigration enforcement that goes after criminals first, but that people have the right to voice their opinions.
"We're certainly get a lot of people protesting," said Lorie Haley, ICE spokeswoman.
No direct threats have been made and police acknowledge that pasting fliers to parking signs with a glue stick is not a typical gang tactic.
The tone of the fliers leans more toward anarchist sentiments, though no one has claimed responsibility for the fliers, police said.
"These are the most clear and direct attempt at intimidation and inciting violence that have been found in recent memory," Friend said, adding that literature associated with the May Day downtown riot and past UC Santa Cruz animal rights protests were not as inflammatory as these fliers.
The partnership with ICE, one of four federal agencies currently assisting in Santa Cruz police investigations, has been controversial, but the fliers marked the first outward expression of anger.
"It speaks to something different," Friend said. "We're confident that this does not reflect the overall community sentiment but the department is getting frustrated by the push-back we're feeling from a small, unrepresentative group."
But people are concerned about immigration officials working in the city, according to Santa Cruz councilman Tony Madrigal said. Despite some outreach by police, some Latino residents worry ICE agents are patrolling with beat cops in Santa Cruz and may stop them on the street.
Madrigal urged police to hold a Spanish-language meeting to explain the department's new direction in combatting gang crime.
"It really would go a long way toward building trust, two-way communication and collaboration between our Police Department and the community," Madrigal said. "The real goal for all of us is to have a safer community. We all understand that the police department cannot do it alone."
Nane Alejandrez, director of the community-based peace movement Barrios Unidos, denounced the call to violence in the fliers but agreed that people in the local Latino community are afraid. He said Santa Cruz needs more alternative programs to keep kids out of gangs and that his group would like to help.
"We need to have a dialogue with police. We need to sit at the table," said Alejandrez, whose organization also does national and international work, and is often consulted by police chiefs elsewhere in the U.S.
But Santa Cruz police and Barrios Unidos have been at odds recently.
During a well-attended community meeting earlier this month, Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Rick Martinez said his agency no longer works with the organization because Barrios Unidos doesn't do enough to discourage gang participation.
"That was a very inaccurate portrayal of what Barrios Unidos is," Barrios Unidos board member Carmen Perez said. "Barrios Unidos does not condone violence. We do not support it."
However, Alejandrez said people's possible gang affiliations are not a concern when they turn to the organization for help.
"I don't ask them whether they're a gang member or not when they come in," he said. "They're a human being."
Thursday, with the aroma of sage lingering in the air from a recent cleansing ceremony at the Barrios Unidos campus on Soquel Avenue, Perez and Alejandrez said the organization, founded three decades ago, promotes spirituality, healing and peace. Barrios Unidos sponsors family activities, such as traditional folklórico dance, and employs outreach workers assigned to do prevention and intervention work in Santa Cruz neighborhoods, they said.
"It's not about suppression," Perez said. "It's about creating sustainable community solutions."