Twenty-six people gathered in an arc around a table adorned with flickering candles while holding signs with the names, ages and causes of death of Santa Cruz County homicide victims who lost their lives within the last 24 months. Among the names listed were Sgt. Loran “Butch” Baker and detective Elizabeth Butler, who were killed on Feb. 26, 2013. They are the only Santa Cruz police officers to be killed in the line of duty.
“They’re remembering all of them,” Mayor Don Lane said. “[The vigil is important] to remind people how vulnerable we can be and that we really have to work hard to make our community safer. It’s not just going to take care of itself. It’s going to really take people’s efforts.”
The candlelight vigil, held downtown, was organized by the Alliance for Peaceful Communities (APC), an organization dedicated to reducing violence in Santa Cruz County. Stoney Brook, the former Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office inspector and an organizer for the APC, said the organization hoped to represent the loss in the county.
“We need to lift all of these folks up because they’re all a part of our community and we’ve lost them and hopefully we’ll open up the conversation in our community about what we can do to reduce this kind of violence,” Brook said. “These are 22 lives that have been ripped away from their families and from their communities.”
Brook said the main objective of the APC is to close the separation between victims and the community and to start a discourse about what causes violence and how it can be prevented.
“What are we not doing as a community that allows these folks to be in these places where they can be harmed like that?” Brook said. “It takes all of us — that’s part of it. It isn’t them and us. They are us.”
The vigil was held on the two-year anniversary of Butler and Baker’s deaths to commemorate them and celebrate their service to the community. Since then, vigils have been held on the first Wednesday of every month, with the name Community Against Gun Violence. Gini Matute-Bianchi, former Oakes provost and UC Santa Cruz professor and the APC’s main organizer spoke about the formative nature the detective’s deaths had on the organization.
“Our very first vigil was across the street at the Town Clock between three and four in the afternoon on the very day the detectives were shot,” Matute-Bianchi said. “We [were] opening up the microphone and we [were] on the podium and then we see police cars and helicopters and we were aware that something was happening up the street.”
APC changed its name from Community Against Gun Violence after the members agreed they wanted to reflect their desire to connect with other groups to protest more than gunshot victims — they wanted to protest all kinds of violence, Matute-Bianchi said.
“We don’t see ourselves as the only group working for peace in the county, but we’re extremely concerned at the level of violence,” Matute-Bianchi said. “If you look, a lot of the victims are four, 10, 18, 15 [years old]. There’s one who was 70, but they’re young people and this is a tragedy that cannot go unaddressed.”